MS Risk Blog

Ukrainian Politician Savchenko Accused of Planning Large-scale Attack on Ukrainian Parliament

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On 15 March it was reported that General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s top prosecutor, accused Nadiya Savchenko, an ex-military helicopter navigator, who became a national hero after being held in a Russian jail, of planning an attack on parliament. Lutsenko said Savchenko, who became a member of parliament on her return from Russia, had planned an attack on parliament – which never happened – using grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.

The accusations mark a fall from grace for Savchenko, whose resolute defiance while on trial in Russia, including hunger strikes and showing a judge the middle finger live on TV, earned her the nickname of Ukraine’s “Joan of Arc”. She returned in May 2016 to great fanfare after a prisoner exchange with Russia but developed a reputation for being fiery and unpredictable. She was given a standing ovation when she first addressed parliament in 2016; she proceeded to berate her fellow lawmakers for being “lazy schoolchildren”. Since her return, she has held talks with the separatists without the government’s consent and published secret lists of people who were captured or are missing in the conflict.

After Lutsenko had accused Savchenko, the Ukrainian parliament proceeded to expel her from the national security committee and stripped her of immunity to begin criminal proceedings against her. On 22 March Savchenko, was arrested on suspicion of planning an assault on parliament and supporting a coup after MPs viewed evidence against her. It has been reported that audio and video excerpts depict conversations between Savchenko, Volodymyr Ruban, and military officers discussing surreal plans to topple the government with assassinations of high-ranking officials and civilian casualties and implying possible Russian invasion and mass repressions. Ruban is the Head of Ukraine’s Officer Corps Prisoner of War Exchange Center and was arrested by Ukrainian Authorities on 8 March on charges of “illegal arms possession” and “planning a terrorist attack.”

Prosecutors have claimed that Savchenko, since at least November 2017 has acted in collusion with Alexander Zaharchenko, the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, enticed several Ukrainian military officers to help stage the coup and that she asked Ruban to smuggle weapons into Ukraine. It was reported that before the release of evidence by the prosecutors that Savchenko had confessed her involvement in the conspiracy but claimed the plot was a charade aimed to scare and ridicule the regime and was never meant to take place. Savchenko has also claimed undercover agents had encouraged her to plan a coup in order to discredit her, and that she had pretended to go along with the scheme to raise public awareness about it.  On 23 March Savchenko began a hunger strike to protest her detention on charges of planning a coup against the government.