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Ukraine’s former Minister of Defence charged with high treason

Admiral Mykhailo Yezhel, former head of the Ukrainian Navy (2001-2003) and minister of defence (2010-2012) has been charged with high treason, the Ukrainian State Bureau (DBR) of Investigation informed on Monday. The charges relate to Yezhel’s involvement in the 2010 extension of a deal allowing the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet to continue to be stationed in Crimea.

The lease granted to the Russian Navy was originally to expire in 2017 according to the 1997 treaty between the two nations, which divided assets of the Soviet Black Seas Fleet between them. In 2010, during the tenure of President Yushchenko, it was announced that the lease would not be extended. However, Yushchenko lost his re-election bid and was replaced by the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in February of that year.

Admiral Yezhel was, according to the DBR, instrumental in the extension of the lease by 25 years, to last until 2042 (later extended by another 5 years). The Russians reportedly bribed him by offering him a discount on natural gas. DBR accuses Yezhel of signing the deal despite being well aware of the risk the continued presence of the Russian armed forces in Crimea would pose for the state security of Ukraine. He was also not present at the cabinet meeting that took place on April 21, 2010, when the extension was discussed (the agreement was signed on the same day by Yanukovych and then-President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev), nor did he request a legal opinion on the accord of the extension with the Ukrainian constitution and other legal acts, which he was by law obliged to do.

The increased presence of Russian military personnel and equipment facilitated the 2014 illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia.

The accused former MoD currently lives in Belarus, where he served as Ukraine’s ambassador from 2013 until 2015 when he was originally accused of participating in criminal activities. Yezhel remains in Belarus, where the regime of the Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka granted him asylum and refused to extradite him.

As DBR stressed in their communique, crimes against state security are not covered by a statute of limitations.

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