Russian opposition leader, former Moscow's municipal deputy Ilya Yashin is shown on a monitor screen during an appeal hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, 19 April 2023. EFE/EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

Jailed Russian opposition leader calls Putin a ‘war criminal’

Moscow, Apr 19 (EFE).- Russian opposition figure Ilya Yashin, who is serving eight and a half years in prison for criticizing the Russian military’s actions in Ukraine, on Wednesday accused president Vladimir Putin of being a “war criminal”.

Yashin, who was found guilty in December 2022 of disseminating “knowingly false information” about the Russian invasion, was appearing in court to appeal his conviction, which was rejected.

“It’s a strange situation, don’t you think? Putin is a war criminal and I am the one behind bars, a person who is against the war that they themselves started,” Yashin said during a video conference from prison at the Moscow City Court.

A handout still image taken from handout video provided by shows Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting the headquarters of the ‘Dnieper’ army group in the Kherson Region, 18 April 2023. EFE/EPA/KREMLIN.RU/HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

He pointed out that the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in mid-March for the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children, which is considered a war crime.

“Putin didn’t run with a gun in his hand, but now he has to flee from justice anyway. It cannot be ruled out that he will eventually take my place in prison,” Yashin said.

The opposition figure stressed that the Russian president had committed crimes against both Ukraine and Russia, as he was directly responsible for causing the country’s international isolation and damaging its economy and national security.

Mikhail Biryukov (R) and Maria Etsmont, lawyers of Russian opposition leader, former Moscow’s municipal deputy Ilya Yashin, speak with journalists after an appeal hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, 19 April 2023. EFE/EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

“He sent tens of thousands of people to the slaughterhouse. But even worse, it created the conditions for a radical increase in violence in our society,” he said.

He warned of a rise in gun violence in Moscow and St Petersburg since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as was the case after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“The absolute responsibility for this lies with Vladimir Putin,” Yashin said.

With regards to his appeal, he said that the military censorship laws that led to his conviction contradict the Russian Constitution, but that he is aware that he would only be pardoned if he took back his criticism of Putin and the Kremlin, which he has refused to do.

“What does my guilt boil down to? In doing my duty as a Russian politician and patriot, I told the truth about the war. In particular, I spoke about the war crimes committed by Putin’s troops in the Ukrainian town of Bucha,” he said.

According to Ukraine, more than 400 bodies showing signs of torture were found in Bucha, following the withdrawal of the Russian army in April.

He pointed to the fact that since his arrest mass graves have been found and telephone conversations between Russian soldiers have been recorded confirming the civilian killings.

Russia, meanwhile, denies killing civilians, accusing Ukraine and the West of a setup.

“Eight and a half years in prison for 20 minutes of internet tapping. In prison I have met more than a few murderers, rapists and thieves, who have received lesser sentences for their crimes. I insist, for real crimes, not for words,” he said.

An ally of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was sentenced to nine years in 2021, Yashin is one of the few Putin critics who did not flee Russia after the start of the “special military operation”, the Kremlin’s term for the invasion of Ukraine. EFE