'Savchenko case will become cause célèbre in Western circles'

Former Ukrainian army pilot Nadezhda Savchenko listens to her lawyers Mark Feygin © Sergey Pivovarov
The West itself has led numerous such cases, but when it comes to a prosecution by a country they don’t like, they suddenly throw the rule book at Russia, John Laughland, Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, told RT.

Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian Air Force officer detained in Russia in 2014, was found guilty of murdering two Russian journalists near Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, and of illegally crossing the Russian border, a court in the southern Russian town of Donetsk ruled.

RT: Diplomats from different countries, including the US, Great Britain, France and others, were in attendance at the court awaiting the decision. What's their role?

John Laughland: Well, they are going to turn that into a cause célèbre. They are going to say that she has been falsely detained and falsely convicted. In that sense her fate will resemble that of other people who have been on one or other side of judicial prosecution. I am thinking of people like Akhmed Zakayev or Boris Berezovsky, who fled Russian justice, fled the Russian judicial system to seek political asylum in the West, in this case in the UK.

There is a long history of back and forth on these issues. And the Nadia Savchenko case is just another one. It is very rich, isn’t it, for these diplomats to be protesting against her arrest and conviction? Because for the last 15-20 years the West has been pushing the war-crimes agenda very, very hard, and has been saying that international crimes must be prosecuted at all costs, even at the cost of tearing up international law. The West itself has led numerous such prosecutions. But guess what? When it comes to a prosecution by a country that they don’t like, someone that they don’t support, then they suddenly throw the rule book at Russia. It is a rather dismal spectacle. Unfortunately, I think her case will now, as I say, will become a cause célèbre, of course a further cause of discord between Russia and Ukraine and the West.

RT: What kind of reaction, if any, are you expecting from Western officials to the guilty verdict?

JL: Well, I expect they will criticize it. But if they do criticize it, as the Ukrainian authorities do, namely on procedural grounds, in other words saying that should have never been tried in Russia, that she is Ukrainian citizen, that the alleged crimes were committed in Ukraine, and so on, and so forth. If they take this procedural rout, then that, to my mind, is more or less the admission that she is in fact guilty as charged.

If they said: “Well, she actually didn’t do that, she wasn’t there, and she had nothing to do with that” – that would be one thing. But instead I get the impression that their reaction will be more political. They will say she is a political prisoner and all the rest of it. As I say, that to me at least suggests that she may actually be guilty as charged.

RT: The Ukrainian President awarded Nadezhda Savchenko with the country's highest military honor. Do you think there is some sort of a conflict here?

JL: Obviously it will only through oil on the fire, because if it is true that she has been complicit in murdering not only civilians, but journalists, there is a particular sensitivity certainly in Western Europe and in the US to the murder of journalists, who are usually put forward as the bearers of truth, and so on. If she is indeed guilty of that, than clearly Russian public opinion will be very hostile to her, and by awarding her this honor Ukraine will - by implication - be condoning  what are after all international crimes. And to some extent condoning at least indirectly the Aidar battalion, of which she was a member. The Aidar battalion against whom Amnesty International issued a very damning report in September 2014, accusing them of all kinds of atrocities.

Alexander Mercouris, International Affairs Editor for Russia Insider

RT: Savchenko says she's not guilty because at the time of the journalists' death she had already been kidnapped by separatists. Is that credible?

Alexander Mercouris: I don’t know exactly and I don’t think it is possible for me to say exactly, how she was arrested. The court has decided that she was arrested properly within Russia. She has disputed that in her trial. She said she won’t appeal. There is going to be a complete difference of opinion about that. The legal process has taken its course and I don’t really see how it’s for me to dispute this.

RT: The Western media have been widely covering within Russia. She disputed it. Why is this story garnering so much media attention?

AM: … That has been a problem with this case – it has been highly politicized, because there has been very little interest in the charges, and no real interest in looking at the court’s process to see whether in fact she was really guilty of those things.

RT: The Ukrainian President has awarded her the highest title of Hero of Ukraine to Nadezhda Savchenko. Why do you think that is?

AM: The Ukrainians for their part are trying to build her up as a hero in Ukraine. There has even been talk of a kind of Joan of Arc figure in Ukraine, because she is a military person, but also a woman. So that is a part of that campaign, which is also a part of the general media and propaganda campaign, if you will, that the Ukrainians have been building up as part of their struggle in the war, which they claim is a struggle of aggression against Ukraine by Russia.

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