Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign
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Free Russia Foundation is starting to document cases of abduction by the Russian army of Ukrainians for the International Criminal Court

Jul 13 2022

In the temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, in addition to the killing of civilians and horrific destructions carried out by the Russian army: a severe violation of the norms of international law in the form of abduction of Ukrainians into the territory of Russia has been taking place.

Prior to being interned, Ukrainians are placed in so-called “filtration camps” where they are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

All these actions violate the Hague Conventions and constitute an international crime.

We plan to collect information about such abduction cases, put it in written pleadings, and submit them to the International Criminal Court.

If you have been subject to abduction (internment), please, fill in the form via the link.

Hundreds of Russian Politicians Publicly Speak Out Against the War Despite Severe Punishments

Jul 02 2022

By FRF Team

On February 24, 2022, over 100 deputies from different regions of Russia signed an open letter to the fellow citizens and condemned the military conflict with Ukraine. By March 5, the letter had been reportedly signed by 276 deputies of representative bodies of state power and local self-government. But due to the introduction of criminal and administrative liability for “discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” the names of the signatories have been since redacted.

The most noticeable dissent against the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine has been shown by the members of the Communist party:

  • On February 26, CPRF members, State Duma deputies from the Samara Region and the Omsk Region, Mikhail Matveyev and Oleg Smolin, respectively, publicly raised concerns about the war. They were joined by Vyacheslav Markhaev, CRPF member from Buryatia, who condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on his Facebook page.
  • On February 27, CPRF activists launched an anti-war initiative; anti-war groups appeared on VKontakte and Telegram. This work is reportedly done by members of regional and city branches of the party and the Komsomol throughout Russia. At the very core of the initiative are members of the Marxist Tendency movement.
  • A Meduza source close to the party leadership in one of the Russian regions, called the war in Ukraine “imperialist” and noted that its conduct and support is contrary to the ideology of the Communist Party.
    • Anti-war statements on social media were made by the Komsomol branches in Penza, Novosibirsk, Moscow and Saratov, but they were all removed within hours.
    • The anti-war groups were later made non-public; regional party leaders also demanded that members left these groups. Some members reported the internal party order not to speak publicly about the war at all.
  • Consequently, members who spoke against the war were expelled from the party, others were pressured, e.g.:
    • In late February, in Komi, head of the Communist Party faction Viktor Vorobyov said in a statement on his Telegram channel that “what is happening in Ukraine has no justification in international law.” Vorobyov was stripped of his speech rights in the State Council for two meetings.
    • Also in February, in Vladivostok, City Duma deputy Viktor Kamenshchikov resigned from the party and announced his readiness to lay down his deputy mandate due to disagreement with the invasion of Ukraine. “I am against war in principle,” he was quoted to have said.
    • In March, Voronezh deputy Nina Belyaeva condemned the special operation, which resulted in her expulsion from the party and a criminal case against her.
    • Also in March, in the Arkhangelsk region, the Communist Party expelled five members of the party for their anti-war appeals, including Alexander Afanasyev.
    • Two more Communist party members were stripped of their membership in the Tambov Region.
    • In late May, deputy of the legislative assembly of Primorsky Krai, Leonid Vasyukevich, publicly demanded that Putin withdraw troops from Ukraine (he was supported by four other party members): in response, the CPRF promised to apply “the toughest measures.” In June, Vasukevich and a fellow party member Gennady Shulga were expelled from the party.

Some members of other parliamentary parties also voiced their opposition to the war:

  • In March, the deputy of the Ivanovo Regional Duma (the Just Russia–Patriots–For Truth), Sergei Shestukhin, refused his mandate, because “the political struggle in the country is over.” Earlier, the Ivanovo authorities wanted to remove his powers due to errors in old tax filings, and the party expelled him because of a post criticizing the special operation in Ukraine.
  • Also in March, the head of the Penza branch of the Just Russia–Patriots–For Truth, Anna Ochkina, resigned on the grounds of “the abolition of democracy.”
  • In April, at the Moscow City Duma’s meeting, Sergei Mitrokhin, former head of the Yabloko party, spoke publicly against the war.
  • In April, St. Petersburg deputy Vladimir Volokhonsky during a meeting of the municipal council condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and called on the deputies of United Russia to “leave this party as quietly as possible,” since they are responsible not only for the government’s actions committed earlier, but also for the war crimes that are taking place on Ukrainian soil now.

In addition, the Yabloko party, which doesn’t have Duma representation, but holds a handful mandates in the Russian regions, has articulated its anti-war position since day one in its official statement. However, this position comes at a cost: one of its representatives, chairman of the Nizhny Novgorod branch Oleg Rodin, had to leave Russia after he discovered he had been under surveillance. This was preceded by Yabloko’s campaign against the war in Ukraine and the attack on the party’s regional office.

New Russian Law Further Encroaches on the Russians’ Right to Political Self-Determination

Jul 01 2022

By FRF Team

The new bill on local self-governance in Russia, which is currently under review at the second
reading in the State Duma, was introduced on December 16, 2021–almost two months before
Russia started a full-fledged war against Ukraine. The sponsors of the bill are pro-Kremlin United
Russia party deputies Pavel Krasheninnikov and Andrei Klishas, authors of several other
antidemocratic laws.

The bill was first introduced in 2020, around the same time as Putin’s government was pushing
through the illegal Constitutional amendments and aims to replace the existing federal law on
local self-governance adopted in 2003. The new law envisions two major changes:

  1. governors are empowered to single-handedly appoint mayors and unilaterally remove
    them from office;
  2. rural and urban settlements are abolished, and local government is transitioned to a
    single-level system. By 2028, these administrative units are to be merged with the city or
    municipal districts within the borders of the current municipal localities.

Putin’s regime justifies these changes as a way to increase self-governance efficiency by
consolidating financial, organizational, personnel and other resources.

The bill has been met with resistance in the State Duma, especially by the members of the
Communist and Just Russia parties. Following the first reading, 700 amendments were
submitted. The review is still ongoing, and the second reading was moved to the Duma’s fall
2022 session.

According to some Russian political experts, the new law will essentially deprive the Russians
living in small urban areas of political power. Others point out that the law will simply reflect
the existing political realities on the ground—that is, the fact that residents of small
municipalities and rural areas do not possess real political power anyway.

Pro-democracy anti-war Russians present Secretariat of European Russia in Brussels  

Jun 29 2022

June 29, 2022. Washington, DC. The coalition of pro-democracy anti-war Russians launched the Secretariat of European Russia in Brussels. Free Russia Foundation is one of founding members of this coalition.

The group will facilitate an efficient flow of communication and coordination between the EU and pro-democracy Russians. It will be assisting the EU structures to develop the Russia policy initiatives that would help stop the war in Ukraine, support the Russian civil society and activists, and catalyze political change inside Russia.

With the permanent representation in Brussels, this initiative will strive to achieve a much stronger position of the Russian civil society and pro-democracy activists as legitimate, capable, responsible, and responsive actors that inform European policymakers on the latest developments in Russia and critical foreign policy issues, help the EU to formulate and implement a smart Russia policy and contribute to a significant political change inside Russia. The Secretariat will make an important contribution to addressing the war consequences and help Russian civil society, both in-country and in exile.

Attendees of the inaugural event included Natalia ARNO, Free Russia Foundation (FRF); Grigory FROLOV, FRF VP; Vladimir MILOV, FRF Senior Fellow; Dmitry GUDKOV, Anti-War Committee (online); Anastasia BURAKOVA, “The Arc” project (online); Evgenia CHIRIKOVA, Activatica; Alexander SOLOVYEV, Foundation for Democratic Development. The event was hosted by MEP Andrius Kubilius, standing rapporteur on Russia in the European Parliament. The launch was attended by MEP Miriam Lexxman, MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, MEP Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, representatives of the EEAS, NATO HQ, Globsec, EPP HQ and others.

Natalia Arno, Free Russia Foundation President: “Policy of the European Union is a key factor when it comes to demanding an end to the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, a release of the regime’s political prisoners, or catalyzing political change inside Russia. Therefore, Free Russia Foundation and other members of the Secretariat of European Russians that have extensive understanding of the Russian internal processes, unite to advise the EU on specific steps that can influence decision making inside Russia”.

Contact:

Vladyslava Smolinska

[email protected]

Sarah Mendelson and Tom Firestone join Free Russia Foundation Board of Directors

Jun 22 2022

WASHINGTON, DC, June 22, 2022.  Free Russia Foundation—a 501(c) 3 headquartered in Washington, DC whose mission is to support Russian pro-democracy activists and organizations by improving their access to expertise, information, funding and decision-makers required to bring about positive change in their country— announces the addition of two new members to its Board of Directors.

Ambassador Sarah E. Mendelson is a revered development and human rights policy practitioner whose Russia-focused experience includes a National Democratic Institute post in Moscow and work on the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From October 2015 until January 2017, she served as the US Representative to the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations. Between 2010-2014, Ambassador Mendelson worked as Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID directing programs on democracy, human rights, and governance. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of over 70 scholarly and public policy publications, Ambassador Mendelson received her BA in History from Yale University and her PhD in political science from Columbia University.

Tom Firestone is a legal expert specializing in transnational financial crimes and corruption investigations.  He is the co-chair of the White Collar & Internal Investigations unit at the Stroock law firm and a member of the firm’s National Security/CFIUS/Compliance Practice Group where he serves as the liaison with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of Treasury and other U.S. agencies.  Mr. Firestone’s areas of competence include the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and other sanctions laws, the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and other anti-money laundering laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and other federal criminal statutes related to business crime and national security. He advises clients on the issues related to the Russian war in Ukraine, including sanctions compliance, OFAC licensing, and assessing the risks of doing business in Russia. Mr. Firestone has represented clients in proceedings before Interpol and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Tom previously worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, where he investigated and prosecuted transnational organized crime.  While with the Department of Justice, he also served as the Resident Legal Advisor and Acting Chief of the Law Enforcement Section at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and twice won the U.S. State Department Superior Honor Award.  He has testified as an expert before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the UK House of Lords and is recognized by Best Lawyers in America in the area of white-collar criminal defense.  He is fluent in Russian and reads Polish and Bulgarian.

“We are immensely grateful to Ambassador Mendelson and Mr. Firestone for lending their unparalleled expertise to the work of Free Russia Foundation at this truly historic moment,” said FRF President and Founder Natalia Arno in her statement.  “Today, Russian civil society is fighting for its survival. The two decades of Russia’s gradual slide toward authoritarianism have given way to an all-out repression, stripping Russian citizens of their innate rights, instilling terror and apathy. The brutal, senseless war unleashed against Ukraine by the illegitimate regime of Vladimir Putin and the international sanctions levied in response to this military aggression against Russia have dramatically reshaped the operating environment for Russian pro-democracy activists and movements. We are confident, that with Amb. Mendelson’s and Mr. Firestone’s insight and ingenuity, our foundation can devise innovative and effective ways to support Russian civil society and help it reclaim its role as the main driver of the country’s political development.”

The addition of Amb. Mendelson and Mr. Firestone to FRF Board brings its total size to a lucky number 13. Other Board Members include David J. Kramer (Chair), Paige Alexander, Ellen Bork, Ralf Fücks, Toomas Ilves, Ian Kelly, Sergey Aleksashenko, Alina Polyakova, Daniel Treisman, Andrew Wood, and Natalia Arno (President and Founder, ex officio). Learn more about FRF Board here.