Russian TV helps prosecution in Nadiya Savchenko case
When a criminal trial involves a pilot taken captive by insurgents in one country and found imprisoned and facing serious criminal charges in another, questions are inevitable. Russia has thus far proven unable to credibly explain how Nadiya Savchenko came to be in Russian detention and to be charged with involvement in the deaths of a Russian journalist and cameraman. It is instead applying dubious tactics to ensure that the questions are either not asked, or not heard. Not for the first time, Russian TV has been assigned a key role.
A Voronezh court on July 25 rejected Savchenko’s appeal against the court ruling remanding her in custody until August 31. She is likely to soon be transferred to the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow. The judge was unmoved by the fact that the original court’s detention order, as well as the investigators documents, refer to the Donbas region of Ukraine as “the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”. The latter are the Kremlin-backed militants’ self-proclaimed ‘republics’ which even Russia has not officially recognized.
It is likely that the fault for such a telling mistake lies with the Investigative Committee of Russia which has been initiating ‘criminal investigations’ with a distinctly political slant for many months now. The documents in question refer to a number of cases opened from May 30, including occasions where Russian journalists were, according to Ukraine detained for unacceptable activities and deported or, according to Russia ‘abducted’.
The defence had insisted that Savchenko be brought to the court and that the hearing be open. The latter application was allowed, however there was only video contact with Savchenko from her cell. Her lawyers’ application for a change of interpreter was also rejected, although there are clear grounds for concern that Savchenko’s words are being distorted. Savchenko, for example, said that she was abducted from Ukraine with this being translated as that she was caught in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian consul was only allowed to see Savchenko after numerous attempts, and is now being stopped from visiting her again. This could well be because he passed on her account of how she was abducted into Russia with a bag over her head and in handcuffs. The pretext, however, is that Savchenko has already had the second visit she is allowed each month.
The supposed ‘visit’ was from a LifeNews journalist who was permitted by the investigator to interview her.
The edited transcript remains on the channel’s website under the title: “The insurgents did not shoot down the Malaysian Boeing. LIfeNews took an exclusive interview of a woman who took part in a punitive operation in Ukraine and is now in the Voronezh SIZO”.
As during her interrogation by the militants who captured her around June 18, Savchenko is not cowered and denies all claims that she could have been involved in any way in the killing of unarmed journalists. There is no point in analysing particular parts of the interview since it seems likely that the tape has been carefully edited. There is a suspiciously short amount of time given to her abduction and how she ended up in Russia. Even Savchenko’s doubts about whether the militants could have shot down the plane should be treated with caution. They come after a month held captive first by the militants then in Russia. Any access to the news over recent weeks has therefore been via Russian TV channels whose distortion of information about the shooting-down of MH17 has itself made world headlines.
Even with manipulative editing, Savchenko creates a very good impression. Perhaps for that reason, LifeNews took another ‘exclusive’ interview, this time of Vladimir Markin from the Investigative Committee. This is entitled “Savchenko lived in Russia for two weeks before being detained” and begins with the presenter claiming that Savchenko when detained, “beat her breast, admitting “yes, I killed them, I killed them” and has now changed her tune. The interviewer’s very tone makes it clear that the audience should view all denials of guilt as an attempt now to wriggle out of trouble. Markin joins in claiming that ‘as one can see’, Savchenko contradicts herself at each point. In fact, one cannot see anything of the sort, and there is no evidence that Savchenko ever ‘confessed”
Markin first states that Savchenko did much more than simply point out the journalists’ whereabouts. When asked for more detail, however, he backtracks saying that other charges ‘are still being confirmed’. He asserts that Savchenko was in Russia for two weeks and doesn’t know ‘how she escaped’ from her militant captors. She was then, he claims, detained after she took a taxi dressed in camouflage gear. He can’t remember why the police patrol stopped the car, perhaps she didn’t have her seatbelt on, he suggests. He alleges she said that she was a refugee and had run away from Ukraine as she didn’t agree with the new authorities’ politics. The story is almost comically implausible, with the details clearly seen as less important than the overall task of discrediting Savchenko and casting doubt on her words.
LifeNews is focused on here since it provided ‘exclusive’ interviews, however the line taken is that presented by the Russian authorities and will be identical on all mainstream Russian media. Russians, and Ukrainians in those parts of eastern Ukraine still under militant control, have little chance of understanding how grossly they are being misled.
None of this, unfortunately, is new. Two left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzaev were convicted by a Moscow court last week of ‘organizing mass riots’ on May 6 2012. In October that year the Russian authorities abducted Razvozzhaev from Kyiv where he was in the process of applying for asylum and took him to Moscow. The charges laid against both men stem from allegations made, without corroboration or identification of the person supposed to have ‘exposed them’ in a scandalous ‘documentary’ entitled “Anatomy of Protest” on NTV.
The abduction in 2012 took place under the former president Viktor Yanukovych and almost certainly with the connivance of the Ukrainian authorities. Those days have gone. Savchenko is Ukrainian, was captured by the militants and handed over to the Russians against her will and is now facing charges that bear no scrutiny. The questions Russia’s investigators cannot answer urgently need to be asked – publicly and loudly. They should not stop until Nadiya Savchenko is released and back in Ukraine.