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

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More