Trucker’s appeal brought supporters of the Russian army to court
Four people have been convicted by now according to a penal code article approved this spring.
The Russian-speaking population was clearly unaware of the new article.
It is not known whether other supporters of the Russian army will face charges.
The new Article 91 of the Penal Code concerning supporting aggression against the state, which the Estonian courts have never handled since the restoration of independence, has already been used to prosecute several individuals. All this happened as a result of collection of donations by a truck driver from Petseri.
Olga Fedorova (46), who lives in Cyprus but holds an Estonian passport, was yesterday waiting for the guilty verdict in the corridors of the Harju County Court. She had needed the help of an interpreter to understand even the simplest sentences during the trial. The woman had joined the Pskov truck driver's appeal to provide drones for the Russian army on VKontakte, the most common social networking site among Russians, and to express her support, Fedorova transferred 40 euros to the fundraiser's bank account. She explained the transfer in Russian “For our boys”. By that time, three months had passed since the beginning of the war and Estonia had managed to adopt a law amendment which classifies Fedorova's statement of support as a crime. However, the woman apparently did not realize that sending 40 euros would bring her to court – according to the defense, Fedorova was not aware that her act was against the law.
Announcing the verdict, the judge noted that although practice in this matter is still scarce, the punishment is legal and fair considering the guilt.
Before Fedorova, 26-year-old Ilya Golembovski and 46-year-old Ruslan Golembovski, who also supported the Russian army by funding the purchase of drones, received similar charges in July.
„We are Russians, we are proud“
The initiator of the affair, 43-year-old Vladimir Shilov, whose charity project brought several people to court, is currently in prison. The Petseri resident, holder of the gray passport (alien’s passport), has supported the Russian army on social media since the beginning of the war with slogans and support videos. “We are Russians! These are not just words!” still stands on his VKontakte portal account.
On May 11, shortly after the corresponding penalty clause came into force in Estonia, Shilov promised to bring drones from Estonia for the 76th Airborne Division stationed in Pskov. In a live video seen by 2,300 viewers, he said that since the Russian forces do not have modern NATO drones, he would collect money to buy drones which cost 600 euros and would also add his own contribution. Payments were to be made either to his Swedbank account in Estonia or to a Russian bank. His video postings or comments to them did not contain any indication that such activity is punishable in Estonia.
„Good deeds” do not go unpunished
At the end of April, President Alar Karis announced the law according to which the people who financed the purchase of the drones could face a five-year prison sentence in the worst case.
“Section 911 of the Penal Code came in force on May 8, 2022. Since the Penal Code does not have retroactive effect, it is possible to process only the acts committed after the amended law came into force. It is therefore understandable that there cannot be many such court rulings,” explained Markus Kärner, Deputy Secretary General for Criminal Policy of the Ministry of Justice.
The law defines the crime as follows:
„Joining of foreign armed forces or other armed entities participating in a foreign act of aggression, participating in the commission or preparation of a foreign act of aggression, or knowingly supporting a foreign act of aggression, including financing, if the act does not contain the necessary elements of an offence provided for in § 91 of this Code,
is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years.
The same act, if committed by a legal person, is punishable by a pecuniary punishment.“
According to Melinda Ülendi, assistant prosecutor of the Prosecutor General's Office, the Pskov division was aware that Shilov was bringing them drones to be used for the war in Ukraine. “Shilov had been given an exact specification of which drones the Pskov Airborne Division needed, and he assured the representative of the Russian military that he would procure just the drones they needed,” she explained earlier.
Already on May 15, Shilov informed his followers that he would not accept more donations and that almost 1,500 euros had been collected. “Our boys will definitely thank us! The main thing remains – delivery,” he announced and expressed hope that the transportation of drones across the border would proceed without any trouble. “I hope I can do it, because our customs (the behavior of customs officials - ed.) is not necessarily predictable."
At first, the donation project seemed to be successful: in the morning of May 28, Shilov shared a picture of three drones and asked the followers to wish him success. On the same day, however, the Internal Security Service detained him at the Estonian-Russian border.
There could be more charges
Shilov, as well as Olga, Ilya and Ruslan, who had transferred him money, all pleaded guilty and the Harju County Court convicted them of supporting an act of aggression by a foreign country. Shilov, who transported the drones, was sentenced to one year in prison, of which four months must actually be spent behind bars, the remaining eight months were suspended with a four-year probationary period. He also has to pay procedural costs of 1,632 euros and 60 cents.
At the judge's request to explain the reason for the punishment, Shilov responded with nervous laughter, Postimees reported earlier. “It is very difficult to say. As I understand it, dual-use goods cannot be transported across the border. I cannot transfer goods which can be used in a military operation. I know and understand it, but I cannot explain it in my own words,” he said.
The three donors received the same sentence: a five-month suspended prison sentence with one year and eight months of probation. They also had to pay the procedural costs and the penalty. The court decided to confiscate three drones procured for the use of the Russian military.
According to the section in question, four people have now been convicted in Estonia. It is not known whether and how many other donors with Estonian citizenship have been identified. In July, state prosecutor Taavi Pern stated that he could not comment on this. Hundreds of people, most of them from Pskov, have responded to Shilov's appeals and reports with heart and thumbs-up icons.