Kohver may vanish in vastness or Russia

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The greatest unknown with Eston Kohver will begin when dispatched from Pskov preliminary investigation prison to strict regime camp someplace in Russia. While on the road, Mr Kohver may vanish from view of Estonian officialdom for weeks on end.  

While in relative comfort under investigations at Moscow’s Lefortovo, or the drearier Pskov prison, Estonian authorities and the public at least had a clue where he was and what the life was like.

For that very reason alone, it’s of utmost importance for Mr Kohver and his Russian state-appointed lawyer Yevgeni Aksyonov to appeal the decision within ten days from August 19th. Until the appeal will be discussed at a court of higher instance, Mr Kohver will be kept in a prison of preliminary investigations where he can at least be visited by Estonian consul twice a month. When in a prison camp as a convicted criminal, which would be located at unknown distances (like Far-East), the consul could not visit as often. An appeal could win some 1.5 years before he is taken on.   

Mr Kohver will only be transferred under the authority of Russia’s punishment execution agency (FSIN) after the court decision has entered into force. It is only then that FSIN will have to transport him into the vastness of Russia.

As announced to Postimees by FSIN press department, all foreigners convicted in Russia will bear their punishments under equal conditions with Russian citizens. That means Mr Kohver will do time in the company with local crooks unless some more favourable scenario unfolds.

In earlier times, Russia used to have separate prison camps for foreigners, but the last such were closed down a few years ago. Russia’s own people are held according to their residence, but for foreigners the close-to-home principle carries little meaning.

Naturally, FSIN has no knowledge of where Mr Kohver could be sent, but their press department said the management of the camp will have to notify the native country’s embassy or consulate in Russia. Meanwhile, the law does not prescribe when that will have to happen. Even so, upon arrival in the camp, Mr Kohver will have the right to let Estonian embassy know where he is at.

According to Moscow lawyers talking to Postimees, the most confusing and difficult-to-monitor time will be when Mr Kohver is being taken from preliminary investigations prison to the camp. For a while, Mr Kohver may simply go off Estonian state’s «radar screen». In order to avoid attempts to organise escape, no-one will be told where the inmate will be taken. Secondly, no-one will know how long it will take and which path will be taken. The unknown may last for a few days, if he will not be taken far – or weeks if the destination is the other end of the vast country.

During that time, Estonian consuls in Moscow will be hard pressed to get the slightest piece of information. FSB will surely show no favour. During that time, Estonia will be in dire need of support by Western diplomats.

Add to this, that the very trip is an experience extremely unpleasant, described as torture by those whose lot is has been. The inmates are transported by trains that go slow and do an abundance of stops.

As told Postimees by Igor Sutyagin, who FSB had in Russian prison camps for 11 years as accused in treason, just to further pressurise Mr Kohver, FSB might keep on transporting him from camp to camp.

«He might be taken from camp to camp, so as to not let him acclimatise, and to keep the others (Estonian state, that is) in the dark regarding his precise location,» warned Mr Sutyagin. «Such transfers apply terrible stress for inmates, wherefore it is a superb means to affect an individual psychologically.»

As admitted to Postimees by all lawyers contacted, it was no use trying to predict to which prison camp FSIN would send Mr Kohver after consulting with FSB. The case being a rarity, FSB would solve such issues according to their own plans and interests.

As also affirmed by Olga Romanova, leader of a prisoners’ rights group Russia Behind Bars, Mr Kohver might be sent wherever. Even so, she thinks the likeliest location might be a former camp for foreigners in Mordovia.   

By that, Ms Romanova means the camp in Mordovia near Potma station, 600 kilometres from Moscow. As early as 1930ies, Potma – a place with 4,000 inhabitants – was a redistribution centre for GULAG prisoners.

Russia abounds with special camps, the so-called red zones, for former law enforcement officials and civil servants, but Mr Kohver will hardly be taken there. For instance, Sterlitmak, Bashkiria features a special colony for convicted policemen and judges, as well as one in Nizhny Tagil in the Urals. Former FSB cadre are kept in the city of Bori, in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast.

Kaljurand wants to meet Mr Lavrov

Estonian foreign minister Marina Kaljurand desires to discuss the Eston Kohver issue with her Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov as soon as possible.

«Bringing Eston Kohver back to homeland – this is Estonian diplomats’ goal No 1,» Mr Kaljurand told Estonian TV on Wednesday. «I hope I will get a chance to meet Mr Lavrov, for instance in New York. When I meet him, I will indeed also talk to him about Eston Kohver.»

Ms Kaljurand said she would meet Estonian ambassador Yuri Merzlyakov on Friday, and talk about Mr Kohver.


Political fugitive offers to be swapped for Kohver

Maxim Efimov, a blogger from Karelia accused in extremism in Russia and granted political asylum in Estonia, is willing to be exchanged for Eston Kohver.  

«In my estimation, the innocent person Eston Kohver needs to be released immediately and sent to Estonia. If this is not done, I offer exchange... I am willing to return to Russia and face the court for accusation in a crime I did not commit, meaning extremism,» Mr Efimov wrote yesterday in his blog at LiveJournal. The blogger said the immediate release of Mr Kohver would be the only condition for his return to Russia.

A criminal case was initiated against Mr Efimov on March 7th 2012 as related to an article «Karelia is tired of priests» which allegedly instigates religious hatred.


Moscow accuses West in politicising

In Moscow’s estimation, the reaction of the West to Mr Kohver’s conviction and imprisonment is an attempt to politicise a criminal procedure, said Russian foreign ministry.

We are having to «describe loud statements which have arisen as obvious attempts to politicise this criminal case, the decision of which raises no doubts regarding its legality and substantiation,» said Russian foreign ministry’s press representative Maria Zahharova in a message posted at the ministry’s website.

The foreign ministry «is amazed at the reaction of our foreign partners at the Pskov Oblast court decision regarding Estonian citizen E. Kohver who, after a thorough investigation, was judged guilty according to several clauses of Russian penal code. Let us repeat, that the court process was in strict accordance with Russian law and in full compliance with standards of criminal procedure, aspects of international law, and the rights of the Estonian citizen.»