Nikita Tushkanov, 29, a history teacher from the town of Mikun in the Komi Republic, has been sentenced to five and a half years in a medium-security penal colony on charges of “repeatedly discrediting” [the Russian army] and “condoning terrorism” over posts and comments he made on the VKontakte social network. It took the court about nine hours to consider all the evidence in the criminal case and render its verdict. Sever.Realii takes a look at the trial and the basis of the prosecution’s case.
The criminal trial against Nikita Tushkanov, a 29-year-old historian and history and social studies teacher from the Komi Republic, ended with this brief closing statement by the defendant:
“I think we know the verdict in advance. So I cannot influence the decisions you make with my closing statement. I will not change my stance on the events in Ukraine. Moreover, I condemn them and consider them criminal. At the outset of the hearing, I asked for a recusal. It was not granted, of course. In this regard, I would like to say that I don’t want to ask you for justice, but I can’t ask you for mercy.”
The next day, a judge with the Second Western District Military Court sentenced Tushkanov to five and a half years in a medium-security penal colony over a post and several comments published on VKontakte about the war in Ukraine and the explosion on the Crimean Bridge on 8 October 2022, which the Russian authorities have declared a terrorist attack. Essentially, the judge needed only a single working day, 10 May, to review the evidence and testimony and reach a verdict. Nikita’s relatives, who were witnesses in the case, were not allowed to attend the first half of the hearing, at which the findings of a forensic examination were read into the record.
“A birthday gift for Putler”
The criminal case against Nikita Tushkanov was launched in December 2022. He was initially accused only of “condoning terrorism” over a post about the bomb blast on the Crimean Bridge, but subsequently he was also charged with “repeated discrediting” of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, also over posts he made on VKontakte.
The Russian authorities declared the blast on the Crimean Bridge a terrorist attack a day after the incident. The entries on Nikita Tushkanov’s social media page were made on 8 October, the day of the blast, when the incident had not yet been declared a terrorist attack.
Tushkanov was arrested in early December 2022. He later recounted that the police had been monitoring his VKontakte page for several months before the criminal case was launched. He had been written up on administrative charges of “discrediting the army” over social media posts.
The accusations were triggered by a post that read, “A birthday present for Putler. Grandpa turned 70 years old. The last anniversary of the last shithead. P.S. The Crimean Bridge was blown up today. De jure, the Ukrainians have destroyed their own bridge, what psychos…,” and discussions of the events in the comments to this post.
What other phrases were cited in the case against Nikita Tushkanov?
In addition to the post about the blast on the Crimean Bridge, the evidence in the case included comments that Tushkanov made beneath the post. Among the comments that were entered into evidence were the following (the original spelling and punctuation have been preserved — SR):
“Desktop photo for phone”
“Crimea was annexed (if you understand such words at all)”
“It’s delightful that the aggressor is getting f*****”
“My country carries out terrorist attacks by attacking peaceful cities in Ukraine. Any more questions?”
“Maybe you consider yourself a part of this state. I don’t. I didn’t elect this president, the government, and all the rest of it. My homeland has been seized by fascists and I don’t consider myself a part of it”
“How is it a terrorist attack? I don’t understand. Destroying the infrastructure and a symbol of Putin’s Russia, that’s a terrorist attack?”
“For what people? Ukraine did not ask [Russia] to build a bridge on its own land”
“Should we be sad?”
“Putin annexed the occupied territories”
“That’s what the ‘partial’ deadening mobilization does!”
“I *** didn’t get it, but it’s very interesting. What information? They weren’t annexed? Or were there no armed people there while the ‘referendum’ was going on? What’s wrong? Are the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation beating the **** out of the Armed Forces of Ukraine? Then why the mobilization? And what about ‘Z Power of PraVda’?”
The criminal case against Tushkanov was based on a forensic examination conducted by an expert from the Federal Security Service’s Komi Republic office. During the trial, Tushkanov asked the expert to explain how “discrediting” differs from ordinary criticism. The expert replied that discrediting involves creating a negative image, while criticism involves making suggestions to rectify a situation.
In the forensic examination itself, the expert found that there was no evidence in Tushkanov’s posts of his calling for the blast, but there were “signs of acknowledging the ideology and practice of perpetrating the blast that warranted support and imitation” and “discrediting” the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
The expert detected condoning of terrorism in the phrase about the “gift”: the word “gift” and the phrase “the Ukrainians destroyed their own bridge,” constituted, according to the expert, an attempt to condone the blast.
The purpose of the word “Putler,” according to the expert, was to “destabilize the activities of the authorities of the Russian Federation or impact their decision-making.”
The comment “Desktop photo” constituted “a positive assessment of the explosion on the Crimean Bridge, voiced as a desire to save” the picture.
The expert also detected justification for the explosion on the Crimean Bridge in the phrase “my homeland has been seized by fascists”: it was “expressed by the justification for the explosion: ‘My homeland has been seized by fascists’ (exploding the bridge is a response to the fact that the Russian Federation has been seized by fascists).”
The FSB expert also found evidence of discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in Tushkanov’s comments about the annexation of the occupied territories, “the deadening mobilization,” and armed people during the “referendums” on annexation of the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.
Tushkanov’s relatives and his close friends were also questioned in court. They described Tushkanov positively and said that they had not touched on political topics in personal conversations.
Testifying in court, Tushkanov again stressed that he had not renounced his comments and did not understand how he could be tried for condoning terrorism if his post had been published a day before the Russian authorities declared the explosion on the Crimean Bridge a terrorist attack. Here is a complete transcript of Tushkanov’s testimony:
I, Nikita Alexeyevich Tushkanov, date of birth 24 April 1994, was born and grew up in the small village of Chuprovo in Komi’s Udora District. My mother was a teacher and, later, the director of the school, while my father was the director of the House of Culture. My grandmother was a home-front worker and the daughter of a frontline soldier who was killed in the fight against Nazism on 1 January 1945 and was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Grandfather was the son of an exiled kulak from Voroshilovgrad (Luhansk), and his mother had been denounced by a neighbor and subjected to political persecution.
I grew up in this environment. From childhood I learned about the horrors of war and the horror of losing parents, through the tears of my grandmother and my grandfather I knew how hard it was for the children of victims of political persecution to live.
With this knowledge and a sense of duty, I joined a search party in 2013 and until 2019 was involved in searching for unburied soldiers and officers of the Winter War of 1939–40 and the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 and reburying them with full military honors.
I loved my homeland and continue to love it, but my love changed due to the way my country, Russia, has behaved towards its own citizens (including veterans, leaving them on the sidelines of life, without assistance) and in the international arena.
I used to see no difference between the concepts of “State” and “Homeland,” but now they are absolutely opposed concepts for me. How did this happen?
It all started in 2014, and not with the annexation of Crimea, which I accepted, as did the majority of the [Russian] populace. It all started with combat involving unidentified military units in which my comrades served. They told me firsthand about what went on there and who did what.
Strelkov (Girkin) […] has himself admitted on numerous occasions that he, a former FSB officer, “pressed the button that launched the war.” This was followed by the downing of Flight MH-17 and the emergence in Russian territory of fresh graves for soldiers and military personnel from the “they aren’t there” echelon. Since 2014, my State has supported the separatists and thrown more and more victims into the furnace of war.
We have had to pay for it all. Sanctions were imposed, and the so-called pension reform was carried out, but they simply confiscated the populace’s hard-earned money. They froze the invested part of pensions, raised the VAT, and much more. In the name of what?
It’s not the sea that drowns people, but the puddle.
I was baffled by the building of the Crimean Bridge. Didn’t we have other places where bridges needed to be built? There were thousands of possible places for this. But [they built the bridge] on territory that Ukraine recognizes as its own, as does the entire international community.
The Russian authorities called construction of the bridge a “historic mission,” one of the key tasks in the “final unification of Crimea and Russia.” Meanwhile, people’s salaries were not paid on time, and roads and bridges fell into disrepair. Why weren’t we building bridges to Sakhalin?
While still engaged in searches [for WWII soldiers still missing in action], I realized that war was pretty only at parades and musters, but in fact it was only DEATH and those whose remains I carried out of forests, fields, and swamps could tell the whole truth about war. Only the dead and the maimed know the truth about war! War is a crime, and unleashing it is a crime for which there is no justification.
The Anschluss of Austria took place in the same way as [Russia’s] “reunification” with Crimea. My state unleashed a war in Ukraine in 2014, and in February 2022, led by the President, it unleashed a full-scale war while simultaneously ensnarling the whole world by unleashing a world war, the third world war. It was my state that doomed tens of thousands of people to death and doomed millions to suffering. And the so-called special military operation has been going on for more than a year.
And now I am charged with violating two articles of the Russian Federal Criminal Code.
I should say that I reject terrorism. I do not approve of acts of terrorism, and I regard them only negatively, no matter who commits them. I have not made calls for terrorist attacks, and I have never sought to condone their goals.
The Russian authorities allegedly declared on 8 October that the damage that had occurred on the Crimean Bridge was a terrorist act, but the media reported this only on the evening of 9 October, and the President of the Russian Federation himself did not refer to the damage to the bridge as a terrorist attack in his initial comments. Information about the terrorist attack also appeared on the [web] page of the Russian Investigative Committee in the late afternoon of 9 October.
The [social media] post in question [in the case against Tushkanov] was published on 8 October at 10:04 a.m. Moscow Time. I could not have foreseen the fact that the damage to the bridge, a military target, would be declared a terrorist attack.
From the very launch of the (auto and rail) bridge, it was used by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, including during preparations for the 24 February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. There were relevant publications on this topic, the use of the bridge (logically) as military infrastructure. The bridge is part of the military logistics chain for supplying the Southern Grouping of Troops in the war with Ukraine.
Thus, the damaging of the bridge as a facility used for military purposes (i.e., the transport of equipment, missiles, personnel, and provisions) cannot be declared a terrorist attack, just as is the case with all military facilities that are fair targets for damage and/or destruction. The sinking of the warship Moskva was thus also a “terrorist attack,” judging by the rationale of the Russian authorities.
Despite the fact that terrorism and acts of terrorism pursue clear goals of generating publicity and pressure [on their targets], no one has claimed responsibility for the incident on the bridge, no terrorist organization has made demands, and there have been no statements [of responsibility].
It was an act of sabotage, targeting a site that is still used for military purposes. So I thought at the time [when I published my social media post] and I still think so to this day. But it was in no way an act of terrorism.
Ukraine considers Crimea its own territory and is in the active phase of hostilities, which also points to the fact that [the attack on the Crimean Bridge] was and is an instance of sabotage.
In any military action, bridges are key targets for disrupting the logistics and supplying of enemy troops, as illustrated by the famous “rail wars” on the Berezina River during the Second World War and in this “special military operation,” which has been going on for over a year. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation blew up and destroyed bridges in the Novomoskovsk District of the Dnipropetrovsk Region (22 April 2022), the Preobrazhensky Bridge in Zaporizzhia, and other bridges even BEFORE the incident on the Crimean Bridge.
In any war, bridges are key supply routes for armies, such as the bridges blown up by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and the bridges under the control of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation that have been attacked by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
But while accusing Ukraine of engaging in terrorism by sabotaging the Crimean Bridge, the Russian authorities have continuously launched more than 18,000 missile strikes on Ukraine and, according to the Ukrainian authorities, 97% of those strikes targeted civilian sites, including (just to mention a few) Kyiv thermal power plant no. 5, Zmiivska thermal power plant, Kharkhiv thermal power plant no. 5, Burshtyn thermal power plant, and so on.
In response to the attacks on the Dnieper and the Kremenchuk hydroelectric stations, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the bombing of civilian infrastructure was a response to a strike by Ukrainian drones on ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Fifty of [Ukraine’s] energy infrastructure has been damaged, and attacks continue, rendering cities literally uninhabitable.
These strikes did not affect the supplying of weapons and other materiel to the front. They affected such critical [civilian] infrastructure as heating, water supply, and healthcare.
And all of the above attacks on civilian targets took place before the attack on the Crimean Bridge. Who committed a terrorist attack after that?
When I published my post on the explosion on the Crimean Bridge I regarded it as damage to a military target. And I regarded the country [allegedly responsible for the sabotage], a country which is under direct attack from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as involved in a war, as indicated in [my] comments to the text.
According to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, public condoning of terrorism constitutes a crime from the moment it is disseminated. [My] post was published on 8 October at 10:04 a.m., while the media reported the declaration of the incident as an act of terrorism on the evening of 9 October 2023.
The concept of “discrediting” the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is not specified anywhere and is not substantiated. There is no such concept in the case files or the indictment, and it is absent in regulatory acts.
As for the “maintenance of international peace,” after the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, Russia was subjected to sanctions that caused great damage to many of its economic structures, and caused many manufacturers to exit the Russian market.
According to the international community, the main purpose of the strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid was the desire to sow fear among the populace and make people’s lives unbearable!
As a result of this “defense of its own interests and its citizens,” Russia has turned into a worse scarecrow than Afghanistan.
On May 22, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine declared Russia a terrorist state.
On August 2, 2022, the Saeima of Latvia declared Russia a sponsor of terrorism.
On October 13 (after the bombing and destruction of a portion of the Ukrainian power grid), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared the Russian government a terrorist regime.
On October 18, Estonia declared the Russian Federation a state sponsor of terrorism.
On October 26, Poland declared the Russian regime a terrorist regime, and Russia a state that supported and implemented terrorist measures.
On November 13, the Czech Parliament declared the Russian regime a terrorist regime.
On November 21, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution stating that the Russian Federation and its current regime are acting as a terrorist organization.
On November 23, the European Parliament declared that Russia uses the means of terrorism and is a state sponsor of terrorism, due to Russian strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine, energy infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and shelters.
On November 24, the Netherlands declared the Russian Federation a sponsor of terrorism.
In 2022, after Russian strikes on vital infrastructure sites in Ukraine, from the. legal point of view Russia meets the criteria of a “terrorist state,” as adopted in the United States and the EU.
The world is on the verge of a nuclear war, and it all started with the actions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and personally their commander-in-chief.
However, [the borders of Ukraine] were recognized by both parties (Ukraine and Russia) back in 1992.
[The borders] of the Russian Federation are fixed in the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which can be changed only by means of a referendum, in which the whole country, its entire multinational people, approves them. Amendments to the Constitution and its articles made arbitrarily by the President or anyone else are illegal and constitute a crime.
According to the laws of the Russian Federation, these are also crimes:
Planning, preparing, unleashing, or waging a war of aggression (per Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 353)
Publicly calling for war to be waged (per Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 354)
Genocide (per Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 357)
Engaging in mercenary activities (per Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 359)
Engaging in international terrorism (per Russian Federal Criminal Code Article 361)
Along with all of the aforesaid, I would like to say that no one apart from the authorities of the Russian Federation and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation threatens international security, but the citizens of the Russian Federation, including myself, have no right or possibility to countervail the actions of the authorities and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
The purpose of my posts was to show my disagreement with the horror that has gone on for over a year, a horror in which hundreds of people die every day. In the name of what?
With the start of the special military operation, war broke out not only on the front lines and in the international arena, but also in the soul of every person. The hearts of millions of Russians are in the firing line. We are all now in a state of mental civil war, a civil war that was unleashed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Vladimir Putin), the Federation Council, the Security Council, and the State Duma of the Russian Federation.
Source: “‘I will not change my stance’: history teacher from Komi gets five and a half years for anti-war posts,” Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda), 11 May 2023. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up. Mediazona, which has also published a complete transcript of Mr. Tushkanov’s testimony, included a slightly different version of his closing statement at the trial, which I have translated below:
I think we know the verdict in advance. I don’t think I can influence the decisions you make with my closing statement.
I have not changed my stance about the “incident” or, I don’t know, “the events that occurred in Ukraine”: it remains what it was. I condemn the war. I consider it criminal. Just like all aggression.
Well, even in the Criminal Code there is an article about necessary self-defense. Which is being employed by the other side [the Ukrainian military].
At the outset of the hearing, I asked for a recusal. You, of course, did not grant it. In this regard, I would like to say…
I don’t want to ask you for justice, but I can’t ask you for mercy.