Nadezhda Savchenko. Photo: Valery Matytsin / TASS
Until the very last moment, information about the upcoming release of Nadezhda Savchenko was kept secret. Of course, about the fact that she should be exchanged for the Russians contained in the Ukrainian prison, there was still talk last year of 2015. Almost immediately, as Savchenko was sentenced, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko said that he admits the possibility of her exchange for Yevhen Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov. Citizens of the Russian Federation, Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev, we recall, were detained by Ukrainian special services in 2015. They were accused of participating in the war in the Donbas and were sentenced in April 2016 to 14 years of imprisonment each. The Ukrainian side persistently called Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev fighters of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. However, the representatives of Russia stated that Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev are not active soldiers. In April, 2016, after Savchenko was convicted, Petro Poroshenko announced that he was discussing with the Russian leadership the nuances of the exchange of Savchenko for Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev. By the end of April, the Russian press reported that the Federal Penitentiary Service was preparing documents for the extradition of Nadezhda Savchenko to Ukraine.
All morning 25 May at the airport of Rostov-on-Don crowded journalists. The “sharks of the pen” and the “master of shooting” were waiting for the most exciting moment when it would be possible to photograph, record, remember the main event of the last days - the exchange of Nadezhda Savchenko for Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev. There was information that the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko will fly for Savchenko to Rostov-on-Don. It will become clear later that for the delivery of Savchenko to his homeland, a presidential plane really flew to Rostov-on-Don. But Poroshenko was not there - a number of high-ranking officials and employees of the Ukrainian special services flew. Already after lunch, representatives of the airport security came out to the journalists, who reported that Savchenko had long since flown to Kiev. The extradition operation was carried out unnoticed, without extra eyes.
In Ukraine, at the Borispol airport, where the presidential plane landed, Nadezhda Savchenko was greeted as a national heroine. The leader of Batkivshchyna, Yulia Tymoshenko, mother of Savchenko Maria Savchenko and sister Vera Savchenko arrived at the airport. At three o'clock in the afternoon, President Poroshenko officially announced that Nadezhda Savchenko had flown to Kiev. She was awarded the star of Hero of Ukraine. It is assumed that next week Savchenko will start working as a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada.
Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov, on the contrary, were met “without noise” at the Vnukovo airport - the men embraced their wives at the plane’s ramp. To communicate with the press and make any loud statements, none of them began. Unlike Nadezhda Savchenko, for two years of imprisonment, he turned into a media person, promoted by the Ukrainian, Western, and Russian (which is no secret!) Mass media, the liberated Russians are not media people.
Nadezhda Savchenko and Petro Poroshenko. Foto: Sergei Chuzavkov, AP
But let's move on from the circumstances of Savchenko's release to assessing the consequences of the event itself. Nadezhda Savchenko was detained in Russia for almost two years. All this time, the campaign in defense of the arrested Ukrainian woman continued in both Ukraine and Western countries, to which the Russian “fifth column” joined - pro-Western media and politicians. In the end, Savchenko was convicted. But rumors that until the end of his term Ukrainian pilots will not sit, went before the verdict. It was clear that Savchenko would be subject to political bargaining, just what? Some politicians offered to exchange Nadezhda Savchenko for Viktor Bout, who was detained by US intelligence agencies. In their opinion, this would be a completely equal exchange. Others proposed to release Savchenko to freedom in exchange for the release of Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov detained in Ukraine. But there were persistent opponents of any talk about the exchange or release of the Ukrainian pilots.
The fact that Russian citizens Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov were free is wonderful. If Russia wants not only to be called, but also to be a strong and authoritative state, it must take care of the security of its citizens and protect them by any means. At the same time, some significant people in modern Russia rated Savchenko’s exchange negatively - not because they didn’t have to seek the return of Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov, but because the Ukrainian side won in the first place from Nadezhda Savchenko’s release. In particular, Igor Strelkov said the disparity of exchange. The former defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic said in an interview with Gazeta.ru that Ukraine would use Savchenko’s release to raise pseudo-patriotic hysteria. Russia from the exchange Savchenko will not receive, according to Strelkov, practically nothing.
A well-known Russian political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the release of Nadezhda Savchenko. He posted on his page on the Facebook social network a post dedicated to the most important event of the day. According to Markov, the return of Savchenko to Ukraine will lead to the approval both in Ukraine and in the West of the opinion that it is possible and necessary to put pressure on Russia. Consequently, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine will continue to tighten their positions with respect to Russia. On the other hand, Russia's allies may become disillusioned with its strength and reorient themselves toward cooperation with Western countries.
Another miscalculation of the Russian leadership is related to the fact that Savchenko was exchanged for people who were represented in Ukraine by Russian intelligence officers - the servicemen. Until recently, Russia denied the fact that Yerofeyev and Aleksandrov belonged to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, but their exchange for Savchenko creates just such an impression. “All Western newspapers will now write that for the first time Moscow has openly admitted that its military is fighting in the South-East of Ukraine,” wrote Sergey Markov on his page.
At the same time, the motives that guided the Russian authorities were quite understandable when deciding to exchange Savchenko. If Savchenko had gone for a long time to a colony of general regime, as follows from a court sentence, all this time Savchenko’s conclusion would have been exploited by anti-Russian forces. The West and Ukraine would accuse Russia of violating human rights and illegal detention of Savchenko, Russian liberals would hold actions in her support as a “political prisoner”. Naturally, the old anti-Russian sanctions would be maintained or new ones would be introduced. In any case, the Savchenko case would have lasted more than one year, and the Russian leadership is expecting, even at the cost of reputational damage, that in a month the other world will forget about Savchenko and her stay in a Russian prison in 2014-2016.
In addition, two Russian citizens were exchanged for Savchenko. This is also a big plus - living, real Russians have returned home to their families. These are people too and they were actually held hostage by the Ukrainian authorities. It was necessary to think about their safety. Changing two Russians for Savchenko, the Russian authorities show, as it were, concern for their own citizens above all, including reputational costs. Many Russian politicians, including such “heavyweights” like Valentina Matvienko or Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said that if you can free Russians at the price of an exchange for Nadezhda Savchenko, then this should be used.
But so far it is obvious that Ukraine gained the maximum benefit from the liberation of Savchenko. There is a category of Russian patriots that is inclined to approve any actions of the authorities, including the most ill-conceived and unpopular. Of course, that there was a sufficient number of politicians, political scientists, and publicists, who immediately supported the idea of exchanging Savchenko and try to present her release as a success for Russia. For example, they claim that a Russian court proved Savchenko’s involvement in the murder of journalists and now she is considered a murderer. The only question is who is considered? In the West, not to mention Ukraine, it doesn’t matter what evidence the Russian court found. For them, Savchenko is an effective anti-Russian game tool that will be used while it can be used.
The fact that such a high-profile case was completed with the release of a woman in two months after a strict sentence indicates that there is no clear and unified position on the case of Savchenko in the Russian leadership. Just yesterday, Savchenko was a brutal murderer, plots were broadcast about her, and accusatory articles were written. The man in the street consumed and digested this information, becoming stronger in his hatred of the cruel, masculine spotter - and here you are! Nadezhda Savchenko was released and brought to Kiev, where she was met as a national heroine. How to explain its rapid release to people? After all, it turns out that Nadezhda Savchenko did not answer before the law for her actions, which the court recognized as guilty.
In Russia, thousands of prisoners are awaiting the president’s pardon - and this is not only about marginals, but also about people who have merits to the country, who fought or worked, but who committed a crime at some point and were caught on the other side of the barbed wire. All of them declare their deep repentance of the crimes committed, try not to violate the regime and to behave around the places of imprisonment. But only a few of them seek pardon. And Nadezhda Savchenko, openly speaking from anti-Russian positions, was released.
The big miscalculation was the fact that Russian public opinion turned out to be unprepared for the upcoming exchange of Nadezhda Savchenko. Most Russians did not expect that after the high-profile process and numerous publications in the media condemning the Ukrainian female pilot, they would take it and simply transfer it to Ukraine in two months. If the Russian authorities initially had such plans, it was necessary to smoothly prepare public opinion for this action. By the way, this task would be quite feasible - if the Russian mass media were given appropriate attitudes, then the society would be prepared for the upcoming exchange. At least, he would not look like a loss to the Russian side and a victory for Kiev.
In Ukraine, Savchenko expects a political career. Now for the “possession of Savchenko” many Ukrainian political parties will compete. After all, such a popular media figure is a big bonus for any Ukrainian political organization. Savchenko herself was elected deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the European Parliament while still in custody in Russia. It turns out that by freeing Savchenko, Russia received another extremely radical adversary on the political scene of Ukraine. With the level of promotion Savchenko, it is possible that she will head some political organization, at least in the role of a “talking head”. Her anti-Russian speeches with references to the “sad experience” of being in a Russian detention facility will be replicated in abundance by the Ukrainian and Western media. Does Russia need this?
However, having arrested and detained Nadezhda Savchenko on her territory, Russia herself created the “Savchenko problem” for herself. The well-known lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky gave an interview to the Russian information resource “Free Press”, in which, in particular, he stressed that from the very beginning it was impossible to promote the “Savchenko case”. The very fact of the trial of Savchenko in the Russian Federation, according to Dmitry Agranovsky, was a big mistake. As Agranovsky emphasized, in such cases “it is necessary to act according to martial law”. The trial of Savchenko contributed to its promotion, unnecessary attention to the problem of Russian-Ukrainian relations and, ultimately, turned the useless and unknown thirty-three years old (at the time of arrest) pilot Lieutenant Savchenko into a political figure of Ukraine-wide scale, and with worldwide fame.
The release of Savchenko added self-confidence to the Ukrainian side. Petro Poroshenko said that he would seek the release of other Ukrainian citizens in custody on the territory of Russia. First of all, we are talking about the "Crimean terrorists" - Oleg Sentsov, Gennady Afanasyev and Alexander Kolchenko. They were convicted of terrorism in the Crimea and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment (Sentsov - 20 years, Kolchenko - 10 years, Afanasyev - 7 years). The Ukrainian president went so far as to promise to “liberate the Crimea and the Donbass as they released Nadezhda.”
Savchenko's return to Kiev was a huge image victory for Petro Poroshenko. What will happen next and how Savchenko will behave on the political scene of Ukraine - time will tell. More importantly, the consequences of the event for Russia. And they are unlikely to be positive. There will be no liberalization of Western policy towards our country - it’s necessary to accept that the rejection of Russia is the organic position of the United States, Great Britain and a number of other Western states, which does not depend on whether Savchenko or any other Ukrainians are in prison or at large, like and in general from the relations of Russia and Ukraine.