Foul Play: The Human Cost of World Sports
Please join the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.at the Atlantic Council headquarters for a panel discussion on human rights violations surrounding mega-sporting events.
Please join the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.at the Atlantic Council headquarters for a panel discussion on human rights violations surrounding mega-sporting events.
1030 15th Street NW,
12th Floor (West Tower Elevator)
International sporting events — once the symbols of peace, cooperation, and unity — now too often prompt human rights abuses, censorship, discrimination, and doping scandals. As the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro near, audiences from around the world will be lured by Olympic glory and forget the people living in the shadows: those who are denied the spotlight in favor of their governments’ public relations campaigns. In the lead up to the games, the Atlantic Council will bring together top human rights experts on Brazil, Qatar, and Russia to shed light on the violations surrounding mega-sporting events and to offer recommendations on what the international community must do to end this cycle of abuse.
A conversation with:
Director of Global Initiatives
Human Rights Watch
Advocacy Director, Middle East and North Africa
Senior Director for Human Rights and Democracy
The McCain Institute for International Leadership
Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean and Director of the Latin America Program
Open Society Foundations
Vice President of Emergency Assistance Programs and Multilateral Advocacy
Welcoming remarks by:
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of US Department of State
Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center
On Twitter? Follow @ACEurasia and use #FoulPlay
This event is open to press and on the record.
On Friday, June 10th, experts in Washington discussed the possibility of strengthening civil society and democratic institutions, which are existent but weak in today’s Russia, through technological entrepreneurship.
It wouldn’t be the first time Russia has used technology to further a political agenda. In the days of communism, the many advances in technology made by the Soviet Union were used by the Communist Party to promote their system of government as optimal as opposed to the democratic, capitalist West.
Technology is a well-known, well-respected, and popular field in Russia. Under the Soviet Union, engineering and the sciences were widely pursued because of state censorship limiting the humanities in education. And it paid off in tangible accomplishment as the Soviet Union put the first satellite, man, and woman in space. Even today Russia is at the forefront of technology as Pavel Durov invented Vkontakte, a social media website wildly popular in the CIS.
Could the history, nostalgia, and potential surrounding this field of study energize and mobilize the Russian people to demand the Kremlin to change policy?
To a certain extent, it already did. Up until 2012, when large protest marches were frequently happening in Russia’s biggest cities, internet freedom was considerably strong. While TV news was and still is mostly pro-Kremlin, the internet presented an alternative and mostly free outlet for anti-Putin Russians. Since 2012, however, free access to certain websites has been restricted, blacklists and even criminal investigations carried out due to anti-government social media posts.
Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist from Russia, explained that while the situation is bleak, it may not get too much worse. The methods used by Kremlin-linked authorities are losing their effectiveness as methods to circumvent these blocks are increasingly effective and popular. For instance, when a file-sharing site in Russia was shut down, the number of Russians using torrents skyrocketed and watered down the effects of the censorship considerably.
Greater methods of censorship have been considered by the Kremlin, even so much as extending it to operate like China’s “Great Firewall”, but the plans never went through.
So what can be done to energize anti-Putin Russians through technology?
Some methods already exist. Oleg Kozlovsky, the founder of the Vision of Tomorrow Foundation, praised Facebook as its ubiquity has been very effective in organizing protests without the Kremlin bothering to investigate. And the political will to ban Facebook and websites like it simply doesn’t exist right now, he explained. “It’d only get more people to use the circumvention tools,” tools which are widely available. Even dissidents who are harassed by pro-Kremlin thugs such as Aleksei Navalny are able to fight back.
Kozlovsky also lightened the mood when he told the audience about a time when Navalny’s website got attacked by Kremlin authorities. Navalny and his team decided to fire back and found a way. When a second Kremlin attack came on the website, users were redirected to a picture of a “pink cartoon pony”.
As it turns out social media is not the only relatively new invention that has become an outlet for the opposition, he went on to explain. Messaging apps on cellphones, such as FireChat, or Telegram, which was invented by Vkontakte creator Pavel Durov, have started to worry Kremlin authorities as well, according to Anton Merkurov.
Another great example is Movements.org – a crowdsourcing platform that connects dissidents in closed societies with individuals around the world with skills to help. This powerful combination provides those fighting for human rights in dictatorships with the expertise they need to strengthen their voice. For instance, the platform was actively used during #FreeSavchenko campaign.
Obstacles still exist. Russians across the country overwhelmingly depend on news from television, which is almost exclusively pro-Kremlin. If there is to be a shift against Putin’s United Russia party, it will only come about if there is outreach to Russians outside the big cities which are largely ignored by the pro-democracy movement. Russia is a country of 150 million people, but unfortunately most news developments within the pro-democracy opposition happen in two cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. There’s a lot more Russia out there.
Ilya Shumanov summed it up by saying that “There are two different Russias, essentially. There are those who are well-traveled and tech-savvy and aware of the world around them, and those who stick to the news on TV and do not leave the country, and are set in their ways.”
While Putin’s approval rating remains extremely high, Anton Merkurov was quick to point out that “Many Russians, especially older Russians, are very nervous about the future”. Previous conferences with members of the opposition such as Ilya Ponomarev, the exiled Duma deputy, reiterated these statements, as well as the lack of a plan that the Kremlin seems to have in regards to the sputtering economy.
In this circumstances, the technologies and the new ways of communications will definitely become a bridge to share the truth with a larger part of the population and the tool for empowerment of civil society activists to drive Russian society towards democratic change.
by Kyle Menyhert,
columnist of Free Russia Foundation
On June 9, at the Atlantic Council headquarters, the Institute of Modern Russia, the Atlantic Council, and Free Russia held a panel discussion on the prospects for Russia’s 2016 parliamentary election.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Pavel Khodorkovsky, John Herbst, Miriam Lanskoy, and Steven Lee Myers discussed the vote, the opposition’s plans, and the international community’s role in ensuring free and fair elections
On September 18, 2016, Russia will hold a parliamentary election—its seventh since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since March 2000, not a single nationwide vote in Russia has been assessed by international observers as “free and fair.” The last Duma elections in 2011 were marred by allegations of widespread fraud and prompted the largest street protests under Vladimir Putin’s rule.
What should be expected from the upcoming vote? A panel of experts on Russia gathered at the Atlantic Council headquarters to discuss a wide range of issues related to this question. The panel consisted of Vladimir Kara-Murza, National Coordinator of the Open Russia movement and deputy leader of the People’s Freedom Party; Pavel Khodorkovsky, president of the Institute of Modern Russia; Dr. Miriam Lanskoy, senior director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Ambassador John Herbst, director of Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. Steven Lee Myers, a New York Times correspondent and author of a The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, moderated the discussion.
Steve Myers started off the discussion by pointing out that for many journalists and Russia observers in the West, the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary election is more or less predetermined—the political system is rigged, and the opposition has little chance of winning—yet at the same time, every election held under Putin’s rule has provided information about the ways his system operates; therefore it is important that the West pay attention to this election, as it may learn more about the context of Russian politics.
In his remarks, Vladimir Kara-Murza noted that the election was set for September 18, which is three months earlier than usual. This was done so that “the campaign season would coincide with the vacation season” and thus cause a low turnout, which would “favor the regime.” In light of the campaign, the Kremlin has moved to introduce a number of new draconian laws, one of them being the ban on parties and candidates being endorsed by people who, for various reasons, are not allowed to run themselves. “This whole federal law was passed [to target only] two people—Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexey Navalny,” Kara-Murza said. He also reminded the panel that Russian officials had already made it clear that the observers from the Council of Europe will not be welcome at the elections, in direct contradiction to the country’s membership in this organization. Kara-Murza observed that the situation has deteriorated since the 2011 election, which “was not a high benchmark” in the first place.
He went on to say that under the circumstances, the Russian opposition had been discussing whether to simply boycott this a priori fraudulent election, but despite the cons, has decided that it’s still worth running for three key reasons: first, to take every opportunity to challenge the regime; second, to give a political voice to numerous Russians who want their country to be free and democratic and to provide an alternative vision; and third, to help a new generation of Russian democratic activists gain political experience by participating in the election process as candidates.
Therefore, the goal of the Open Russia movement that Kara-Murza represents as National Coordinator is to support 24 candidates in single-mandate districts across Russia. Anticipating the obvious question—“Why even bother training these young people?”—Kara-Murza told the story of a Soviet pianist named Rudolph Kerer, who was exiled in Kazakhstan without a musical instrument. Because he didn’t want to forget how to play piano, he made himself a wooden plank and played this plank for 13 years before he was able to strike an actual chord. Drawing on this analogy, Kara-Murza concluded that people in the Russian opposition know that one day Putin’s regime will end, and when that time comes, they will be ready.
Speaking next, Miriam Lanskoy wondered why Putin, who enjoys an 86-percent approval rating, is so insecure that he needs to continue clamping down on the opposition. Over the last few years, the Kremlin has undertaken a number of steps to expand its repressive apparatus. Further amendments were made to legislation to expand the definition of “political activity,” and brand more NGOs as “foreign agents,” among other things. Since social media proved crucial to the 2011–2012 protests, the government has launched new initiatives to take control over this part of the Internet. There have also been physical attacks on opposition members, including Mikhail Kasyanov and Alexey Navalny. And in April, on the eve of the election campaign, Putin made the disturbing move to establish a National Guard of Russia, a 400,000-member force that directly responds to Putin’s personal friend Valery Zolotov.
Though Lanskoy called the replacement of former head of the Central Election Committee Vladimir Churov with the more liberal-minded Ella Panfilova “a cosmetic move” signifying that the Kremlin is so confident that it controls every aspect of the electoral process that it feels it can afford to make a small concession, she nonetheless concludes that the Kremlin is terrified of a repeat of the 2011–2012 protests. Today, as the economy deteriorates, people’s discontent is growing. And the biggest vulnerability of the regime is kleptocracy: quoting Levada Center polls, Lanskoy noted that 50 percent of Russians think the president is responsible for corruption and economic mismanagement of the country. She concluded that even if people’s frustration hasn’t yet found a political form, it likely will by 2018.
You can watch the discussion below:
Pavel Khodorkovsky focused on the topic of election observation by international observers, and Russia’s obligations in this context. Earlier this year, Alexey Pushkov, head of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), announced that PACE observers will not be allowed to monitor polling stations during the upcoming elections. (This came as retaliation for PACE’s suspension of the voting rights of the Russian delegation following the annexation of Crimea.) Other Russian officials have made similar statements, making it clear that there will be no PACE observers in Russia this time. Since international observers’ role is to ensure conditions under which people can freely express their opinions and choose the legislature, this unwillingness to invite such observers is a telling sign of the Kremlin’s intentions.
Khodorkovsky noted that Russia’s membership in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was not affected by the Crimea controversy, and one might therefore expect OSCE observers to be invited. But, though the deadline for issuing an official invitation is June 18, at the time of this writing, Russia had not yet done so. Khodorkovsky argued that since the Russian opposition decided not to boycott the elections, the government should follow suit and not boycott international observation. Whether this happens or not will be known soon enough.
In his turn, John Herbst offered a few thoughts on Russia from Washington’s perspective. First, he addressed the question raised by other panelists: why does Putin need all of these restrictions if his approval rating is so high? According to Herbst, a politician who is polling at over 75 percent is not going to worry about holding a free and fair election. Still, it seems that Putin has reasons to worry, since another poll suggests that the majority of Russians think their country is heading in the wrong direction. Second, Herbst addressed a more basic question: why have elections at all? Especially given the Russian government’s claims that their country is a “distinctive civilization, a Eurasian civilization, different from the corrupt West”? Herbst argued that despite these claims, Vladimir Putin “doesn’t know, ultimately, any other way to legitimize himself to his own population or internationally, and that is why we have all of these problems, all these restrictions… that would prevent an accurate reading of the Russian population from being presented.”
Finally, Herbst returned to the key question raised by Kara-Murza: why are the members of the Russian opposition willing to participate in this kind of election? The reason, Herbst said, is that elections do provide legitimacy, despite the Kremlin’s propaganda: “The parties participate so they can be seen as participating, so they develop experience, and so that after the results come in, on the basis of the best information available regarding the true results, you might have further developments in Russia.”
While the debate on how to deal with Russia continues in the West, Kara-Murza offered a simple solution earlier this June in his testimony at the hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (“Russian Violations of Borders, Treaties, and Human Rights”). When people in the West ask how they can help Russia, the answer should be: “stay true to your values.” Speaking on behalf of the opposition and the Open Russia movement, Kara-Murza said, “We are not asking for support—it is our task to fight for democracy and the rule of law in our country. The only thing we ask from Western leaders is that they stop supporting Mr. Putin by treating him as a respectable partner and by allowing his cronies to use Western countries as havens for their looted wealth.”
The Institute of Modern Russia will continue its engagement with leading European policymakers in June 2016 to highlight the challenges facing independent and opposition candidates at September’s Duma elections. On June 20, Vladimir Kara-Murza and Vadim Prokhorov, a member of the Expert Council of the Russian Central Electoral Commission, will participate in a PACE event in Strasbourg, France. The event is hosted by the EPP/CD Group, the largest caucus in PACE, which brings together national parliamentarians from the Council of Europe’s 47 member states to discuss issues of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
The following day, June 21, Kara-Murza and Prokhorov will be guests of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, at a briefing to analyze the legal, financial, administrative, and practical barriers to the free and fair participation of independent and opposition candidates in the election. The event will bring together members of the European Parliament, officials, NGO staff, journalists, and diplomats to pinpoint IMR’s concerns about the electoral process and to discuss ways in which the European Union can bring pressure to bear on Russia in the run-up to and during the election.
This article first appeared on IMR site.
A number of eminent Russian and American experts discussed the ways to ensure a future for democratic civil society in Russia at a long-day conference organized by Free Russia Foundation, Movements.org and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation in on June, 10th, in Washington, DC.
The first part of the conference which consisted of the two panels was devoted to general issues as opportunities for business and state of civil society in Putin’s Russia.
The best way to briefly describe Putin’s Russia would have been to say that one of the panelist – Ilya Ponomarev, turned from an acting member of the Russian Duma into a former one right in front of the audience. Two minutes after the conference had started, Ponomarev was unseated his parliamentary mandate by the Duma in Moscow for not fulfilling his duties. The only deputy who voted against the annexation of Crimea, last year Ponomarev was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, charged and arrested in absentia for the alleged embezzlement of $750,000 from the state-funded Skolkovo tech and science foundation. By that time he was in California and has never come back to Russia ever since, but his colleague deputy Dmitry Gudkov legally voted for Ponomarev during all the time of his absence.
It became unclear why the Duma would unseat Ponomarev just three months before new elections but this – the upcoming elections on September, 18th, became the main topic of the first panel.
Deputy chairman of Parnas political party Ilya Yashin, who traveled to DC to take part at the conference, stated that it is impossible to change the existing political system by playing by its rules. Answering the logical question why would Parnas – the out-of-system opposition party, participate in the elections, Yashin said elections should be used by the opposition to promote their ideas publicly and to make the regime feel uncomfortable. He provided an example when his own participation in the regional election in Kostroma let him appear on state TV; moreover, Yashin engaged one of the leaders of Russian opposition Alexey Navalny, who has been under political suppression for several years, to talk on national TV as his confidant. That was the first time Navalny had had an opportunity to appear on state TV for ten years, Yashin said. He added though that this case made the Duma change the law that would ban the confidents to take part in debates (Navalny himself cannot run for office because of previous criminal convictions he has).
Talking about the ways democracy can arise in Russia, Yashin said it cannot be brought into Russia from somewhere outside; it has to occur naturally from within the country. And that is what the opposition’s goal is: to form the demand for democracy by promoting its ideas among Russian people. Yashin sounded pretty desperate when asked if any changes are possible while Vladimir Putin is in power; and he specifically emphasized the phony role of former Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin’s come back to a governmental position (Kudrin was recently appointed deputy chief of the Presidential Economic Council). Kudrin will not be able to perform any economic reforms without political reform being implemented in Russia, admitted Yashin.
Ilya Ponomarev talked more about technology as a way of changing Russian society. Ponomarev said the current regime lacks big ideas for the nation and assumed the dream of Russia will be born within the technologies. And what could reunite the country is new enterprises, said Ponomarev.
Melissa Hooper, Director of International Law Scholarship Project/Pillar Project at Human Rights First, talking about technology sector, said that the US society has the privilege because almost all tech companies that provide communication are located in the States. And the goal of American civil society is to push them on promoting safety and truthful discussion online and correction of false information. When I made an example with China where both Google and Facebook agreed to cooperate with censoring governmental regulations to stay on the market, Hooper admitted that businesses operate on the basis of the revenue but what can be done is to make noise about it to put pressure on these companies. I asked her if HRF has ever tried to connect Facebook on an important issue that the social network doesn’t have a Russia department which would understand the context of posts on Facebook: these loops are being used by Russian state-paid Internet trolls who just bombard Facebook administration if they want a certain opposition post to be removed and without getting into context, just out of the facts of a big number of claims, Facebook often delete such posts. Hooper said they have, but Facebook never responded to that. She added though that the company is interested in the issue of Russia shutting down the Internet because it would affect their revenues but not in the issues of safety.
The second part of the first panel was devoted to the state of journalism and freedom of speech in Russia. Senior editor of the Daily Beast Michael Weiss talked about how Russia uses propaganda to – the real unique selling point of Putin disinformation and propaganda is that notion that there is no such thing as empirical truth, nor there is such thing as objective fact. Everything is just subjective interpretation. It’s important to teach Western journalists and editors the nature and the style of Kremlin’s disinformation.
Maria Snegovaya, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University and columnist at Vedomosti newspaper, agreed with Weiss pointing out that rather implement the direct censorship strategies in its abroad propaganda Kremlin insinuate and create doubts in people’s heads. Snegovaya made an example with the MH17 flight shutting down where Russian propaganda has been consistently throwing different versions of what happened to expect the most obvious, of course, that the plane was shut down by Russia-backed separatists with a Russian Buk.
Senior Fellow at Hudson and author of a number of books on Russia and Putin, David Satter insisted that democracy in Russia is impossible without understanding the roots of Putin’s regime which start in Boris Eltsin’s times. Satter expressed his hopes for Russian diasporas abroad to help the changes come to Russia.
Summarizing everything that was said and discussed on the panel, I would like to underline the importance of the West to prepare for changes in Russia. Putin’s regime will come to an end, one way or another, and to not let Putin’s Russia 2.0 happen again, the world democratic society should help Russians to deal with new reality, when it comes, with a profound understanding of what democratic values are; not as it happened in the 90s. Enlightenment and education, whether it’s journalistic or business training or experience exchange between civil society groups, is the key solution.
by Karina Orlova,
Journalist, contributor of the Echo of Moscow
Deliberate lies of Nekrasov’s anti-Magnitsky film was exposed in a new 50-page presentation by Magnitsky Justice Campaign.
13 June 2016 – Today, in advance of a private screening at Newseum in Washington of an anti-Magnitsky film directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, the Magnitsky Justice Campaign has released a 50-page presentation exposing the film’s deliberate misrepresentations. The presentation contains links to 25 documents exposing the lies of the film.
“Andrei Nekrasov’s movie is a complete fabrication. He promotes the Russian government’s false version of events. He claims Sergei Magnitsky died of natural causes and did not testify against Russian police officers. Both claims are contradicted by official documents which show evidence of Magnitsky’s beating in police custody in the last hours of his life, and the text of the testimony by Magnitsky before his arrest, in which he names the corrupt Russian police officers 27 times,” said William Browder, leader of the global Magnitsky Justice movement.
Nekrasov’s film tries to present the storyline that the Russian government was the victim in the whole affair instead of the murdered Sergei Magnitsky.
“This film is a shameless attempt to export the Russian government’s propaganda to the West. In Russia, corrupt officials and criminals exposed by Sergei Magnitsky enjoy impunity and now they are trying to use a purportedly independent filmmaker to avoid accountability in the West,” said William Browder.
To prepare his film, Andrei Nekrasov worked with some of the Russian perpetrators and beneficiaries of the US$230 million fraud exposed by Sergei Magnitsky. The same persons are involved in the film’s promotion in Europe and in the USA. In particular, the film is promoted by agents of Denis Katsyv, the son of the Russian official, whose assets have been frozen by the US and Swiss courts because of alleged involvement in money laundering of proceeds of the fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky.
“The purpose of Andrei Nekrasov’s film is to absolve corrupt Russian officials and individuals who were involved in and benefited from the US$230 million fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky. Some of them have been part of the film’s preparation and promotion,” said William Browder.
In his film, Andrei Nekrasov falsely claims that Magnitsky did not uncover the US$230 million corrupt scheme and instead was its perpetrator. This claim is contradicted by law enforcement investigations in 11 countries who have traced proceeds of the US$230 million crime to assets of Russian government officials and their relatives, including real estate in the US, Dubai and Swiss bank accounts. In particular, funds were received on a Swiss account of Vladlen Stepanov, husband of Russian tax official Olga Stepanova who approved a portion of the fraudulent US$230 million tax refund, and paid for properties for two of Stepanova’s deputies in the Russian Tax Office No 28 which approved the fraudulent tax refund.
The Panama Papers have also connected proceeds of the US$230 million fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, to a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Roldugin, who received funds on his corporate Swiss account.
Russian human rights activists who conducted an independent investigation into the Magnitsky’s case under the Russian President’s Human Rights Council, including Moscow Helsinki Group chair Ludmila Alexeeva, and head of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission Valery Borschev, have denounced the anti-Magnitsky film in public statements published in May 2016:
The Council of Europe has exposed the falsity of Nekrasov’s claim that the Council of Europe’s investigation relied only on documents from William Browder, stating the Council of Europe examined all documents, including those received directly from the Russian government.
“In fact, in the report adopted in January 2014 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the working methods and sources of information for the rapporteur can be found. These include two visits to Moscow, meeting with senior representatives of the Russian authorities, with leading human rights defenders and official documents that have been transmitted directly from Russian authorities,” said First Deputy Chairman of the Legal and Human Rights Committee of the Council of Europe Bernd Fabritius on 24 May 2016.
Sergei Magnitsky, Hermitage’s lawyer who uncovered the US$230 million fraud and testified about the complicity of Russian officials in it, was falsely arrested, detained for 358 days without trial, tortured and killed in Russian police custody at the age of 37. The events of this case are described in the New-York Times best-seller “Red Notice” by William Browder and in a series of campaign videos on Youtube channel “Russian Untouchables.”
For more information, please contact:
Justice for Sergei Magnitsky