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Ex-Kremlin prisoner Savchenko detained on accusation of coup and terror plot: the evidence

Collage from shows Nadiya Savchenko on the backdroup of the Verkhovna Rada which she is accused of plotting to blow up
Ex-Kremlin prisoner Savchenko detained on accusation of coup and terror plot: the evidence

Nadiya Savchenko, the military pilot and ex-Kremlin hostage who after her release in 2016 embarked on a political career as headliner of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s party Batkivshchyna, has been detained today by Ukrainian security officers on accusations of plotting to carry out a terrorist attack and commit a coup. This happened inside the parliament after Ukrainian MPs voted to strip their colleague of immunity and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko handed her a notice of suspicion.

According to the prosecutors, Nadiya Savchenko conspired with volunteer Volodymyr Ruban, head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” Oleksandr Zakharchenko, and other persons in order to commit a coup and seize state power in Ukraine. The Prosecutor General’s office suspects Savchenko of planning a terrorist act in the building of Parliament of Ukraine. Savchenko herself says she was not planning a terrorist act, but merely a “provocation.”

The clip of the Prosecutor’s Office

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko reads the accusation to Nadiya Savchenko in the Verkhovna Rada on 22 March. Photo: Фото:
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko reads the accusation to Nadiya Savchenko in the Verkhovna Rada on 22 March. Photo: Фото:

In the parliament, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko presented a video clip created by the GPU with evidence to support their accusation.

The 28-minute clip consists of fragments of audio and video intercepts with the purported participation of Nadiya Savchenko, Volodymyr Ruban, and several other figures. Ruban, who participated in prisoner exchanges between between Kyiv and occupied Donbas starting from 2014, was detained on 8 March 2018 while crossing the border from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”).

The GPU claims that in November 2017, Ruban, acting together with Savchenko, offered several Ukrainian servicemen to take part in an anti-government coup in Kyiv, terrorist acts, and make attempts on the lives of Ukrainian state actors. However, these servicemen contacted the Ukrainian Security Service, after which they acted under its control to find out more information about this plot and those involved in it.

The clip describes how on 23 November 2017 Ruban and Savchenko crossed the border between government-controlled Donbas and the “DNR.” It features a telephone intercept which appears to show that Savchenko stayed in the car transporting weapons from the “DNR,” and Ruban names the weapons they received. According to the GPU, these are the weapons which they got from the “DNR,” together with the ammunition and cartridges needed for them:

  • 4 120-mm mortars
  • UTES machine gun with cartridges
  • 12.7 mm caliber rifle
  • 6 landmines
  • 20 grenades
  • 2 manual anti-tank grenade launchers

Then, Savchenko and Ruban crossed into government-controlled Bakhmut, where they met with Ukrainian servicemen Kit and Berezen. There Savchenko briefs Berezen of news she received from Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the self-proclaimed “leader” of the Russian-backed “DNR.”

She says that the “DNR” authorities feel that they are handling things better than their sister “LNR” and that they understand Russia will give them back to Ukraine. However, they don’t want this to happen while Petro Poroshenko is in power and ask to “change the power.”

She tells Berezen that the “DNR authorities” are ready to talk with them and other Ukrainian Army servicemen. She also transmits a “personal appeal” from Zakharchenko – to receive Oleksandr Turchynov into their custody. Turchynov heads the National Security and Defense Council and led the provisional government after the Euromaidan revolution. It was under his orders that the Ukrainian Armed Forces started an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against Russian-led militants in eastern Ukraine, confining them to a small part of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The GPU’s clip then shows video footage which purportedly took place on 1 December 2017 inside a military division in Khmelnitskyi, a city in western Ukraine. The video shows Ruban, Savchenko, and two other persons called Berezen and Lyashch sitting inside a room and discussed stages of the military takeover, after Berezen prompts Savchenko and Ruban to tell them more of their plans.

Screengrab from the video showing Savchenko
1 December 2017. Screengrab from the video showing Savchenko

Ruban proposed for it to have three stages.

  1. Kyiv residents come out to the street.
  2. To “take down the ‘pretty building,’ maybe the whole government quarters” – presumably, he is talking about the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament)
  3. Poroshenko is either expelled out from Ukraine or “hunted down”

Savchenko, however, proposed another approach:

“I see a revolution. I propose a coup. They need to be taken down physically, all of them right away. This is the only way. One day and from the inside. … we need to wait until a year more.”

The interlocutors discuss the prospects of either blowing up the Rada or the homes of the state authorities.

“I think they will start running when they will have nowhere to return,” Savchenko says. “Then your task will be to hold the perimeter. As far as I understand, the army and police should prevent chaos. So the army everywhere will receive which task? If there is no top, we will think it up ourselves. … In any case if we don’t make this breakthrough, with any means, why the f*ck should we go on living?”

To blow up the Rada, Savchenko proposed she, as the “Joan of Arc,” a nickname she acquired during her heroic resistance in Russian prison, would do it herself on the one day of the year when all the ministers and heads of state services gather to hear the President’s report. Then she drew a picture of the parliament. 8 grenades with a radius of 200 meters would be enough. Then the chandelier falls down. “And then we can take a machine gun and shoot some more,” she added, saying that she is ready to die.

Berezen asks what the point of the coup is if Savchenko dies. She answers she doesn’t care who will head the government after the terrorist act in the Rada is carried out, proposing her sister Vira. The interlocutors aren’t satisfied with that response. “OK, if you will be gone… … Who will raise the flag of the revolution?” Liashch asks.

During the discussion, Berezen mentions that they should ask Zakharchenko for support, because there are enough Russian forces on the territory of the “DNR” – so they wouldn’t go on Kyiv, or would go when needed. Savchenko said she discussed this with Zakharchenko, and that he is ready.

For their plan, they needed 200-300 “crazy” people, Berezen and Ruban discuss. Savchenko proposes getting them from everywhere, including occupied Donbas.

Next, the GPU clip displays a telephone intercept of a conversation between Ruban, Savchenko, and Berezen which took place on 1 December 2017. There Savchenko is heard talking about repressions and “400,000 deaths” which will be supposedly needed, after which the repressor will introduce the death penalty.

Weapons inside Ruban's car. Screengrab from video
8 March 2018. Weapons inside Ruban’s car. Screengrab from video

The next video in the clip is from 8 March 2018 and shows how Ruban was detained at the checkpoint Maiorske at the border of the “DNR,” while transporting weapons from the self-proclaimed “republic” in his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The packing documents of RGD-5 grenades named #08819 military division of the armed forces of the “DNR” as their origin.

According to the GPU, then Ruban brought:

  • 320 cartridges of caliber 12.7 mm;
  • 1280 cartridges of 9 mm caliber;
  • 700 cartridges of 7.62 mm caliber;
  • 4320 cartridges of 5.45 mm caliber;
  • 17 magazines equipped with 570 cartridges of 5.45 mm caliber;
  • 2 magazines, equipped with 60 rounds of 7.62 mm caliber;
  • 2 Makarov pistols of caliber 9 mm without marking, with magazines;
  • 4 devices for noiseless shooting;
  • Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle;
  • 3 AK-74U Kalashnikov assault rifles;
  • 5 Kalashnikov AK-74 assault rifles;
  • 2 Kalashnikov machine guns;
  • 46 units of 120 mm mortar mines;
  • 6 MON-50 antipersonnel mines;
  • 6 mines of 82 mm caliber for the RPG-7 antitank grenade launcher, with fuses;
  • 12 charges for the projectiles of the RPG-7PG-7PM hand-held antitank grenade launcher;
  • 2 RPG-22 anti-tank grenade launchers;
  • 6 rounds for the RPG-7 PG-7S antitank grenade launcher;
  • 20 cases of F-1 grenades and 20 UZRGM-2 fuses;
  • 20 cases of RGD-5 grenades and 20 UZRGM fuses;
  • 20 cases of RGD-5 grenades and 20 UZRGM (UZRGM-2) fuses;
  • 28 FOG-25 grenades;
  • an object appearing to be a homemade mortar mine;
  • a mortar with an internal diameter of 62 mm.

After Lutsenko finished his presentation in parlament, Savchenko did not deny its authenticity, explaining that what was discussed in the video was “a political provocation.” Addressing Lutsenko, she alleged that the officers who came to him to report the supposed plot were sent to her deliberately, being deployed against her.

At an earlier briefing, she said she would never have blown up the Parliament if “there were innocent people inside.” Then, she alleged this “political provocation” was planned to show the authorities they were “mortal” and “funny.”

GPU accusation

The GPU’s accusation against Savchenko was made public already on 20 March. But it repeats many of the accusations in the case against Volodymyr Ruban, the Head of the Center for liberation of Donbas prisoners “Officer Corps,” with whom Savchenko met “under unestablished circumstances.”

In early 2013, Ruban was an active participant of the pro-Russian organization “Ukrainian Choice” of Viktor Medvechuk, and created the “Officer Corps” later that year.

Ruban was accused of derailing prisoner exchanges and attempting to earn money on them.

According to the investigation in Ruban’s case, Savchenko and Ruban had two plans of action.

Plan A,” the aforementioned plan with the grenades and machine gun rounds in the Verkhovna Rada, aimed to kill Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman, and MPs, and the President’s Administration, as well as envisioned shelling the President’s Administration and nearby residential buildings.

Plan B” involved capturing the building of the Verkhovna Rada and killing its guards, as well as ambushing the homes and cars of the president, Minister of Interior, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, “and others.”

The evidence

The GPU accusation mentions that Savchenko and Ruban visited occupied Makyivka, Horlivka, and Donetsk, where they picked up their weapons and ammunition, after which they took them out to government-controlled Ukraine on 23 November 2017. A telephone from inside the car with “biological traces of a female” is named as evidence that Savchenko was indeed there. Savchenko confirmed that this telephone indeed could have been there at a briefing on 20 March 2018. Then, according to the investigation, Savchenko and Ruban sent the weapons to the military division in Kmelnitskyi, but remained in Bakhmut.

The testimonies of four Ukrainian servicemen – Zakharchenkov, Berezen, Liashch, and Kit – who, according to the investigation, seemingly agreed to conspire with Savchenko and her plans of a coup, but at the same time reported about this to the Ukrainian special services, are also part of the evidence against Savchenko. Savchenko refers to them as “Object A.” Additionally, the weapons and ammunition, and Savchenko’s drawing of the Verkhovna Rada from 1 December in Khmelnitskyi are named as pieces of evidence.

According to this evidence, Savchenko is accused of four articles of the Criminal Code: carrying, storing, acquiring, transferring weapons; preparing a terrorist attack; preparing an assassination attempt on the first persons of the state and MPs; forcibly overthrowing the constitutional system and seizing state power.

Fall from glory

Nadiya Savchenko showing middle finger in a Russian court during her last speech on 9 March 2016. Photo: YouTube screenshot
Nadiya Savchenko showing middle finger in a Russian court during her last speech on 9 March 2016. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Savchenko, a former military helicopter pilot, volunteered to fight the Russian-separatist forces in Donbas as part of the Aidar battalion in early 2014 and spent 2 years in Russian prison after the court found her guilty in killing two Russian journalists in Donbas in a falsified trial. Her show of resistance in Russian prison and lengthy hunger strikes turned her into a Ukrainian national icon of sorts and made international cameras focus on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Pardoned by Russian President Putin, she was exchanged for two GRU officers captured in Donbas following a lengthy international campaign for her release. Then, President Poroshenko awarded her Hero of Ukraine. She was elected into the Ukrainian parliament in absentia after Yuliya Tymoshenko made Savchenko the headliner of her party “Batkivshchyna” but later expelled from the faction.

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