On January 15-16, a court in Moscow, ordered all twenty-four Ukrainian sailors detained by Russia following the standoff in the Kerch Strait to be held in pre-trial detention until April 24, 2019. With this and other ongoing investigations, it appears that the Kremlin is using its judicial system as an instrument of hybrid warfare, with these court proceedings being used to paint an alternative narrative featuring Ukraine as the perpetual aggressor.
Russian courts have even opened court investigations against Ukrainian presidential candidates and others involved in the upcoming elections in an attempt to delegitimize the Ukrainian democratic system. Most of the “suspects” and “criminals” are Ukrainian citizens, including military commanders as well as well-known politicians, state officials, civil activists, and journalists. Among them are MPs, ministers, all of the members of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and at least two candidates for presidential election 2019–Oleh Lyashko and Anatoliy Grytsenko. Presumably, there may be other candidates, whose “criminal record” has not yet been displayed by the Investigative Committee of Russia.
In 2014, the Investigative Committee of Russia created a special department—the Main Investigations Directorate—for “investigating international crimes against civilians, committed on the territory of Ukraine, which will act until all the Ukrainian military and persons, conducting crimes against civilian citizens are brought to criminal responsibility.”
Since then, nearly every week the Main Investigations Directorate files suits under the Criminal Code of Russia regarding grave crimes such as: shelling of the Russian border area from the territory of Ukraine; hostage-taking, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, illegal detention and false imprisonment of citizens of the Russian Federation (RF), in particular journalists; criminal prosecution of knowingly innocent citizens of the RF; public appeals for terrorist activity and public justification of terrorism; incitement of hatred and enmity; public appeals to unleash an aggressive war; rehabilitation of Nazism; desecration of burial sites of Soviet soldiers, etc.
Arguably, one of the key objectives of Russian interference in the Ukrainian elections is to delegitimize Ukraine as a state. With the Ukrainian elections in sight, Russia will likely try spreading these pieces of “evidence” around through media, international forums, and organizations like the United Nations, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. These files may resonate with and persuade consumers of Russian propaganda both in Russia and internationally.
Russia may also continue to “exploit Interpol’s red notice system” and bilateral agreements for initiating and legitimizing possible arrests of the suspects, even if those Ukrainians avoid visiting Russia, Russia-occupied territories, and Russia-friendly countries like Belarus.