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Savchenko Rejects Verdict As Murder Trial Wraps Up In Russia

  • RFE/RL

A lawyer for Nadia Savchenko said the jailed Ukrainian military pilot will reject any verdict in her high-profile murder trial, as a Russian judge began delivering the decision.

Prosecutors want Savchenko sentenced to 23 years in prison on charges of complicity to murder over the deaths of two Russian journalists in war-torn eastern Ukraine, in a trial widely denounced by the defiant pilot, her country’s government, and the West as politically motivated.

"She is not interested in the verdict. She believes that it has nothing to do with justice," Nikolai Polozov told journalists outside the courtroom in the small southern Russian city of Donetsk, near the Ukrainian border, where the judge began reading the verdict on March 21.

The ruling will not be official until the judge finishes reading his conclusions, which is expected later on March 21 or on March 22.

But Judge Leonid Stepanenko’s words pointed to a guilty verdict.

He told the courtroom that Savchenko, 34, had "deliberately inflicted death on two persons, acting by prior conspiracy, and on the motives of hatred and enmity."

The judge also accused her of being part of a "criminal group" and of aiming to kill an "unlimited number of people."

Russian news agencies treated the statements as a formal guilty verdict, and Savchenko's lawyers suggested the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

"The verdict against Savchenko will be a guilty one. They will give her a lengthy term," Mark Feigin, one of the lawyers defending Savchenko, wrote on Twitter.

The pilot, who is considered a hero in her home country, is accused by Russia of acting as a spotter who called in coordinates for a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists in 2014.

Russian prosecutors have also charged her with illegally entering Russia.

She denies the charges, saying she was seized in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 while fighting with a volunteer battalion against Russia-backed separatists, and taken to Russia against her will.

People take part in a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk on March 21 demanding the liberation of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko by Russia.

People take part in a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk on March 21 demanding the liberation of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko by Russia.

Savchenko has remained defiant since court proceedings began in September 2015.

She has gone on hunger strike several times to protest her detention and recently gave judges the middle finger.

On March 21, she wore her trademark T-shirt with the Ukrainian trident symbol.

Speaking in Donetsk during a court break, Polozov said Savchenko is determined to resume her hunger strike and stop drinking water in 10 days unless she is returned to Ukraine.

Her case has sparked international outrage, with critics accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating a show trial.

Amnesty International on March 21 slammed the proceedings as falling short of international standards and called for a retrial "that remains free of political interference."

"It is abhorrent to send Nadia Savchenko to prison after such a flawed, deeply politicized trial," said Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia, John Dalhuisen.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said the trial "breached the principles of the rule of law."

Also on March 21, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's press service said the first lady, Maryna Poroshenko, had called on her U.S. counterpart, Michelle Obama, to help release Savchenko.

The Ukrainian government maintains that Savchenko was abducted by Russia and should be treated as a prisoner of war. Her backers also say that at the time of the strike that killed the Russian journalists, she was already in the hands of the separatists and could not have participated.

The European Union and the United States have firmly backed Kyiv, with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden stating earlier this month that Savchenko had become "a symbol of Ukrainian national pride and strength."

More than 50 members of the European Parliament on March 8 signed a letter calling for sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and 28 other individuals in connection with her detention.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the International Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, rejected the letter and accused the lawmakers of illegally seeking to pressure the Russian court.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities are crying foul after Russia barred a lawmaker who represents Ukraine at peace talks with Moscow from entering the country and attending the verdict.

Iryna Herashchenko, who oversees humanitarian issues at the truce talks, said Russia's FSB security service informed her on March 21 that she represented a national security threat.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry voiced "strong protest" and accused Russia of intentionally creating "an artificial barrier" to prevent Gerashchenko from being present when the verdict against Savchenko is handed down.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, TASS, and pravda.com.ua
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