Opinion: Injustice in the Kremlin′s name | Opinion | DW | 22.03.2016
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Opinion: Injustice in the Kremlin's name

The sentence imposed on Nadezhda Savchenko will poison Russia's relations with Ukraine. Propaganda needs enemies, which is one reason why the Russian judiciary has Ukrainians in its sights, according to Bernd Johann.

War's Unwomanly Face is the name of a book by the Belarusian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Svetlana Alexievich. Published in 1983, her portraits of women who fought in the Red Army during World War Two were a magnificent testament. These women courageously defended their homeland against the German Nazis. Most of them did not regard themselves as heroines at the time.

The war in eastern Ukraine also has a womanly face. And for Ukrainians, there is a heroine: Nadezhda Savchenko, who defended her homeland against Russian aggression in 2014. The Russian state considers Savchenko, a military pilot, a murderer. As a result, a court in southern Russia has now imposed a draconian 22-year sentence in a trial that has been the focus of massive international criticism.

A shabby show trial

It is an unjust sentence, even though it invokes Russian laws and justice. The guilty verdict was pronounced by a provincial Russian judge, but it bears the political hallmarks of the leadership in Moscow. The proceedings were a shabby show trial.

DW's Bernd Johann

DW's Bernd Johann

The accused was paraded as an enemy of the state. Russian media and politicians ran a smear campaign. Yet there are many unanswered questions, even concerning the unexplained circumstances of her arrest. The defense's arguments against the prosecution's contradictory reasoning were disregarded in court. Savchenko was repeatedly put under pressure, even with her personal closing statement.

Justice in the service of propaganda

This verdict is now intended to demonstrate strength. It is intended to intimidate. But above all, it is subordinated to the logic of propaganda. The Kremlin needed this judgement. After two years, it is intended finally to prove what has been drummed into people since the beginning of the war: Ukrainians represent a danger to Russia.

Savchenko fits this distorted propaganda profile to a tee. As a member of a unit of Ukrainian volunteer combatants, she is accused of joint responsibility for the deaths of two Russian journalists. Savchenko is said to have been driven by "hatred and hostility" when she passed on the coordinates of the target to the Ukrainian army, which then opened fire. That is the judge's portrayal.

And with this he is staying in line. The Russian propaganda machine, headed by Vladimir Putin, is still behaving as if Ukrainians were the only ones waging war in the Donbass region. Yet the deployment of Russian soldiers and weapons in eastern Ukraine has long been proven. Without this involvement there would never have been a war. According to the UN, 9,000 people have died. The two Russian journalists were, unfortunately, among them.

Russia needs enemies, and it creates heroes as a result

Savchenko is not the only Ukrainian that the Russian state has laid hands on for its purposes. Last year, the Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and a co-defendant were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Kyiv reports that similar proceedings are currently ongoing in Russia against some two dozen Ukrainians.

The people are the victims of propaganda. The Kremlin needs scapegoats, so that Russians don't ask why their country is still waging war against Ukraine. The notoriously arbitrary judiciary is a tool in this. It has always had Russian opposition politicians in its sights. Now, Ukrainians are coming to the fore.

By doing this, Russia is not only poisoning its relationship with Ukraine, it is poisoning relationships between people. At the same time, it is creating new heroes. Nadezhda Savchenko is their womanly face.

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