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Cologne court fines pro-Russia Ukrainian

Mikhail Bushuev
June 7, 2023

Elena Kolbasnikova, a Ukrainian national who lives in the western German city of Cologne and has spoken out in support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, argues that she has a right to freedom of speech.

Elena Kolbasnikova with her lawyer Markus Beisicht in a courtoom
Kolbasnikova and lawyer Beisicht argued that they had a right to freedom of speechImage: Christoph Hardt/Panama Pictures/IMAGO

A Ukrainian national who lives in Cologne and hopes to get a Russian passport "soon," Elena Kolbasnikova was looking at a prison sentence in Germany of up to three years or a heavy fine after she spoke out in support of the war of aggression in Ukraine at a pro-Russia motorcade that she herself organized. 

The Cologne court, however, took into account the fact that the mother of two is currently unemployed and demanded only €900 (ca. $963) as a fine.

Tuesday's verdict nevertheless seemed to leave Kolbasnikova cold. "I live on and will tell the truth," she said in front of the district court in Cologne after the trial. "And in that sense I consider myself innocent."

Kolbasnikova she was ready to be punished if it meant "the liberation of Ukraine from the Nazis," by which she apparently meant the Ukrainian government, in line with the Kremlin's narrative. 

Her lawyer, Markus Beisicht, who is also a far-right politician, announced that he would appeal the court's decision and if necessary, go to the Federal Constitutional Court.

Court was lenient

A man in Hamburg was recently fined €3,000 for displaying the letter "Z" on his car window. The symbol has been seen on Russian military vehicles since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. It is usually painted in white.

Nonetheless, Kolbasnikova did not seem to understand why she had been sentenced, expressing indignation. "Thirty days in prison or I have to pay €30 euros for each day. €900 to the state coffers because of the killing of people in the Donbas since 2014. That's the truth of the people in Germany," she said in Russian to reporters from Russian state television.

Germany bans letter 'Z' to support invasion

'Putin's fangirl'

Nicknamed "Putin's fangirl" by the German media, Kolbasnikova has become the face of supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany. She has organized a number of large-scale events. Some of her supporters turned up an hour before the trial began. But opponents bearing a poster that read "Putin and his Nazis kill" also showed up. There was not enough space for everyone, even all the journalists, in the courtroom, which was designed to fit a maximum of 35.

Kolbasnikova's supporters were not particularly vocal before the trial, but a scuffle did lead to the expulsion of her husband, Max Schlund, from the courtroom. He, too, is unemployed having lost his job after he and his wife were accused of violating EU sanctions against Russia. The two are reported to have collected donations for the Russian army in Ukraine. According to the German tabloid daily Bild, Schlund is a Russian reserve officer. 

Elena Kolbasnikova and her husband Max Schlund wear coats
Kolbasnikova and her husband are accused of violating EU sanctions against RussiaImage: REUTERS

Kolbasnikova arrived at court wearing a home-made Star of David in the colors of the Russian flag, alluding to a widely pedaled conspiracy theory among Kremlin supporters that Russians today are the "Jews" of the 21st century. The judge asked her to remove the symbol before the trial began.

The defendant tried to convince the court that she had been persecuted for her political activities. She said that personal information about her, including her address, had been posted on the internet. She explained that she had been placed under state protection after her life had been threatened. She added that she had lost her job twice and was now living on unemployment benefits, earning an extra €450 with a part-time job.

The main evidence against Kolbasnikova was an interview with Bild on May 8, 2022, in which she said: "Russia is not an aggressor. Russia is helping to end the war in Ukraine." She said that the motorcade she had organized, and other actions were in the tradition of the "peace policy" of two former German chancellors, Willy Brandt and Gerhard Schröder. "I stand for peace," she insisted.

In court, she described these statements as her "own opinion" and invoked freedom of expression in Germany. Her lawyer also insisted that Kolbasnikova's statements were part of her right to freedom of opinion and that is why she should be found innocent.

Matter of opinion

The state prosecutor tried to make it clear to the defendant that she was not being tried because she liked Russia or its president or had criticized the German and Ukrainian authorities.

He said freedom of expression ended where the approval of crimes began, and that Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Kolbasnikova had publicly approved of in an interview, was an act of military aggression and constituted a crime under German law. He said that her calls for peace were "cynical."

The judge based her verdict on the fact that it was undisputed that Russia had violated international law by invading Ukraine. She said the defendant's statements were apt to disturb the public peace and pointed out that one was not allowed to say everything in Germany.

This article was originally written in Russian.