Ukraine’s parliament voted on March 22 to remove the political immunity of MP Nadiya Savchenko in order to allow for her arrest and prosecution for terrorism-related charges. 291 MPs voted to open a criminal case against Savchenko (out of a 226-vote minimum majority), 277 MPs voted to detain her and 268 MPs voted to arrest her.
Ahead of the votes, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko presented 28 minutes of three days’ worth of video evidence gathered by secret surveillance that showed Savchenko explaining her plot to violently overthrow the Ukrainian government, including planning bombings inside the parliament building and a mortar attack on the Kyiv city center. At one moment, she rejects her accomplice’s proposal for a widescale revolution, instead suggesting a swift overthrow. “They need to be eliminated physically,” she said. “All of them and quickly, at that.” Among these she planned to have assassinated are President Petro Poroshenko, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
In response to the charges against her, Savchenko criticized the government as an evil force that is working against peace. She criticized her colleagues in parliament for failing to make enough efforts to stop the warfare in Donbas and continuing to indulge in corruption. She accused Lutsenko and his fellow EuroMaidan activists of doing the same thing in overthrowing the Yanukovych government that she had planned, essentially repeating a Kremlin talking point. The difference is that they succeeded “but the people didn’t succeed,” she said, casting herself as the people’s representative in warning that the Ukrainian people will be the biggest threat to parliament, not her. She refused to surrender her Hero of Ukraine award that she gained from the president during her incarceration in Russia as a war prisoner.
Zenon Zawada: In the big picture, what’s most important from these events is the information that has been revealed from the recordings of Savchenko planning her coup with her accomplices. Savchenko, who was in close contact with self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, revealed that his ideal scenario is to be reintegrated into Ukraine, but without the current government in place. Savchenko planned to kill Ukraine’s leaders in order to fulfill this goal, though it remains unclear whether Zakharchenko had any realistic hope for Savchenko to succeed or merely allowed her to fall victim to her own delusions. Savchenko also reveals, through her interactions with Zakharchenko, that Russia is not interested in annexing its occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Our best explanation for these bizarre events is that Savchenko is an idealist of the extreme kind who is incapable of applying a rational framework to her motives of punishing evildoers. It’s this reckless, unbounded idealism that led her to join Ukrainian paramilitary forces in Donbas, to repeatedly defy the Russian government with risky hunger strikes and now to overthrow a Ukrainian government that she accuses of killing its own citizens by waging this war in Donbas.
We expect Savchenko will be prosecuted and convicted of her crimes, receiving a harsh prison sentence despite her apparent cognitive deficiencies. The Ukrainian government will have to make an example of her to dissuade any other paramilitaries or separatists from considering similar overthrow attempts. Only until after the war is over, and the Russian threat neutralized, can she hope to be released, possibly on the basis of her cognitive deficiencies.
Needless to say, this is an incredibly tragic turn of events after Savchenko had become an international hero in her defiant stand against her illegal arrest and incarceration by the Russian government. Now she stands accused of plotting to overthrow the Ukrainian government, which could imprison her for life, far longer the 22-year sentence imposed by the Russian courts.