By Yuriy Vendik, BBC Russian service
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
On Thursday, Russia’s Supreme Court dismissed a complaint filed by a group of public figures and journalists challenging President Vladimir Putin’s decree that classifies casualties in special operations during peacetime as secret.
Initiators of two similar complaints – civil activist Denis Vostrikov and a group of human rights activists and journalists – argued in court that President Putin, by classifying special operations during peacetime, in his decree of May 28th this year, made too broad an interpretation of the Law on State Secrets, which categorizes as secret, information on only the numbers of troop units.
The President’s representatives objected that he has the necessary authority and, besides, the focus is on “special operations” and not on troop deaths in any circumstances.
Handing down his ruling, Supreme Court Judge Yuri Ivanenko promised to explain his reasoning to both sides later.
Over the seven or so hours of the sitting, only one person mentioned outright what was really being disputed, and then only once.
Davydova’s plain speaking
“I believe that this decree was issued for the purpose of classifying as secret the illicit use of Russian citizens in so-called illegal “special operations” during so-called leave of absences in Ukraine,” Svetlana Davydova stated in her concluding remarks. She is accused of divulging secret information about the movements of a Russian military unit on supposedly Ukrainian territory.
“Whatever we call them, whatever their status – servicemen, draftees, professionals, “little green men,” “polite people” or militias – they are citizens of Russia. Society needs to know about the casualties suffered by Russian society in order to prevent such losses in the future, ” Davydova continued.
All the others – both the applicants and the lawyers representing the President – carefully avoided any mention of Ukraine. Even the member of the Pskov Regional Legislative Assembly and “Yabloko” political party Leo Schlossberg, the first person in Russia last summer to publish details about the burial of Russian troop victims who, according to indirect information, died in Ukraine (officials deny this), never once pronounced the word “Ukraine ” in his testimonies.
“Any negative outcome is still a result. Publicity is quite an amazing thing. I wasn’t expecting much and to say I was expecting a favorable outcome to the petition would not be true, of course,” said Dennis Vostrikov to the BBC Russian service in his comment on the court’s decision.
“In such cases, which are by their nature of public importance, the court has not only a judicial function. It also has a special public function, which is now in almost all government agencies at each level of power vertical. We realize that we placed the court in a very difficult position, ” said another applicant, lawyer Ivan Pavlov.
According to Pavlov, he and his colleagues intend to apply to the Constitutional Court to test the Law on State Secrets on which the president’s representatives relied to defend the new decree in the Supreme Court.
“Not unless the entire army dies”
The applicants in the case explained that Article 5 of the Law on State Secrets contains a closed list of the types of information that can be declared secret, including troop numbers. However, details of casualties on their own do not reveal any numerical secrets about troop units or of the entire army.
“Not unless the entire army dies,” Ivan Pavlov said ironically.
“In item ten of his decree, President […] in effect introduced a new category of classifiable information that is not specified in Article 5 (Law on State Secrets). We believe that this does not correspond to current legislation and that this provides a basis for acknowledging that this item is inapplicable,” stated lawyer Daria Sukhikh.
Ministry of Defense Lawyer Natalia Elina, representing President Putin in the proceedings, constantly emphasized in her reply that we are talking about participants in special operations.
“The personnel involved in special operations during peacetime – “the Ivanovs, the Petrovs, the Sidorovs” – and correspondingly, their physical, mental, moral, and psychological condition, some missing without trace, some injured, some dead – constitute information that constitutes a state secret, because information about them as participants in special operations already constitutes information that constitutes a state secret, ” said Elina.
The applicants argued that Russian legislation does not clarify what a “special operation” is. Elina claimed that a special operation is a type of counter-terrorist operation, which is defined in the law on combating terrorism.
Would persons revealing information about troop deaths and unaware that these occurred during “special operations” be prosecuted for divulging state secrets? No answer was given to this question.
The disputed document was signed on May 28th. According to the decree, casualties among Ministry of Defense personnel in special operations taking place in peacetime, now become state secrets.
The decision has upset journalists, who suspect that the decree is designed to conceal the participation of Russian troops in the armed conflict in Ukraine.
The petitions were filed by Denis Vostrikov and a group of Russian journalists, politicians and human rights defenders: Vladimir Voronov, Svetlana Davydova, Timur Olevskiy, Pavel Kanygin, Arkadiy Babchenko, Ivan Pavlov, Leo Schlosberg, Grigoriy Pasko and Ruslan Karpuk.
The President’s press secretary, Dmitriy Peskov, denied these allegations, saying that the decree has nothing to do with Ukraine, and that Russia is not intending to conduct any special operations on the territory of a neighboring state.
Source: BBC Russian service
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