Savchenko’s Arrest: A New Anti-Maidan Populist Presidential Campaign?

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March 23, 2018 – Fort Russ –

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –

Yesterday, March 22nd, a majority in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada voted to deprive the independent parliamentarian Nadezhda Savchenko of her immunity, thus giving the green light to arrest and criminally prosecute her. Immediately thereafter, the SBU barged into the parliamentary hall and arrested Savchenko on the spot. The Ukrainian revolution, it seems, is not done eating its children.

Not coincidentally, Savchenko’s arrest was pushed for by Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko, who is considered one of President Poroshenko’s closest associates and whom Savchenko herself accused of obstructing investigations into the events that conspired on the Euromaidan. Indeed, Lutsenko has by all means had his sights on Savchenko since she claimed that she presented evidence to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concerning the corruption of Lutskeno’s boss, President Poroshenko.

On March 22nd, during the Verkhovna Rada session, Savchenko boldly declared that the Euromaidan was nothing more than a coup d’etat as a result of which “one power elite replaced another.” Thus, one of the key figures of the Ukrainian national myth has begun the desacralization of the “revolution of dignity”. Savchenko is claiming to expose the “Ukrainian revolution” as a coup of elites in the interests of foreign (Western) states and certain oligarchic groups in Ukraine.

Most interesting of all, in her speech Savchenko contrasted the Maidan’s seizure of power with a military putsch as “a more human tactic for regime change.” Savchenko has said quite a lot that raises the concerns of the Ukrainian establishment and irritates her colleagues in the Verkhovna Rada, the majority of whom received their mandates for money. But in saying such, she has parodied the allegations of planning a coup d’etat hurled at her in the most paradoxical way. Instead of denying or justifying such, Savchenko in response is openly flaunting her participation in a “putsch” by stressing that “98% of Ukrainians” would help unload weapons used to overthrow Poroshenko, which was a clear reference to Ruban’s arrest.

Savchenko is the first and, for now, the only politician in Ukraine openly aiming to dismantle the post-Maidan state system. Whether she will have followers undoubtedly promises to become a fashionable but dangerous question. The Rada’s decision and Savchenko’s arrest are not caused by concerns for constitutional order, as Savchenko herself very reasonably dismissed these accusations by “refreshing” memories that the Euromaidan was violent regime change, i.e., an unconstitutional coup. In this case, why is one violent overthrow of “criminal authorities” declared a “revolution of dignity”, whereas a possible new “putsch” is called a “coup d’etat?”

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The Prosecutor General of Ukraine and the parliamentary majority of the Verkhovna Rada have put themselves in a very uncomfortable position by having Savchenko arrested. If she has competent lawyers and mass media support (and the latter is guaranteed), then Savchenko’s trial could become a political charity event for her. It is hard to come up with a better advertising platform for a populist politician in the making. Savchenko’s speeches from court will loudly denounce the “new criminal authorities” and criminal #1, the oligarch President Poroshenko. The head of the Ukrainian state hardly understands the consequences of this.

Since 2016 I have predicted that Savchenko could become Poroshenko’s biggest challenge given proper advising and financial support. Now I believe that “porject Savchenko” is finally taking off.

Ukraine’s presidential elections are set for May 2019. It is hard not to see behind Savchenko’s shocking statements a colorful and paradoxical launch of an adventurous presidential campaign. The only question is what the real aim of this project will be: promoting Savchenko as a presidential candidate, or merely torpedoing President Poroshenko? In my view, the first is practically impossible. Savchenko is capable of raking in a good percentage elections, but her anti-rating is just as high. But as a troublemaker for Poroshenko, she will be very useful. 

These considerations and Savchenko’s unexpected moves are happening at the most suitable time, which suggests that Savchenko has patrons that are very serious people with money and strong media connections. Indeed, Poroshenko has no shortage of powerful enemies within the Ukrainian oligarchy. Most likely, any support for Savchenko can be traced back to this milieu. But Savchenko would not be herself if she did not pursue her own goals. She may be uneducated and not too clever, but she is firm in her principles, which are a kind of organic Ukrainian “national-democracy” traceable back historically to Petliura.

Savchenko is guaranteed support from those in soldiers’ uniforms, i.e., the hundreds of thousands of UAF soldiers, officers, and volunteer fighters who hate “Donbass separatists” no more than they do the Jewish oligarchs in power. And the latter might be even more powerful. Therefore, if I am right in my considerations, Savchenko will not merely become a dog barking at Poroshenko, but will be positioned as a bother to the oligarch president and all of his competitors.

 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 

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