MOSCOW — It’s the summer of political trials in Russia.
As most Russians head to their dachas for the seasonal break, Russian prosecutors are keeping busy with several high-profile cases the West has denounced as biased.
An Estonian officer allegedly abducted by Russia received 15 years in prison for espionage on Wednesday. Hours later, prosecutors in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don requested 23 years in prison for a Ukrainian filmmaker charged with terrorism.
In the same city, Nadiya Savchenko — a military officer who allegedly was kidnapped from Ukraine — will appear Friday to face murder charges.
The Kremlin is on a “war footing” with the West, said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. The divides include the war in Ukraine and touches of old Cold War-style stare-downs between Moscow and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
And the trials, he noted, are another front.
“It looks like people are taking prisoners,” he said.
There is speculation that backroom negotiations may lead to prisoner exchanges even after sentences are handed down. But no deals have been announced.
“I think there are clearly political plans for these cases, for negotiation and for bargaining,” said Pavel Chikov, a lawyer who heads the Agora human rights association in Russia. “Of course I don’t know whether any negotiations would be successful, or if they will be in Russian prison for years and years.”
All of the cases were initiated by the F.S.B., Russia’s intelligence service, and some of the evidence in each trial is secret.
Few expected a court to acquit Eston Kohver, the Estonian security officer who disappeared from the NATO-allied Baltic state in September and reappeared days later in a Moscow courtroom.
Russian security officials say that Kohver slipped into Russia with thousands of euros, covert audio equipment and a pistol to carry out “an undercover operation.”
Estonian officials said that Russian security operatives kidnapped Kohver in a cross-border raid using stun grenades and jamming equipment and dragged him back to Russian territory.
It is the kind of murky spy story that seemed ripped from the headlines of the Cold War, and had threatened to become the latest diplomatic flash point between Russia and the West amid the violence in eastern Ukraine.
Just days before Kohver’s disappearance, President Obama had reassured jittery Estonians during a visit to the capital that the United States would “defend our NATO allies, and that means every ally,” from an attack. It was clear that he meant Russia.
Kohver was convicted this summer in a two-month closed trial in Pskov, the capital of an eponymous region bordering Estonia. Estonia complained that its consul was not permitted to attend the proceedings, and Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand called it “a blatant breach of international law.” The European Union condemned the sentence.
“I see it as a harsher sentence,” Trenin said, speaking by telephone. “Two or three years ago, this would have been dealt with very differently.”
Kohver’s trial attracted far less attention than that of Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot accused of directing a mortar strike that killed two Russian journalists last year.
Like Kohver, Savchenko appeared unexpectedly in Russian custody. She has said that she was abducted, while Russia said that she sneaked across the border disguised as a refugee.
Even before the conflict, Russia had been accused of abducting suspects in Ukraine. In 2012, a fugitive member of Russia’s political opposition mysteriously disappeared from the streets of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and was next seen in a Russian jail cell.
Savchenko, who was elected to Ukraine’s parliament after her arrest, has become a cause célèbre among politicians there. A Ukrainian lawmaker previously told The Washington Post that Russia had offered to exchange her for two alleged Russian servicemen arrested in eastern Ukraine.
In another courtroom in Rostov-on-Don, closing arguments were held in the trial of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, and Oleksandr Kolchenko, a Ukrainian activist. The two are accused of plotting to blow up a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Crimea, a former peninsula of Ukraine that Russia annexed in March 2014.
During a visit to Crimea on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told security officials to be alert for unspecified foreign-linked plots.
Sentsov has said that he was tortured in a failed bid to extract a confession. Investigators declined to investigate, suggesting that Sentsov’s injuries were caused by sadomasochistic sex.
“All of the evidence is based on people who have been tortured,” said Zoya Svetova, a journalist and longtime rights activist who serves on a prison oversight committee in Moscow. “Of course these people are all material to be traded, but how many years will they spend in prison first?”
Prosecutors on Wednesday requested prison terms of 23 years for Sentsov and 12 years for Kolchenko. A verdict is expected Tuesday.