An In-Depth Look into Savchenko’s Fate

Apr 17 2015

WASHINGTON-April 16, representatives of Free Russia Foundation met only a stone’s throw from the White House to discuss the legal situation now facing Nadezhda Savchenko.

At the meeting was Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst for Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations, Natalia Arno, President of the Free Russia Foundation, Mark Feygin, a member of Savchenko’s legal defense team, and Richard Jackson, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, often considered the most prestigious of universities in Washington. The event was co-organized by Open Society Foundations, Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association and the Free Russia Foundation.

Nadezhda, commonly known by her nickname Nadya, was a pilot in Ukraine’s Armed Forces, the first woman to train as a pilot. She was the only woman to participate in Ukraine’s peacekeeping mission in Iraq. She was also an active figure during Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution between 2013 and 2014. When the conflict in Ukraine started, Savchenko went to fight for her country against the separatists in Eastern Ukraine that many believe to be aided by the Kremlin.

While serving in the far eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk she was captured by pro-Russian forces.

Her lawyer, Mark Feygin, speaking through an interpreter, recounted in great detail Savchenko’s time in captivity, and how she became a war hero for Ukrainians.

According to Mr. Feygin, Savchenko was captured on June 17th 2014, in a town north of Luhansk, by armed men loyal to the Luhansk People’s Republic. She was taken to a military center in Luhansk where she was beaten and taken captive by armed guards. Simultaneously, two Russian journalists moved from Luhansk’s city center to its outskirts, specifically to a town called Metallist. They were caught in the crossfire of shelling from forces loyal to both Kiev and to Russia, specifically the Aidar and Zarya battalions. One journalist was killed immediately in the shelling, the other died of his wounds on the way to receive medical treatment. Savchenko was taken as a hostage by men loyal to Igor Plotnitsky, who is now the acting president of the Luhansk People’s Republic. She was then transported to Voronezh, a town due north of Luhansk in Russia. In Voronezh, Savchenko was taken to the Hotel Euro and placed in a room under heavily armed guard. An investigative committee in Russia charged her with complicity to murder of the Russian journalists in Eastern Ukraine, which she denied, claiming she had never heard of the journalists previously and would not know how to target the mortar attack that killed them as she was never trained to carry out such an operation. The second Savchenko’s charge is even more laughable – illegal crossing of the Russian border though she was brought to Russia forcefully, blindfolded and handcuffed.

Feygin went on to describe the cornerstone of the evidence that would prove Savchenko’s innocence: phone bills. Savchenko’s cell phone billing indicated she had her phone when she was captured by LPR forces and showed no overlap between her capture and the tragic death of the journalists. Unfortunately, he went on to also claim that Russia’s judicial system is not truly independent from the influence of the Kremlin, and that the Russian authorities had violated both international and domestic law in their detaining and abducting Nadya.

During the brief question and answer session, Mr. Feygin also stressed that the case of Nadya Savchenko likely did not go the way that the authorities intended. He speculated that they’d expected Savchenko to capitulate early on account on her gender in a bout of arrogance and ignorance. This, of course, turned out exactly the opposite, as Nadya retains her innocence.

So why Savchenko? Mr. Feygin speculated during the discussion session that the Kremlin’s insistence on capturing and detaining her comes from a desire to work on wider political goals. Also, Savchenko is the one in the spotlight but she is hardly the only Ukrainian in this situation. There are other Ukrainian officers and soldiers in Russian prisons. And she is just a part of a bigger case against at least 62 Ukrainian individuals including Igor Kolomoisky, former Dnepropetrovsk region governor, Arsen Avakov, Ministor of Interior of Ukraine, and many others. According to Mr. Feygin, and the decision in Savchenko’s trial would set a strong precedent for better or for worse.

Professor Richard Jackson, from Georgetown University’s School of Law, offered a broad and grim perspective on Savchenko’s quagmire by speaking about how international organizations can help Savchenko. While there exist many different institutions in Europe to hold the prosecutors of Savchenko accountable and acquit her of her supposed crimes, the Kremlin’s insistence (reaffirmed today by President Putin) that Russia is not involved in Ukraine’s war makes things infinitely more complicated. With Putin’s insistence on Russia’s lack of involvement and an uneasy ceasefire persisting, the fate of Savchenko may be in serious trouble. While there is a global campaign to free Ms. Savchenko, her status in Russia is that of a bloodthirsty villain. During the discussion, it was stressed that most Russian media has described her as a guilty woman fighting for a fascist junta.

The Savchenko case is a poster child of Russia’s willful violations of international norms, but her case is a tip of an iceberg, a part of a larger story about Russia. The Kremlin routinely violates international agreements at every opportunity; to the sovereignty of its neighbors, to military treaties, to economic agreements, and even violations of basic human rights. The Russian leadership has no reservation about violating its own constitution and the rights afforded its people. It’s necessary to bring Russia back to acting as a peaceful and honorable world citizen. The case for Nadya’s freedom gives an opportunity to force Russia to adhere to international law and indeed, basic human rights. Helping to free Savchenko can be a turning point in Russia’s return to sanity. And this is what is called justice.

By Kyle Menyhert

At the meeting was Jeff Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst for Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations, Natalia Arno, President of the Free Russia Foundation, Mark Feygin, a member of Savchenko’s legal defense team, and Richard Jackson, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, often considered the most prestigious of universities in Washington. The event was co-organized by Open Society Foundations, Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association and the Free Russia Foundation.

Nadezhda, commonly known by her nickname Nadya, was a pilot in Ukraine’s Armed Forces, the first woman to train as a pilot. She was the only woman to participate in Ukraine’s peacekeeping mission in Iraq. She was also an active figure during Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution between 2013 and 2014. When the conflict in Ukraine started, Savchenko went to fight for her country against the separatists in Eastern Ukraine that many believe to be aided by the Kremlin.

While serving in the far eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk she was captured by pro-Russian forces.

Her lawyer, Mark Feygin, speaking through an interpreter, recounted in great detail Savchenko’s time in captivity, and how she became a war hero for Ukrainians.

According to Mr. Feygin, Savchenko was captured on June 17th 2014, in a town north of Luhansk, by armed men loyal to the Luhansk People’s Republic. She was taken to a military center in Luhansk where she was beaten and taken captive by armed guards. Simultaneously, two Russian journalists moved from Luhansk’s city center to its outskirts, specifically to a town called Metallist. They were caught in the crossfire of shelling from forces loyal to both Kiev and to Russia, specifically the Aidar and Zarya battalions. One journalist was killed immediately in the shelling, the other died of his wounds on the way to receive medical treatment. Savchenko was taken as a hostage by men loyal to Igor Plotnitsky, who is now the acting president of the Luhansk People’s Republic. She was then transported to Voronezh, a town due north of Luhansk in Russia. In Voronezh, Savchenko was taken to the Hotel Euro and placed in a room under heavily armed guard. An investigative committee in Russia charged her with complicity to murder of the Russian journalists in Eastern Ukraine, which she denied, claiming she had never heard of the journalists previously and would not know how to target the mortar attack that killed them as she was never trained to carry out such an operation. The second Savchenko’s charge is even more laughable – illegal crossing of the Russian border though she was brought to Russia forcefully, blindfolded and handcuffed.

Feygin went on to describe the cornerstone of the evidence that would prove Savchenko’s innocence: phone bills. Savchenko’s cell phone billing indicated she had her phone when she was captured by LPR forces and showed no overlap between her capture and the tragic death of the journalists. Unfortunately, he went on to also claim that Russia’s judicial system is not truly independent from the influence of the Kremlin, and that the Russian authorities had violated both international and domestic law in their detaining and abducting Nadya.

During the brief question and answer session, Mr. Feygin also stressed that the case of Nadya Savchenko likely did not go the way that the authorities intended. He speculated that they’d expected Savchenko to capitulate early on account on her gender in a bout of arrogance and ignorance. This, of course, turned out exactly the opposite, as Nadya retains her innocence.

So why Savchenko? Mr. Feygin speculated during the discussion session that the Kremlin’s insistence on capturing and detaining her comes from a desire to work on wider political goals. Also, Savchenko is the one in the spotlight but she is hardly the only Ukrainian in this situation. There are other Ukrainian officers and soldiers in Russian prisons. And she is just a part of a bigger case against at least 62 Ukrainian individuals including Igor Kolomoisky, former Dnepropetrovsk region governor, Arsen Avakov, Ministor of Interior of Ukraine, and many others. According to Mr. Feygin, and the decision in Savchenko’s trial would set a strong precedent for better or for worse.

Professor Richard Jackson, from Georgetown University’s School of Law, offered a broad and grim perspective on Savchenko’s quagmire by speaking about how international organizations can help Savchenko. While there exist many different institutions in Europe to hold the prosecutors of Savchenko accountable and acquit her of her supposed crimes, the Kremlin’s insistence (reaffirmed today by President Putin) that Russia is not involved in Ukraine’s war makes things infinitely more complicated. With Putin’s insistence on Russia’s lack of involvement and an uneasy ceasefire persisting, the fate of Savchenko may be in serious trouble. While there is a global campaign to free Ms. Savchenko, her status in Russia is that of a bloodthirsty villain. During the discussion, it was stressed that most Russian media has described her as a guilty woman fighting for a fascist junta.

The Savchenko case is a poster child of Russia’s willful violations of international norms, but her case is a tip of an iceberg, a part of a larger story about Russia. The Kremlin routinely violates international agreements at every opportunity; to the sovereignty of its neighbors, to military treaties, to economic agreements, and even violations of basic human rights. The Russian leadership has no reservation about violating its own constitution and the rights afforded its people. It’s necessary to bring Russia back to acting as a peaceful and honorable world citizen. The case for Nadya’s freedom gives an opportunity to force Russia to adhere to international law and indeed, basic human rights. Helping to free Savchenko can be a turning point in Russia’s return to sanity. And this is what is called justice.

By Kyle Menyhert

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.