By Anastasiya Ringris, Ukrayinska Pravda
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
On May 11, 2015, aviatrix Nadiya Savchenko spent her birthday in the “Matrosskaya Tishina” detention center.
A weekend. No gifts or visits.
Shortly before this, her case was separated from a general case on war crimes in Donbas, which includes about 60 defendants, including [Ihor] Kolomoisky [former Governor of Dnipropetrovsk region], Arsen Avakov [the Minister of Internal Affairs], Valery Geletey [former Minister of Defense], and the commanders of volunteer battalions.
Despite a decision by the European Parliament calling for Russia’s release of the PACE delegate Savchenko, the Investigative Committee of Russia has extended the investigation for six more months.
International pressure, including the activity of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, which approved the new text of a resolution regarding Savchenko, indicates [that there will be] a new round of sanctions against Russia and its officials.
But it seems few people care about this in the Kremlin.
Mark Feygin, the defense attorney for the Ukrainian pilot, says that everyone involved in Savchenko’s case in the Kremlin and at the detention center are well aware that the case of the Ukrainian pilot is a farce, but continue to play their designated roles.
We met with Mark Feygin on Ostrozhenka Street [in downtown Moscow].
An infamos lawyer, known as a defense counsel to Pussy Riot, he is waiting outside. With a nod, he invites [me] to a completely deserted “Geraldine” restaurant.
Feygin looks like he is ready to defend his clients beyond the limits of the law. He is wearing Neo’s sunglasses from “The Matrix.” And he feels like a member of the resistance movement against the “system.”
He talks quite casually about wiretapping and the fact that he might end up being suspected of extremism.
“Savchenko’s case could be my last. But I am ready for any turn of events. I have defended a lot of people, and I know that I will be revenged. They will kill everyone,” said the lawyer, narrowing his eyes.
It seems that he is referring to the nationalists, with whom he keeps in touch. He did represent the founder of the “Combat Organization of Russian Nationalists” (BORN) Ilya Goryachev alongside with Nikolai Polozov.
– Tell me, when was the last time you saw Nadiya? How is she feeling?
– We met on Friday, May 8th . She feels good.
Originally, she was a sturdy woman, not at all frail. Her weight fluctuated between 75-77 kg [165-169 lbs] and now she weighs 52 kg [114 lbs]. This is a direct result of her hunger strike.
At the moment, her body is truly unable to digest food. Even though she is now fed liquid foods. Her peristalsis [muscular contraction that moves the food down esophagus] has been disrupted, and her esophagus and stomach are not prepared to digest solid food after so many days of hunger strike. She will have to spend a significant amount of time to restore her health back.
– Recently, you visited Washington D.C. to meet with the U.S. congressmen regarding Savchenko’s case. Can you share the results of your trip?
– This is my second trip to the U.S. on behalf of Savchenko. I met with congressmen and senators, mostly from the Ukrainian caucus, which works closely with the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States. A dozen congressmen and several senators attended the meeting.
We were received at the highest level. Maria Ivanovna Savchenko (Nadiya’s mother) and myself met with Samantha Power.
There were informal meetings to discuss a political program of support to Savchenko. All these meetings took place to ensure that the resolution passed all stages of ratification.
– What will it accomplish?
– It will [officially] name Savchenko a prisoner of war. Because the term hostage is still being used to define her status.
The Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols definitely characterize Nadiya as a prisoner of war. With this status, any proceeding in Russia’s general courts will be impossible.
I think this is one of the ways to release Savchenko.
– How strong is Savchenko’s lobby? What do the Congressmen say?
– They all understand that Savchenko is not guilty, they realize that she has become a part of political bargaining. They maintain a pro-Ukrainian position on Crimea and the persons who were illegally transported to the territory of Russia.
– Do you have the exact figure, how many Ukrainians are now held in detention centers on the territory of Russia?
– Around 10 people, and according to my unconfirmed reports, up to 30 people.
These could be soldiers, operatives of Ukrainian special services, because I know that there are espionage charges [against them].
Every time we are confronted with new information. And completely random people.
For example, a retiree who went to visit his acquiantances in Crimea and got detained. Mykola Karpyuk, one of the leaders of the UNA-UNSO, who was detained on March 6 at the border with the Bryansk region, is currently in Vladikavkaz. It is very difficult to get to Karpyuk right now. We are working on it.
Plus a case of Crimean “terrorists” – Sentsov, Kolchenko, Cherniy, and Afanasyev. Cherniy and Afanasyev, who cooperate with the investigation, were sentenced to 7 years. Sentsov [the filmmaker] faces up to 20 years. These detainees are under the FSB investigation, which has a military court jurisdiction starting this year.
– With which Ukrainian agencies do you work on Savchenko’s case? How effective is this work?
– [We work] with relevant government agencies on both the legal as well as political issues. We get the documents for Savchenko’s case from the investigation carried out by the SSU [Security Service of Ukraine] in Kyiv.
All evidence of [her] innocence, obtained by investigators in Kyiv, we managed to cite in her case. The most critical [part] has been done – the cell phone billing data prove that she was captured two hours before the death of the Russian journalists.
This evidence is absolutely exhaustive. We have officially submitted it to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine in accordance with the legal aid agreement.
In addition, we submitted interrogatories of Savchenko’s colleagues – Siyneovskyi, Gvozdykovskyi, and her sister Vira Savchenko, who was a participant of those events and was also captured.
Moreover, we received documents regarding Moretskiy, who claimed that Savchenko abused him. The billing of his cellphone that we received [conclusively] proved that at the time he was beaten by Savchenko according to his version of events, she was at a military unit in Brody [town in Sumy region, eastern Ukraine].
Everyone understands that there is no corpus delicti in the actions of Savchenko. Her case consists of 24 volumes each 300 pages long.
– What does the investigation charge her with? How do they word it?
– The final version lists three charges. The first charge is aiding and abetting in the murder of two and more persons. The investigators have now removed the wording that the individuals were killed while performing their professional duties.
The second charge is attempted murder, alleging that she wanted to kill five civilians from Aidar [Battalion’s] firing positions. They did not die but escaped from the place [she] fired at and thus survived.
The wording implies that Savchenko allegedly climbed a 40-meter match in the vicinity of Stukalova Balka [Luhansk region], and from there, she observed the village of Metalist from binoculars and adjusted artillery fire. At that very same time she was held captive at the military office of the Zarya battalion [of the Luhansk People’s Republic], as evidenced by the billing.
The third charge is the illegal crossing of the state border. Allegedly, Savchenko was released by the Zarya militiamen on June 23, 2014, and then she independently entered the territory of Voronezh region [of Russia], where she was detained.
– Understanding well the political context, in your opinion, what are the realistic scenarios of the development of events?
– This is not a procedural, legal case, but rather an exclusively political matter.
If it were decided in a procedural manner, the independent court – like an arbiter – would have let her go a long time ago based on the multitude of exculpatory evidence of her innocence.
But there is some political will of Putin’s to bring this process to an end and convict Savchenko. This will is so severe that there’s no other way.
It is quite easy to understand this case. It is obvious that Nadiya Savchenko, and not only she, has become a hostage of Russia.
They can no longer release her just by law. Because then, by law, nobody would have annexed Crimea.
– You are criticized for excessive publicity of this case. If it had been less public, would other solutions have been possible? Perhaps at some point it was possible to win back the situation?
– I was criticized for interfereing with procedural matters to prove Nadiya’s innocence. While Russia illegally took over the function of universal [court of] justice, undertaking to judge a crime committed on the territory of another state.
Yes, Article 12 of the Criminal Code [of Russia] allows them to proceed when it comes to crimes against Russian citizens and the interests of Russia.
That is, the critics insisted that we needed to maintain that Russia had violated the jurisdiction, because it was not clear [at the time] whether Russian citizens were the object of her assault. In addition, Nadiya was fulfilling her oath and her duty, and theoretically could have been involved in the death of some people as a servicewoman.
We chose a different strategy – an active proof of her innocence.
– What can such a strategy lead to, if you say that Putin has taken a resolute decision to imprison Savchenko at any cost?
– Putin wanted to use Savchenko as a propaganda tool. But the tool has appeared to have an opposite effect.
Absolutely everyone will know that she is not guilty, regardless of the court decision. Our publicity and openness have accomplished this.
It’s such an omerta, a conspiracy. Everyone knows that she is not guilty, but everyone will keep quiet and pretend that she is.
They [the authorities] will act as if something is being resolved here, that justice exists. And my strategy is to call white, white, and black – black. There is no justice in Russia, and I say it as it is.
I’m not trying to play along with the Russian authorities in their decorative productions. I’m not trying to play their games. And I try not worry about my future.
The paradox is that this is the only way to help Savchenko.
At the same time, the case of Oleg Sentsov is now in production. Can you say that it attracts this much attention? Can you imagine, that he was initially charged only with arson of the office door of “United Russia?!” That is not enough even for a disorderly conduct charge.
And now there is every chance that he will get 20 years.
– What is the mistake of Sentsov’s defense team? The fact that they failed to make the process so public? What else can be changed?
– Nothing. It is too late. I refused to sign a case non-disclosure agreement. But Sentsov’s defense counsel did.
Until July 9, 2014, Nikolay Shulzhenko was Savchenko’s attorney, but no one knew that she was in Russia. On July 10, I got a call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, and they sent me a [legal services] agreement after our conversation. I am part of this case since July 11, 2014. A few days later, I asked Nikolai Polozov and Ilya Novikov to join, they are strong “proceduralists.” I am in charge of the [case] strategy.
– So, if you were to go back to scenarios of the development of events, which ones are the most realistic in your opinion?
– This is a very good scenario under current conditions. She will be convicted, but the provisions of the Criminal Executive Code [of Russia] allow her to serve the sentence on the territory of Ukraine. She will be transported [back], and she will serve her sentence in Ukraine.
Recently, [Angela] Merkel has talked with Putin, and I am 100% sure that the question of Savchenko was part of that conversation.
The more Western leaders talk about it, the more likely the scenario I told you will come true.
The bad scenario is if she is convicted, and she will remain here to serve [her sentence]. She is not ready for this.
– During the ten months working on this case, what were you able to understand about the system, the prospects, or your client?
– For me, Nadiya has become a symbol of rebellious Ukraine before Imperial Moscow. For me, Ukraine in general is associated with a woman.
What is the sacred meaning of this situation?
Savchenko is the essence and the face of the new Ukraine.
She has never been to Russia. She is part of a generation that has matured in independent Ukraine. They did not know the Soviet Union.
Nadiya has spent 24 years out of her 34 year-long-life in independent Ukraine. She has found her identity there.
She does not consider herself a part of the ‘brotherly people.’ She is a Ukrainian. And this is not a pose as [those] in Russia read it – it is her essence.
She, in every sense, parallels the popular image of a Ukrainian woman. She is quite suitable to the role of the wife of an UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army] fighter.
Her character is impulsive, energetic, and restless. A true Ukrainian woman is exactly like this.
Many misjudge her, believing that a female is something unnatural in the army. She is very feminine in her strength.
She is interested in things of purely female nature no less than military things.
Nadiya adheres to traditional Ukrainian views. She is a person of free beliefs. It is wrong to call her a Ukrainian nationalist. She is an anti-Communist, a person of free opinions, but she treats the liberal-left phenomena like Pussy Riot and Femen with skepticism.
She is very straightforward. She holds out nothing. She sometimes asks me fearfully, “And what will happen when I am released? How will I bear it all?” “You will endure [it] because you can,” I tell her. And she says, “And what if I suddenly don’t justify the trust?” Then you don’t justify the trust. Freedom – is a risk. I will defend her for as long as the [legal] process lasts.
I understand that this might be my last case. The FSB tell me that they are very unhappy with my behavior. They are looking into extremism charges [for me]. They do not want me to practice legal defense and [take on] major political cases …
– You and Nikolai Polozov defended Pussy Riot. It was also a high-profile case, and you have been criticized for publicity, for excessive PR. Two years after the women’s release from a colony, Pussy Riot died as a phenomenon.
– Unlike Savchenko, Pussy Riot had no substance.
Their act was larger than themselves, just like many Russian commentators said. They just changed their clothes and colored their hair.
But the publicity also helped them. They, just like [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, were allowed by Putin to go to the Sochi Olympics.
I envision that by saving Savchenko alone, there will be an opportunity to solve the problems of all the others.
I do not know what her future will be like. It is quite possible that when she gets back, she will create an organization for the protection of Ukrainian prisoners, she will go to the meetings at PACE and the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] …
– What, in your opinion, is Putin seeking by holding Ukrainians hostage?
– There is no logic nor elements of a crime in these arrests. It is an absolutely irrational decision. Putin has fear. And that is what motivates him to compromise.
When we worked on the Arctic Sunrise case, at one point I was told that it was necessary to withdraw from the case, and there will be some result. And so Putin dismissed the guys at the request of the President of Norway. And this gesture took place in time for the days of Russian culture in Norway.
American [Presidential] administration must get involved in Savchenko’s defense. Because the Normandy format does not seem to work, and we need the Geneva solution.
Putin himself really wants a new Yalta-2.
Of course, no one will negotiate with him about the redistribution of the world. The most that he can achieve – are negotiations. This does not mean that they will recognize the annexation of Crimea or give Donbas back. Even Merkel said there had to be a dialogue. Things will not resolve themselves.
Ukraine still needs to integrate into Europe. There is no other way. And if it needs to make territorial concessions, then it is must make them. Play long-term, not short-term.
If you play short-term, you’ll stay in this state for a long time. It is necessary to improve life now, to set an example of positive reforms.
I tend to think that the military atmosphere [in Ukraine] is good for reforms.
– And what about Russia?
– There is no project in Russia. Crimea and Donbas are clear-cut stand-ins. If you look at the rate of emigration by the so-called creative class from Russia, the future looks bleak. All this social tension is unlikely to infuriate in an adequate manner. You see, Russia is now in such a state that it is quite easy to imagine Ramzan Kadyrov [Chechen dictator] as the new prime minister.
Kadyrov’s appointment could become the trigger. Or the second option – a social explosion caused by the economic decline. It is most likely that we can expect our own Donbas in Moscow.
I intend to stay and watch how everything will go down. I will be at the forefront. Pure eschatology.
Gold currency reserves are diminishing. I feel like saying to those who support the annexation of Crimea, “There will be no bridge in Kerch [one of the largest cities in Crimea].”
– You were a member of [Russian] Parliament and stay in close contact with the opposition. Do you see them as a real force that could push society towards a new quest, an attempt to revise the [existing] social contract?
– I think that by my actions and words alone, I influence so much more. My role is a separate one. I was promoted to the Moscow City Duma.
I do not participate in coalitions; I consider them meaningless. At the moment, it is an imitation, flirting with the system.
The [legal] process of Savchenko and everything connected with it – the war in Ukraine and the drama of Crimea, they are much more important.
This process creates more new meanings than participation in regional elections in Kaluga or Novorossiysk [cities in Russia].