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Savchenko, Sentsov & Udaltsov: Blatant hypocrisy makes Russians deeply cynical about the West

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Savchenko, Sentsov & Udaltsov: Blatant hypocrisy makes Russians deeply cynical about the West
For the present generation of Western politicians, ‘human rights activists’ and the mainstream media, it seems to be all about the prison, not the prisoner. And erstwhile ‘hero of Ukraine’ Nadia Savchenko would surely agree.

MOSCOW - In 2016, she was a “modern martyr” (The Economist), and also known as “Ukraine’s Joan of Arc” (Foreign Policy).

In fact, one website even used facial reconstructions of the legendary French heroine to argue that the pair looked the same. Which gives you an idea of the hysteria the campaign unleashed.

Meanwhile, upon her release from a Russian jail, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko flew his future nemesis back to Kiev on his personal plane. A then-popular gesture from the oligarch-turned-politician, which he surely regrets now.

At the same time, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described Savchenko as someone who “truly understands freedom,” saying she was “honored to meet a real heroine” when they crossed paths at a NATO summit.

And John McCain, the Senator and failed Presidential candidate, celebrated the former pilot as “an icon of freedom and democracy.” Tellingly, he added, “we must remain steadfast vs. Russian aggression as Nadiya has.”

McCain's choice of words betrayed how, for her Western supporters, Savchenko was only ever a means to an end and a prop to benefit their objectives. Once she served her purpose, the former Ukrainian Air-force pilot was tossed to the winds.

Glory to a hero

Today, she languishes in a Ukrainian prison and her bygone supporters are silent. A classic example of the sort of gross hypocrisy that often makes Russians deeply cynical about the West.

And, what’s more, she’s been there since March. Held on, what appear to be, trumped-up charges of plotting to organise a “coup.” Which, ironically, is how the present regime in Kiev itself came to power.

Many suspect Poroshenko and his cronies wanted her neutralised as a political threat. Something of a tradition in Ukraine where, in a deeply cynical move, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was controversially locked up by the “Chocolate King’s” ousted predecessor Viktor Yanukovych.

Let’s circle back to 2014. Because that summer, Savchenko was arrested and accused of complicity in the murder of two journalists. Immediately, Western and Ukrainian human rights activists, hacks and politicians dismissed the accusations as bogus. And a high-pressure campaign was launched to secure her release, ranging from the adroit use of social media (notably the #SaveSavchenko hashtag) to high-level political interventions. Another tactic saw her appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of Europe (PACE), which, in theory, should have granted her immunity from prosecution in a member state, such as Russia.

During her long trial, which became a press circus, Savchenko launched a hunger strike in March 2016, a fortnight before she was found guilty by a Russian court. Two months later, Vladimir Putin pardoned the pilot and she returned home, after a prisoner swap.

Change of tone

Already elected to parliament in absentia, Savchenko settled into a political career in Kiev, with many observers tipping her as a future president. Thus, few were surprised when, last summer, she announced her intention to challenge Poroshenko for the presidency in 2019. And most astute Ukraine analysts weren't shocked either when she was arrested this spring, on a pretence which seems farcical.

Western reaction has been noticeably muted. With her 2014-16 backers suddenly disinterested in her struggles. Meanwhile, Albright and John Kerry, to name just two, appear to have simultaneously encountered cats who swallowed their tongues.

Now, this kind of thing makes Russians roll their eyes at the West and its sloganeering. Because they have seen it all before. For example, back in the 90’s, when Boris Yeltsin was leading Russia into the abyss, and destroying its nascent democracy, he was seen as a jolly good fellow in Washington. But, as soon as Putin made it clear he would be operating a “Russia first” agenda, he went from being perceived as a promising potential “reformer” to being portrayed as a pariah.

People here are not stupid and they know the game by now. For instance, while Savchenko, having outlived her usefulness, rots in a Ukrainian jail, the latest cause celebre is Oleg Sentsov, a pro-Kiev Crimean filmmaker currently on hunger strike in Northern Russia after being found guilty of terrorism in a prosecution some viewed as unfair. For evidence of how well-organised these campaigns are, check out Sentsov’s obviously professionally-penned, English-Language Wikipedia entry.

Old friends

Contrast this attention to the disinterest in the case of Sergei Udaltsov, a far-leftist presently also refusing food, while under detention. Back in 2012, when he was engaged in a loose alliance with pro-Western liberals, the British and US media couldn’t get enough of him. Indeed, there were profiles in the New York Times and The Guardian, among others. Yet, today, his travails are ignored.

Something, which is presumably related to his support for Russia’s reabsorption of Crimea and his backing for the “Novorossiya” movement which hopes Moscow will annex all of eastern and southern Ukraine, all the way to Odessa.

Other stand-out examples of hypocrisy include the tale of Petr Pavlensky, whose stunt of nailing his scrotum to Red Square, was labelled "performance art" by The Guardian. Later, after he set fire to the door of the Bank of France, his Western media supporters, predictably, vamoosed. And when he was held in pretrial detention for months, they remained silent. But we all know the outrage that would have followed if authorities in Moscow had given him the same treatment.  

Many readers may also remember when Ukrainian spooks helped Russian exile journalist Arkady Babchenko fake his own death, earlier this year. Afterwards, rather than lambast Kiev for undermining trust in the press and facilitating “fake news,” The Guardian attempted to blame Moscow. With correspondent Shaun Walker’s diatribe basically amounting to “now those awful Russians will use our allies' lies to prove that our allies' lie: so damn your eyes Babchenko!” This was performance art in itself, journalism as high farce.

The fact is there’s a direct relationship between how much Western news outlets care about a country’s civil liberties and rule of law, and the real-life victims of selective justice, and how disobedient to the United States and NATO are its leaders. Russians are fully aware of this and they also know their country is neither the most corrupt in the world (or even in Eastern Europe) and nor is it the worst human rights transgressor, by any measure.

Furthermore, all bar the most naive, stupid or cynically opportunist, by now understand that the west is often prone to insincerity, duplicity and double-dealing. Concepts easy to understand for  Russians, who have had plenty of experience of them throughout their own history.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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