Nadezhda Savchenko: Ukraine’s Joan of Arc and, quite possibly, next dictator

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August 3, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov

Translated by J. Arnoldski

One of today’s main reports sweeping Russian media is Verkhovna Rada deputy Nadezhda Savchenko’s announcement of a new hunger strike. Her goal is accelerating the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and the Donbass republics. Savchenko announced the new initiative in her typically expressive and vulgar manner so impressive for Ukrainians, as she accused President Poroshenko and the entire Ukrainian political elite of indifference towards the fate of prisoners of war. She literally said “he doesn’t care about your children” in the direction of Poroshenko. 

What does Savchenko aim to achieve with this statement? In my opinion, this hunger strike is the beginning of Savchenko’s presidential campaign. 

Several days ago, I stated in an interview to the Russian news agency “Novosti” that the theory that Savchenko could be the next president of Ukraine no longer looks exotic. Yet this theory is not a new one. I first encountered it in an article in the independent Italian newspaper “L´Opinione Pubblica” which examined Ukraine as a country whose political culture is characteristically populist and features a “Joan of Arc complex” promoting the figure of a female savior for the Fatherland. Indeed, Yulia Tymoshenko very successfully worked this angle, but her star has hopelessly waned. Tymoshenko, after all, is too prosperous and bourgeois and has lost her uniqueness. But Savchenko is unique in her own right, at least for some time.

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The presidential ambitions of Savchenko mentioned in the Italian publication were recently reinforced by her own confessions when Savchenko expressed in her own words that she wants to become the dictatorial president of Ukraine. These ambitions are supported by sociological data. According to the results of a recent poll by the “Rating” group, 13% of respondents reported a very positive attitude towards Savchenko while this same figure is only 3% for President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Groysman. It makes sense that President Poroshenko and, indeed, the entire Ukrainian regime, should fear competition from the barefoot Nadezhda who is incapable of behaving in public…

Ukrainian and Russian media have reported a wave of indignation caused by Savchenko’s denunciation of “policies and politicians” who do not care about the people or the need to reconcile with Donbass and Russia. But these reports have covered the reactions of only one part of Ukrainian society, namely, those who have have not been affected by the war and are rather prosperous and bourgeois. Nevertheless, the high “presidential” ratings of Savchenko speak to the fact that she has supporters in other parts of society as well, including veterans of the so-called “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in Donbass, the tens of thousands of soldiers and their families who are tired of the war and hate the whole “elite” in Kiev, and, finally, the residents of Ukraine’s Russian regions, the majority of whom believe the war in Donbass to be a fratricidal one. 

Not a single politician has been left on the Ukraine’s political playing field who has so boldly called a spade a spade and voiced the position of the residents of the Russian South and East of Ukraine. That the former hangman of Donbass, Nadezhda Savchenko, could voice these same opinions might be attributed to God working in mysterious ways, but if Savchenko consistently sticks to this position, then her support among the population of the South and East of Ukraine will only increase. Savchenko’s former comrades-in-arms, the militants of the Ukrainian “volunteer battalions”,  understand her as well. These are diverse layers of the electorate, but it is perhaps in this that Savchenko’s strength lies. Nobody in Ukraine will ever give the right to vote to a representative of the Russian Southeast, but it is hard to silence the vote of a Hero of Ukraine (as Nadezhda Savhcheno was officially awarded this title) who has been in the very thick of combat. 

In world history, soldiers often become peacemakers. Perhaps the most famous example is General de Gaulle. I believe that Nadezhda Savchenko has good chances of competing for the country’s leadership. She needs tenacity and ambition (both of which she already has in abundance), a good team of spin doctors, and money for all the rest. Something tells me that Savchenko will come up with an abundance of money from somewhere. 

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