10 years for chatting. A bank employee from St. Petersburg sentenced for attempting to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Анна Павлова
10 years for chatting. A bank employee from St. Petersburg sentenced for attempting to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine
21 March 2024, 7:57

Art: Sonya Vladimirova / Mediazona

The 2nd Western District Military Court in Moscow sentenced Vyacheslav Lutor, a bank employee from St. Petersburg, to 10 years in prison. The charges against Lutor included treason, confidential collaboration with a foreign state’s representative, and involvement with a terrorist organization—stemming from his alleged attempt to join the Freedom of Russia Legion. Even though trials like this are typically held behind closed doors, Mediazona was able to attend one of the court sessions this time. Last summer, a recruiter contacted Vyacheslav Lutor, enticing him with promises of a lucrative job, a substantial salary, and the opportunity to relocate abroad.

Vyacheslav Lutor, 33, was born and raised in Krasnoyarsk. In 2014, he graduated from the Krasnoyarsk branch of Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics, and Informatics. After graduating, Lutor worked as an economist within the local government sector. Subsequently, he transitioned to managerial roles in various companies specializing in real estate and trade. Lutor then relocated to St. Petersburg, where he started a job at the St. Petersburg Bank, as indicated on his private VKontakte page.

Vyacheslav Lutor, 33, was born and raised in Krasnoyarsk. In 2014, he graduated from the local branch of Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics, and Informatics. After graduating, Lutor worked as an economist within the local government sector. Subsequently, he transitioned to managerial roles in various companies specializing in real estate and trade. Lutor then relocated to St. Petersburg, where he started a job at the St. Petersburg Bank, as indicated on his private VK page.

The case against Lutor first came to light last summer. On July 29, we found a report on the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow’s website detailing Lutor’s arrest. Initially, the report indicated that Lutor was accused of treason and involvement with a terrorist organization. However, as the investigation progressed, the charges evolved. The case was eventually transferred to the 2nd Western District Military Court, where Lutor faced three charges: attempted treason, confidential collaboration with a representative of a foreign state, and participation in a terrorist organization.

Historically, Article 275 of the Criminal Code, which deals with treason, was rarely applied. However, since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the scope of actions classified as treason has expanded significantly. Participating in the war on Ukraine’s side, attempting to join Ukrainian forces, and even donating money to the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now often prosecuted as treason. Moreover, the Criminal Code was amended to include Article 275.1, which addresses “confidential collaboration” with foreigners.

In 2022, according to our data, at least 107 individuals were charged with offenses such as treason (Article 275), espionage (Article 276), and collaboration with foreign states or organizations (Article 275.1). It’s important to note that many of these cases are classified, which suggests that the actual number of those facing charges could be even higher.

Over the past year, the human rights project Perviy Otdel reported that courts received 63 new cases related to treason and 7 cases involving collaboration with foreigners. To date, verdicts have been reached in 37 of these cases, with all of them resulting in convictions.

Human rights defenders have noticed a significant change in the handling of treason cases in recent years. In the past, such cases were typically transferred to Moscow for consideration. However, in 2023, there has been a notable increase in regional courts processing these cases. We estimate that over 70% of treason-related cases are now being handled outside of Moscow, often in the same region where the alleged offense took place. Nonetheless, arrests in these cases usually still occur in the capital.

According to Evgeniy Smirnov, a Perviy Otdel lawyer, individuals suspected of treason are often initially placed under administrative arrest on questionable grounds. This approach gives law enforcement agencies time to secure authorization for launching a high-profile case and to collect evidence from the suspect’s phone or computer.

The case of Vyacheslav Lutor follows this pattern. On July 11, Lutor was first placed under administrative arrest for petty hooliganism, allegedly for using obscene language and causing a disturbance at the airport. Three days later, on July 14, he was again placed under administrative arrest, this time for disobeying a police officer. As a result, he was detained for 15 days for failing to provide his passport to law enforcement. Lutor was set to be released from jail on the same day he was transferred to a pre-trial detention center on criminal charges.

Colleagues’ Testimony

On February 5, the 2nd Western District Military Court began hearing the case against Vyacheslav Lutor. The prosecution is led by state prosecutors Igor Potapov and Dmitry Nadysev.

Typically, treason trials are held behind closed doors, with no public access to the proceedings. However, this time Mediazona managed to attend the only open session of the trial. During this session, the court conducted video interviews with prosecution witnesses from St. Petersburg. The testimonies of Lutor’s former colleagues revealed that Vyacheslav is accused of having ties to the Freedom of Russia Legion and attempting to leave the country to fight for Ukraine. Despite these allegations, Luthor asserts his innocence.

Lutor’s former supervisor described her attitude towards her ex-employee as “neutral.” She recalled that last summer, Vyacheslav had requested leave from July 10 to July 19, stating “family problems” as the reason. However, investigators believe that Lutor planned to leave Russia during this time.

When questioned by prosecutor Nadysev, the defendant’s former boss stated that she had never discussed politics or the war in Ukraine with him. When asked about Lutor’s work attire, specifically if he preferred military-style clothing, the supervisor clarified that he typically wore shirts and trousers. Moreover, when defense attorney Yulia Kuznetsova inquired whether Lutor had ever mentioned the Freedom of Russia Legion or expressed a desire to join the war in Ukraine, the former supervisor denied any such occurrences.

The second witness, a colleague of Lutor’s, testified that their interactions were mostly limited to work-related issues. However, she recounted an unexpected conversation with Vyacheslav in the summer of 2023, during which he shared his intentions to travel abroad and join the Freedom of Russia Legion.

“I didn’t know what this organization was doing and didn’t attach any importance to it,” the witness stated. When questioned further by the defendant’s attorney about whether Lutor informed her of his intention to participate in hostilities, the witness responded in the negative. However, she noted that the term “legion” raised concerns for her, suggesting potential connections with the war.

The colleague of the accused testified that Lutor had invited her to join him on the trip, an offer she declined. She recalled advising him against his plan, feeling skeptical about his resolve to go given his generally reserved demeanor. Subsequently, state prosecutors requested to read out the witness’s prior testimony provided during the initial investigation, citing “significant contradictions” with what she was saying at that moment. The defense attorney objected to this request. Throughout the proceedings, Lutor, a tall, short-haired man wearing a warm jacket, kept supporting his lawyer and offered very brief responses to the court’s inquiries.

The court decided to grant the prosecutors’ request, and the testimony provided by the witness during the investigation was read aloud. In her initial testimony, the witness provided additional details regarding her correspondence with Lutor. She recounted Lutor’s mention of being contacted by a representative of the Freedom of Russia Legion, who offered him a lucrative salary. Lutor allegedly explained the reason why he invited her, saying that the recruiter needed two people. Moreover, Lutor allegedly specified that his prospective work would be in the “front-line zone.” He also asked her whether she knew anyone working at the Almaz-Antey military plant and warned her to stay away from it. Lutor confirmed that he wrote it to his colleague.

Another colleague of Lutor's, when questioned in court, had difficulty recalling the details of her conversations with Vyacheslav, except for him mentioning that he had been invited to work for the Freedom of Russia Legion. As a result, her initial testimony was read aloud in court. According to these earlier statements, Lutor told her at the end of June 2023 that while he was on sick leave, an organization approached him with a job offer in Poland. He then explained that his contact within the Legion urged him to leave Russia because of an “impending civil war.” Lutor allegedly stated that he was being “actively recruited” by the Legion at that time.

On July 5, Lutor asked this colleague to “keep her fingers crossed for him so that he returns safe and sound.” The witness described Vyacheslav as “unpleasant,” stating that she didn’t take his words seriously and considered him unreliable. In court, Lutor admitted to sending these messages.

Human rights lawyers from Perviy Otdel have expressed concerns about alleged provocations by security forces targeting individuals who are later accused of treason. FSB officers allegedly identify people who have interacted with the social media accounts of groups like the Freedom of Russia Legion, regardless of whether the pages are authentic or not. Agents then pose as members of these organizations and contact the victim, assigning them a task. These tasks might involve taking photographs of sensitive locations, distributing propaganda materials, or buying equipment. The victim is then instructed to leave the country through a specific airport, where they are arrested. The FSB, however, denies involvement in such provocations, blaming Ukrainian special services.

Moreover, Perviy Otdel mentions cases where provocateurs contact random individuals who have not shared anything about the war online. These provocateurs reportedly initiate friendly interactions, posing as someone acting in the interests of Ukraine, before asking the victim to do something incriminating.

Mother’s Testimony

“I’m worried, I haven’t seen my son for eight months,” were the first words from the defendant’s mother when the judge asked how she was feeling.

Lutor’s mother, an energetic red-haired woman, traveled from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia to Moscow to attend the first court session. In court, despite her hearing difficulties, she described Lutor’s childhood and their family life in detail. She didn’t waver when the state prosecutor provocatively asked about her stance on the “special operation.” Clearly understanding the prosecutor’s true intentions, she said that while she and her son considered the war inevitable, they both hoped for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The woman said she and Vyacheslav had a great relationship, adding that her son “has a complete aversion to violence, which made him a victim of bullying at school.” She elaborated, saying Vyacheslav was constantly provoked by his peers to do things. When Lutor asked his father for help, his father refused, believing his son “must learn to defend himself.”

According to his mother’s testimony, Vyacheslav didn’t serve in the army due to a medical condition and showed no interest in military matters or martial arts. She recalled, “When he was a child, we tried to send him to wrestling, and after two classes, he was kicked out for not showing up. He just can’t hit a person.” She stressed that Vaycheslav never wanted to join any military. Instead, she said his dream was to travel the country and the world in an RV.

She said Vyacheslav suffers from hypertension, vascular-cardiac complications, and a stomach ulcer. She also mentioned that he periodically experiences panic attacks. She mentioned her own medical conditions and added that Lutor’s father had one knee joint replaced with an implant, and the other knee is scheduled for replacement soon. Despite his knee problems and overall poor health, Lutor's father still has to work because his pension is so low.

She added that Lutor feared mobilization and wasn’t opposed to leaving the country if an opportunity arose.

She recalled that in early July, her son suddenly stopped answering her calls, which was highly unusual for him. Worried by his sudden silence, she contacted the police, only to find out that Vyacheslav had been arrested for allegedly using obscene language at the airport. However, she firmly maintained that her son never swore.

The mother said her son loved his job at the bank and enjoyed living in St. Petersburg. She also said she was unaware of his plans to travel abroad, mentioning that she had even planned to visit him in August.

During the prosecutor’s questioning, it came to light that at some point, Lutor had asked his parents to help him repay a debt. The state prosecutor asked about an incident involving alleged scammers stealing money from Vyacheslav’s card, which led his parents to sell property to cover the resulting debts. Lutor’s mother admitted they had to sell their garage to help their son with this debt, which totaled around 200,000 rubles, or 2,200 US dollars.

After the testimony, journalists were asked to leave the courtroom.

Vyacheslav Lutor’s trial lasted only five court sessions, with four of them held behind closed doors. On February 28, the prosecution requested a 15-year sentence for him in a maximum security prison. The same day, the court announced its verdict: Lutor was sentenced to 10 years: he will serve the first two years in a prison (in the Russian context, the strictest security level, in contrast to the more communal nature of the penal colonies), followed by eight years in a maximum-security penal colony.

Editor: Maria Klimova

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