Casus Savchenko: women no longer entitled to a jury trial in Russia

Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian military held in a Russian jail, accused of a “war crime” against Russian citizens. She took part in Ukraine’s war against Russia-backed separatists in 2014. It appears that she was kidnapped in Eastern Ukraine and brought to Russia in June 2014. The Russian authorities claim that, while piloting an army helicopter, Savchenko directed the artillery fire that killed two Russian reporters in Eastern Ukraine in the same month. Ironically, she is also charged with illegally entering Russia.

Since her arrest more than 13 months ago, Savchenko has been elected to the Ukrainian parliament and the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, awarded Ukraine’s highest military honor, gone on a lengthy hunger strike and stopped it just in time to avert certain death.

There is little doubt that all the charges against Savchenko are bogus. Apart from the merits of the case, Russia is not the right venue and its courts have arbitrarily assumed jurisdiction. Even more obviously, it is impossible for Savchenko to receive a fair trial in Russia. Hardly anyone can, much less a Ukrainian soldier.

The latest turn in Savchenko’s legal ordeal is remarkable even by Russian standards. Earlier this month, her lawyers requested a jury trial but the request was turned down. Jury trials in Russia are only available to those accused of the gravest crimes, those punishable by death or life imprisonment. In 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that juveniles are not entitled to trial by jury because they cannot,  by law, receive either the death penalty or life imprisonment (a substitute for death during the current moratorium).

This brilliant legal logic, taken half a step further, results in denial of jury trials to women as well (unless the prosecutors agree): by law, women cannot be sentenced to death and, therefore, to lifelong incarceration in Russia.

Which is, according to an opinion column by a Russian legal scholar in Vedomosti, exactly why Nadiya Savchenko has been denied the right to be tried before a jury. Because she’s a woman.

A note on names, once again. Both the Ukrainian and the Russian languages tend to nativize common Eastern Slavic names. It’s “Volodymyr Putin” in Ukraine and “Nadezhda Savchenko” in Russia. “Nadiya” and “Nadezhda” mean the same, “hope,” in Ukrainian and in Russian. I’m using the Ukrainian form for obvious reasons, although Savchenko appears bilingual. “Nadia” is a familiar form not appropriate in formal communication.


  1. Some brilliant legal logic there. A few days ago, I saw this on Twitter: “When Stalin made 12-yr-olds liable for execution, the West protested. Under communism, he explained, people mature much more quickly.”

    • Sounds more like a Western Communist explaining the workings of the workers’ paradise to a “bourgeois liberal.” Stalin’s rhetoric was different in 1935: class struggle intensifying while socialism is being built.

      I’m pretty sure the legal scholars who, in the early 1990s, transformed the late-Soviet codes into a more or less Continental European legal system (on paper) wanted to make it as humane as possible. But being old-fashioned and pre-feminist in their worldview, they simply exempted women from the death penalty. There was a common view during the Perestroika that the Soviets had taken equality of the sexes to absurd extremes (e.g., women working as rail track layers) so a little special treatment wouldn’t hurt.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Winterings in Trans-Scythia

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading