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 demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.