The controversial case of Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko followed a highly scripted plan from Russian authorities, who arrested her at the time of an intense information war with Ukraine.
Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko. Photo: RIA Novosti
For a very different take read: "What are the Kremlin's motives in the case of Ukranian pilot Savchenko?"
On Mar. 22 the Donetsk court of Russia's Rostov Region sentenced Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko to 22 years in prison for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists near Luhansk in summer 2014. With the development of the court case, Western and Ukrainian observers see the Savchenko case as a political farce, as the case that has nothing to do with justice.
In fact, the Savchenko trial reflects the current state of Russia-Ukraine relations. So, one should assess it in the context of Russia's policy toward Ukraine in recent years: the anti-Ukrainian campaign and the so-called “hybrid war” launched by the Kremlin amidst Crimea's annexation into Russia and the conflict in Donbas.
In fact, Moscow's information war against Kiev aims at presenting Ukraine's policy in Donbas in a very unfavorable light and creating a very negative image of the country among ordinary Russians. For example, in mid-July 2014, Russian TV broadcast a dubious story of a boy, who was allegedly crucified by the Ukrainian military.
The classic propaganda genre demanded a incessant follow-up and media coverage: There should be revenge for victims, with the criminals punished. Such approach allows the Kremlin to achieve several goals: First, it discredits the idea of an independent Ukrainian state among Russians and the people of Crimea and Donbas. Second, such tactics accuses Ukrainian forces and its authorities of incompetence and cruelty.
The final step is to find the right tool of manipulation. It is not ruled out that the Kremlin might have chosen Savchenko, a woman, as such a tool. There might be several reasons for this move: A woman is easier to break down, both physically and psychologically; a woman is more emotional, and the TV news reports could benefit from that a great deal. Finally, a woman's position in society is associated with the continuation of life: following such logic, a nation where female killers exist deserves reprimand.
In fact, Savchenko became the main victim of the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. When she was captured in mid-June 2014 together with other fighters of Ukraine's Aidar volunteer battalion, the separatists were ready to exchange her for the Donbas military prisoners, seized by Ukraine's army.
But suddenly the situation changed, Savchenko showed up in an court room of the city of Voronezh, and Russia's authorities started a trial against her for the intended murder of civilians, including two journalists of a Russian TV channel. No wonder, many Russian media started introducing Savchenko as an enemy of the Russian-speaking population in Eastern Ukraine.
Savchenko, 34, joined the army at age 18 on her own will. In 2004-2005 she was among the Ukrainian peacekeeping group in Iraq. After graduating from Kharkov Air Force University, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense made a documentary about her, and interviews with Savchenko could be found in Russian media. In fact, they describe her background in the context of the reform of the Ukrainian army and its adjustment to NATO standards. No wonder, Russian intelligence paid attention to these details.
So, keeping in mind all this as well as Savchenko's personal characteristics, including her straightforwardness and intolerance to injustice, the Russian investigators might have decided to use her as a tool of promoting its political agenda. However, Savchenko turned out to have been a very different type of a person than expected by those who arrested her. In reality, it became clear at the very beginning of the preliminary investigation, and then during court.
She didn't break psychologically. She didn't admit her guilt. She refused to make a deal with the investigators. Savchenko took an active, and sometimes aggressive, position. From the start she announced that she wouldn't recognize the process against her. As a protest against it she began hunger strikes.
So, the trial against Savchenko have ended quite predictably. But Moscow's campaign against her seem to have become a tremendous fiasco in general. Not only did Russia fail to reach its goals, but also it created several problems, with its image affected a great deal in the West and a so-called Savchenko List adopted by Ukrainian authorities. The list bans 84 officials from Russia and Donbas from travelling to Ukraine.
Moreover, some Russian citizens seem to have been ready to take to the streets to support Savchenko: A series of solitary pickets took place in various Russian cities. Of course, it would be naive to assume that people's protests will be constitent and large-scale, but nevertheless the Savchenko case reflects the controversial character of both Russia's foreign and domestic policies. So, it remains to be seen what are the long-term implications of the Savchnenko verdict on Russia.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.