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Ukraine's New Hope

How high can she fly now?
How high can she fly now?

So after holding her in captivity for 708 days, the Kremlin has finally released its most famous hostage.

And as a result, Ukraine might have gained something it has long lacked -- and badly needs: a political figure with clear and unambiguous moral authority; someone unsullied by the past and uncompromised by the corruption of the current elite; someone who took herself to the brink of death for the sake of Ukraine and who flipped the bird at Vladimir Putin's kangaroo court.

Nadia Sacvhenko could -- and I stress could -- just turn out to be Ukraine's Vaclav Havel; or its Lech Walesa; or its Nelson Mandela.

She returns home a hero at a time when Ukrainians are deeply disillusioned with their post-Euromaidan leaders, frustrated by the slow pace of reform, and angry about the persistent stalling in the battle against corruption.

Ukraine's vibrant civil society has long been light years ahead of its political class -- even its pro-Western political class -- something that has become increasingly visible over the past two years.

As somebody who has suffered and persevered for the sake of their goals, Savchenko could now become a powerful lodestone for Ukraine's frustrated reformers.

She will also pose a moral challenge to the political elite -- from President Petro Poroshenko on down -- to live up to the promise of the Euromaidan revolution.

And she has a platform.

While in Russian captivity, Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and is also a member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

"We will have in parliament the kind of people who are worthy of it. We will have a better life, as dignified human beings deserve to live," Savchenko said upon her arrival at Kyiv's Boryspil Airport.

"I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how to do it. I won’t promise it will happen tomorrow. But I can tell you that I’m ready to die to make it happen."

Russian officials are clearly aware of -- and nervous about -- Savchenko's potential.

Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko accused the Ukrainian authorities of conducting "a campaign to present Savchenko as a national hero."

But at the same time, speculation is rampant that Moscow also hopes to benefit from releasing her.

Savchenko's release comes just days after Vladimir Putin held a conference call with Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande -- and just weeks before European leaders decide whether to extend sanctions against Russia.

Savchenko was just the most high-profile example of Moscow's recent habit of hostage taking, of snatching foreign citizens from their homelands and forcing them to endure ridiculous show trials in Russia.

That list includes Estonian law enforcement officer Eston Kohver, who has been released, as well as Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, who have not.

It also includes dozens of Ukrainians Kyiv says are being illegally imprisoned in Russia -- many of them residents of the forcefully annexed Crimean Peninsula who have remained loyal to Kyiv.

For those released, the pattern is similar: the abduction, the transparently absurd charges and cover story, the show trial, and finally the exchange for Russians who have committed actual crimes.

Kohver was charged with espionage after being kidnapped on Estonian territory while investigating a smuggling ring run by Russian organized-crime groups. He was exchanged for Aleksei Dressen, who was imprisoned in Estonia in 2012 after being convicted on charges of spying for Moscow.

Savchenko, of course, was abducted by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and charged with complicity in the deaths of two journalists who had been killed while she was already in captivity.

She was exchanged for Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, two Russian intelligence officers convicted of attacking Ukrainian forces and fomenting armed rebellion in the Donbas. And possibly -- we'll see in the coming weeks -- for an end to EU sanctions.

It's a pattern that is bound to repeat itself as long as the Kremlin keeps getting away with it.


About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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