Global Independent Analytics

Ukraine's 'Joan of Arc' may be thorn in own leaders' side

Returning to Ukraine, Savchenko will bring much trouble to Poroshenko

Pavel Polityuk for Reuters reports: Securing pilot Nadiya Savchenko's release from Russian captivity was a PR coup for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko but the outspoken woman feted as the nation's "Joan of Arc" may ultimately prove a thorn in his side.

While being imprisoned, Savchenko has become a lawmaker in the main opposition party of Ukraine, appearing as a savior at a time of growing disillusion with the slow pace of reforms and tackling corruption. She has also disapproved a key plank of Poroshenko's ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian separatists granting them autonomy in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko’s MP assumed that now she might successfully gather under her flags those who are dissatisfied with the current authorities.

Freed from the prison, where she spent two years for killing two Russian journalists, Savchenko at first was portrayed as Ukraine's Joan of Arc, who has returned home to celebrate the second anniversary of Poroshenko’s ascension to power. However, observers say that her celebrity profile could come back to haunt Ukrainian President. The president's popularity has faded amidst growing public dissatisfaction with the halting progress towards reform since the 2014 protests catapulted a pro-Western leadership to power.

"The Savchenko card will be played very quickly - it will be like an earthquake. Now there is an active struggle for her favor in a bid to protect (politicians) from attacks by Savchenko," the MP from Poroshenko's party reported.  Considering the fact that his public image was damaged by his connection to the infamous Panama Papers, the overall atmosphere of fraud and manipulation will serve Savchenko’s purposes.

Although it is yet unclear, which path would Savchenko take in Ukrainian politics, but she might pose a threat either for Poroshenko or for Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister now head of the opposition Fatherland party. "In the short term, there is no threat for Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. But if there's a presidential election this autumn or in early 2017 - she could be one of the potential candidates and even could very likely win this election," said analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

    "No one knows which way it will go and therefore everyone is afraid -- Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, and others. Savchenko is the choice for many. She is a militant patriot."

At her press conference on Friday, Savchenko called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "d--khead" and said Crimea could be returned to Ukraine if a Third World War broke out. She was quickly asked whether she could become president.

"Let's ask -- Ukrainians, if you need me to be president, fine I'll be president," she said. "I'm not saying that I want it (to be president). I love flying, but if needed, I will do anything and if needed I will go down even that road."

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

EXPERT OPINION

Joshua Tartakovsky

Savchenko is a hard-core nationalist and a fascist who seeks to capture territories in East Ukraine although a majority of the people there wish to remain independent (many have returned to Donetsk since the war began). As a pilot she was likely responsible for the murder of two Russian journalists. Her release had its pros: Russia got in return two captive soldiers and demonstrated good will. However, she will embolden Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and will radicalize the already ultra-nationalist currents even further. Israel released about 1,000 terrorists to secure the release of a single captive soldier, Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas, despite the objection of various security officials including Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad. By this count (2 for 1), Russia did better. However, Savchenko’s release will do little to restore calm or to foster some kind of normalization between Ukraine and Russia. In fact, it will serve to intensify the conflict as Ukrainian society will become even more radicalized and will seek to capture territories where Kiev/Kyiv is unwanted.

 

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