On the night of April 16th Nadezhda Savchenko was released. The people’s deputy and her colleague – the negotiator for prisoner exchanges Vladimir Ruban – stayed behind bars for more than a year.
Savchenko and Ruban were released by the Brovarsky interdistrict court. It was not able to prolong the measure of restraint in the most resonant case in recent years – an attempt to assassinate people’s deputies and the top officials of the state.
The SBU and the Prosecutor-General imputed such intentions to Savchenko and Ruban a year ago. And now they are liberated.
What is this – the negligence of the investigation or the blowing of new political winds on the eve of Petro Poroshenko leaving office?
How Savchenko rushed into Ukrainian politics
Before jailing Nadezhda Savchenko, the Ukrainian authorities were engaged in an inverted case – her release from Russian prison.
Savchenko, who fought as a part of the “Aidar“ battalion in 2014, was taken prisoner by “separatists” and transported to Russia, where she appeared before the court for her involvement in the murder of two Russian journalists – Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.
According to Moscow, Savchenko gave the coordinates of the “VGTRK” film crew to Ukrainian gunners, who in turn opened fire at the journalists.
In the Russian pre-trial detention center there were many events involving Savchenko: she went on a hunger strike, she in absentia became a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada from the “Batkivshchyna” party, and was subject to guardianship from almost all human rights organisations.
The hashtag #FreeSavchenko became one of the most popular among Ukrainian politicians. It was used willingly also by the president Petro Poroshenko, whose security officers exactly two years after Savchenko’s release from Russia will later jail her in Ukraine.
In March 2016 the Donetsk city court of the Rostov region found Nadezhda guilty and gave her 21 years in a colony. And in May Savchenko was exchanged for two Russian special forces soldiers who were detained in Donbass.
Nadezhda Savchenko immediately became politicised. She started to appear at meetings of the Verkhovna Rada and at first looked like a “black sheep” among the venerable Ukrainian politicians there.
However, Nadezhda felt at ease in parliament – she sat barefoot and was not at a loss for words. And she entered public politics quickly, without becoming flustered on television shows and in an interview. She quickly gained fame as a person who is never at a loss for words and is capable of speaking the “plain truth”.
All of this prevented Savchenko from being built in any mainstream political project. She gradually moved away from all pro-Maidan groups of Ukrainian politics. In many respects – because of her position in relation to Donbass.
Nadezhda changes her rhetoric
Having returned to Ukraine, Savchenko targetedly dealt with issues that were closer to her – prisoner exchanges in Donbass and the ATO in general.
And in the summer of 2016 it became noticeable that Nadezhda’s rhetoric didn’t completely correspond to the “general party line” that reigned in Ukraine since the beginning of the military conflict in Donbass.
In June Savchenko said that Ukraine, perhaps, should apologise to the DPR and LPR, otherwise there would not be peace.
Also, Nadezhda suggested that on Maidan in 2014 there was not a revolution, but a coup:
“Revolution is a change of system. If to speak about what happened in Ukraine, then the power at the top really changed. Despite of the fact that it was supported by most of the people, there was no change of system. Therefore it is possible to say: either we had a coup, which Ukrainians support, or we had an unfinished revolution, which Ukrainians support too”.
In the book of her memoirs Savchenko wrote that “Berkut“ were not criminals: “They were not ‘demons’. They just executed their orders… In their place both I and any who served in law enforcement bodies could also execute the orders”.
In August 2016 Nadezhda called to weaken the legal norm on the recognition of UPA soldiers as heroes.
“I will propose in the Rada in September to not introduce a statement about Volyn and also to remove the amendment from the law on imposing a criminal penalty on those who do not consider UPA to be heroes. We have the right to consider them as heroes, they are heroes for us. But we should not pursue someone who does not think in the same way,” said Savchenko at the time.
In 2017 the people’s deputy compared UPA nationalists to DPR and LPR “separatists”.
“Do you want to have a united and indivisible Ukraine or to get revenge against everyone until the end of life? At the time of the Soviet Union there was such a concept of ‘enemies of the people’. They called our UPA soldiers this for a long 70 years. You are making the same historical mistake now. No matter how you treat those who are at war in Donbass now,” said Savchenko at a meeting of the Security and Defence Committee.
In November, 2017 Nadezhda Savchenko and the negotiator vis-a-vis Donbass Vladimir Ruban visited Donetsk, where they met the head of the DPR Aleksandr Zakharchenko and his closest minister Aleksandr Timofeev (Tashkent).
Savchenko traveled in the DPR along the beaten tracks, bypassing the official checkpoints. For this, and also for the fact of this meeting, the people’s deputy was subjected to obstructions. The official position of Ukraine is to not hold direct negotiations with the leaders of “separatists”. But Savchenko went against this paradigm.
Later the SBU published a conversation recording of Savchenko and the Ukrainian soldier Berezen, in which the people’s deputy describes this meeting and lists the conditions of “separatists” for peace-making.
“They (DPR) became stronger. Yes, they feel that everything is going well for them. Things turn out better for them than in Lugansk. They maintain order. It is clear that not everyone is happy, but nevertheless. The city shines. We were taken for a drive. We were shown around. Yes, like for showing us that ‘everything is good’.
Concerning all the rest. They understand that Russia will nevertheless give them back to Ukraine. Yes, i.e., they will not grow together in any way geopolitically. That they will remain almost independent or beneath Russia.
They, whilst there is Poroshenko, do not want either this or that way. I.e., their request: ‘change the government’, then they are ready to do everything required of them…”.
Thus, for the Ukrainian authorities Savchenko went from a symbol of struggle against Russia into an irritant.
Her status as a deputy and her past in a Russian prison did not allow to juridically close her mouth or to send “tame” nationalists to her home, as was done to other journalists and human rights activists who voiced similar ideas.
But the presidential election approached. At the beginning of 2018 Petro Poroshenko’s approval rating strongly lagged behind the leader of sociological sympathies – Yuliya Tymoshenko. And already then Bankova Street started a course towards intimidation – both of the electorate and of the political elite.
Poroshenko was exposed as the only fighter against the Russian threat that suddenly arose in the Ukrainian capital. Two resonant cases connected with alleged mass terror conceived in Russia fell on precisely the spring of 2018.
This is the “case of Savchenko”, who was accused of preparing a terrorist attack at the request of the LDPR, and the “case of Babchenko“, in which Russia apparently decided to liquidate several dozens of Ukrainian journalists.
Savchenko again in prison
In March 2018 ,on the border with the non-controlled part of the Donetsk region, a van was detained that was driven by Vladimir Ruban. He is the negotiator vis-a-vis Donbass who in the middle of fighting was engaged in exchanging and releasing prisoners.
In the van there was the whole arsenal of weapons.
In court Ruban said that he transported weapons at the request of the 8th regiment of special troops, which is deployed in Khmelnitsky. He also named his client – the officer “Kedr”, who is Pavel Balov.
The SBU claimed that Ruban extracted weapons from the DPR for the preparation of a terrorist attack. What kind of attack became known several days later.
The Ukrainian “Strana” news agency wrote, with reference to sources in law enforcement bodies, the authorities implicated Ruban and Nadezhda Savchenko in preparing a military coup. At the same time, they at the thought of such a coup were shot down by officers of UAF special troops (acting in this case as agents of the special services), who led Savchenko and Ruban on, having entered into negotiations with them over the preparation of a “revolt” and having organised, again at the request of “misters-officers”, contact with the authorities of the DPR.
Soon after this publication Savchenko was officially handed a notice of suspicion. The Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko addressed the Verkhovna Rada and suggested to remove Nadezhda Savchenko’s immunity.
According to him, she and Ruban planned to blow up the parliament, to kill the top officials of the state, and to seize power in the country. And all of this is at the request of the DPR and the General Staff of the Russian Federation.
On the same day – on March 22nd – Savchenko was detained directly in the Rada building.
The details of this terrorist attack became comical almost immediately. Thus, according to the investigators, having opened fire at the Rada with mortars (which had to be located on a barge), Savchenko and Ruban allegedly planned to leave along the Dnepr on scooters.
The main evidence was the recording of conversations between Savchenko and Ruban with the officers of the already mentioned special forces regiment in Khmelnitsky. The people’s deputy and the volunteer discussed with them how to forcefully replace the authorities in Ukraine.
But in the end all special forces soldiers were agents of the SBU – that’s why their conversations with Savchenko also were caught by the operational filming. However, how exactly Gritsak’s department could record a deputy who at that time enjoyed immunity is not absolutely clear.
Savchenko in court recognised the authenticity of the recordings, but said that it was provocation.
On March 23rd the Shevchenkovsky court arrested Savchenko for two months. And on August 2nd Lutsenko announced the end of the pre-judicial investigation.
In the pre-trial detention center Savchenko went on a hunger strike again. It is noteworthy that it didn’t concern anybody any more – neither in the political beau monde of Ukraine, nor in the West. But a few years ago the US and Europe could not imagine life without a free Nadezhda Savchenko.
A year in jail and then freedom
The spring connects all the epoch-making events in Nadezhda Savchenko’s life. Her sentence in Russia, her return to Ukraine, and her jailing and release in Ukraine all happened in the spring.
On the night of April 16th Nadezhda Savchenko was released. The Brovarsky interdistrict court (where, after several months of transfer from one court to another, the case was determined for consideration) simply did not appoint a new measure of restraint for her, and thus the old one expired exactly at midnight. Therefore the judges released her.
Her next hearing will take place on May 7th. I.e., in the nearest future both Savchenko and Ruban will be free. Most likely nobody will jail them after May 7th either, and the prospects of the case seem very ambiguous now.
Next Sunday (April 21st) Petro Poroshenko, most likely, will lose in the second round of the election, and it’s not a fact that the new authorities will also zealously process this dubious case, which smells slightly like an outright provocation.
A separate and very important question is why didn’t the court show eagerness and release Savchenko from prison? Indeed, before this, her and Ruban were sent into custody as if on command.
And here suddenly such mercy is shown?
According to the Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko, Savchenko and Ruban were released because the law allowed them to constantly change lawyers and carry out the dismissal of judges.
“The first reason is that the law allows them to manipulate via the infinite changing of lawyers. Savchenko had 8 such paid lawyers (who entered the case and then left it) and 1 free one from the state.
The draft law for the elimination of this abuse has been sat in the Verkhovna Rada for a long time.
The second reason is the critically small number of judges in courts. 40% being unfilled vacancies leads to the fact that the removal of even 1 judge leads to the case being referred to another court. Hot potato with court changes in the case of Savchenko-Ruban along with a carousel of removals at each stage is shocking: The Supreme Court – Chernigov regional – Chernigov appeal – the Supreme Court – Solomensky regional – Kiev appeal – the Supreme Court – Kiev appeal – Darnytsia regional – Kiev appeal – Brovarsky regional.
The third reason is the unwillingness of certain judges to perform their duties. Otherwise, it is difficult to call self-withdrawal in this case as self-removal only because a relative of the judge lives on the occupied territory,” said an indignant Lutsenko.
Let’s leave out of the equation Lutsenko’s passage about “the disease of the judicial system” (taking into account that the system came to such a state after several years of the reforms undertaken by the colleague of Lutsenko Petro Poroshenko).
Another thing is important. Savchenko’s case is a symbolic process that was under the control of the authorities. It’s not for nothing that the Brovarskoy court was urgently going to consider it on Saturday April 13th. I.e., matters were initially heading towards Savchenko and Ruban being jailed for another 2 months before the end of the day on April 15th.
But at the last minute public pressure, as well as possible influence on the court by the opponents of Poroshenko (for who Savchenko’s release as a testimony of the collapse of the repressive system of the president is politically profitable), managed to change the situation.
And Savchenko and Ruban were released.
And this is indeed a very symbolic decision that shows that the courts exit from under Bankova Street’s control even before the official change of power. Thus, it is worth expecting other new resonant decisions in relation to many other cases that were led by Petro Poroshenko’s government against their political opponents.
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