Whether from the hands of Comrades Lenin and Stalin or the modern day Tsar of a kleptocracy in Vladimir Putin, there has been one thing that has remained constant in Russian ‘justice’ over the last century, and that is the vicious and cynical tool of oppression of a political show trial. Putin has racked up several of these by now, including high profile cases of eventually jailed oil tycoon and would be politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the political activist Alexei Navalny. These show trials are meant to create fictitious enemies so as to justify emergency and arbitrary rule by decree, intimidate potential enemies, whip up the fervor of the committed supporters, and distract the population of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the regime in improving the lives of its citizens. Show trials were perfected under Stalin, a topic I commented on in a recent post. While the outcomes may no longer result in a death sentence in the Siberian gulags, the underlying means and desired political outcomes under Putin are much the same as in Stalin’s day.
The recent case of a show trial of Ukrainian pilot Lieutenant Nadezhda Savchenko seems particularly pernicious, cynical, and captures my enhanced attention and respect. The entire story is equally horrifying for the banality of evil that Russia continues to treat as a normal course of action as well as the surface level laughability (if indeed it were a laughing matter) of the case against her – which involves accusations that she is responsible for killing two journalists by directing a mortar attack on them and that she illegally entered Russia. First of all, one does not direct a mortar attack in the way one points a gun, so any journalists killed, while certainly tragic, is an expected collateral casualty of war and the justice of the battlefield would not expect a combatant in a fight to be able to separate civilian from enemy troops when those civilians are embedded with the enemy force. One suspects the real Russian anger here is not over journalists killed but over the deaths of Russian soldiers the journalists were with and for which Russia denies are in Ukraine. As most media is under the thumb of the Russian state these days, I have to imagine that these journalists were there under Russian state direction in the first place embedded with the unmarked Russian soldiers (“little green men” as many in the region have taken to calling them) that have invaded and occupied Eastern Ukraine. The other incredibly hard to believe aspect of the story is that Lt. Savchenko would willingly cross into Russia. Far more likely is that she was abducted with the intention of holding her captive.
The other aspect of this story that I find fascinating is the the Russian evil revanchist menace contrasted with the defiant courage of Lt. Savchenko. She has brought international attention to her plight by going on hunger strikes, acting defiant in court, and more recently, singing a Ukrainian national song when her trumped up sentence was read out, forcing the judge to clear the courtroom. Add this to the fact that Lt. Savchenko was fighting on the front lines in Eastern Ukraine effectively as an infantryman of her own free will while not in use as a pilot makes her courage in defense of her homeland all the more remarkable.