Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at:

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

Congressional Resolution on the non-Recognition of Putin as President after 2024

Nov 20 2021

On November 18, 2021, US Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission, along with the Helsinki Ranking Member Joe Wilson (R-SC), introduced a Congressional Resolution to end recognition of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia.

Free Russia Foundation applauds this principled public stance, sees it as the only position appropriately reflecting the criminal and murderous nature of Putin’s regime, and calls on all Members of the US Congress and the Biden Administration to adopt the policy of non-recognition of Vladimir Putin and his illegitimate government.

The resolution makes the case that Putin’s continuation in office after May 7, 2024 would be illegitimate. It asserts that the amendments to the Constitution of Russia, one of which provides for Putin’s so-called zero term limit and allows him to run for president in 2024 and 2030, were adopted in violation of international conventions, as well as through extensive fraud during the so-called popular vote last year.

Cohen and Wilson call Russia’s 2020 constitutional plebiscite “the most manipulated vote” in the country’s modern history. Their resolution decries ballots cast at “park benches, car trunks and shopping carts” during weeklong voting period with people prodded to polling centers in the midst of COVID-19 outbreak.

“Any attempt by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to remain in office beyond the end of his current and final term on May 7, 2024, shall warrant nonrecognition on the part of the United States,” the resolution states.

Kremlin’s Reaction

The resolution struck a nerve back in Moscow and has evoked an immediate and vehement reaction from the Kremlin, with each statement, however, using the same precise formulation as coordinated from the top.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the proposal as “aggressive” meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

“We consider this interference in our affairs and we’re convinced that only Russians can determine who and when should be president of Russia,” says Peskov. Peskov added that the State Duma deputies will not leave this proposal unanswered.

The Russian Federation Council said that if Congress passes the resolution, it will “lead to a rupture in relations between Russia and the United States.” The document itself was called “interference in the election.”

Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of Russia Konstantin Kosachev said that “it’s a little early this time the Americans started interfering in the presidential elections in Russia.” Kosachev called what was happening interference in Russia’s internal affairs “in its purest form” and a provocation that could disrupt the emerging improvement in relations between the countries.

Andrei Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Law, pointed out that only the Russian people can recognize or not recognize Putin as president of Russia. “If the president decides to take part in the 2024 elections and is elected by the citizens of our country, everyone, even the most sullen Russophobes in the U.S. Congress, will recognize this,” he said.

Ironically, in the past two years, the Kremlin has effectively neutralized the Russian civil society and independent political forces through massive repressions, disenfranchising even by most conservative estimates at least 9 million Russians from participating in elections —thusly denying Russian citizens the choice that they now extol with regards to Putin’s tenure.

Today, Putin is the second-longest serving head of state in Europe, after Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Notably, in 2018, Putin publicly stated that he was not going to hold the post of president for more than two consecutive terms and denied the possibility of his participation in the 2030 election.

Having held on to his power through various schemes for over twenty years, in 2020, Putin signed into law constitutional amendments allowing him to run for reelection twice more, potentially extending his presidency to 2036. Amendments to the Constitution of Russia solved so-called the “2024 problem” that was connected with end of Putin’s presidential powers in 2024. More than 200 amendments were introduced to the Russian Constitution last year. The amendments were widely criticized both in Russia and abroad.

U.S. Adds Russia to the Lists of Countries Suppressing Religious Freedom —along With Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea

Nov 19 2021

By Yury Krylov

The United States has added Russia to the list of countries implicated in “egregious violations of religious freedom,” a move that comes as ties dip to their lowest since the Cold War. This is reported on the website of the U.S. State Department.

In addition to Russia, the list includes China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and Myanmar. According to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the situation with violations of religious freedom in these countries “is of particular concern.”

Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua have been placed on a watch list.

“The United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country,” Blinken said in a statement. “In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.”

Antony Blinken stressed that the U.S. will continue to push governments to correct deficiencies in local laws and hold those responsible for violations accountable.

Earlier, the US State Department had criticized the Russian court over the imposition of prison terms for the followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses (an organization recognized as extremist and banned in Russia). The denomination was banned in Russia in 2017 under allegations of “extremism,” and hundreds of worshippers have been jailed since. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 257 criminal cases have been launched against the members of the group, 559 men and women have been charged with extremism, and 70 believers are currently incarcerated. Among those classified by Russia as extremist and banned are also a Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir and The Church of Scientology.

Free Russia Foundation submits evidence to OSCE of gross human rights violations in Belarus

Nov 16 2021

On November 4, 2021, 35 OSCE Participating States[1] invoked the Vienna Mechanism and addressed human rights concerns regarding actions by the Government of Belarus, noting the mutual accountability shared amongst OSCE Participating States for full implementation of their OSCE commitments. It requested “concrete and substantial responses” to eight questions that summarised its principal concerns regarding the human rights situation in Belarus.

On 12 November 2021, Free Russia Foundation lodged a submission to the OSCE entitled “Concerning the Decision of 35 OSCE States to Invoke the Vienna Mechanism in Relation to Serious Human Rights Violations in Belarus.”

The submission was addressed to all 57 OSCE Participating States (including Belarus), as well as Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General; Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; and Wolfgang Benedek, OSCE Rapporteur under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the Presidential Elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus.

Free Russia Foundation has observed that the Government of Belarus has been unresponsive to OSCE concerns and has no intention to answer the questions. Belarusian civil society, on the other hand, is precluded from responding due to its well-founded fear of retribution and further persecution. Accordingly, Free Russia Foundation prepared this submission articulating responses to the eight questions by the 35 OSCE States.

The Submission asserts that:

  1. No steps have been taken by Belarusian authorities to investigate allegations that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is being unduly restricted, that individuals are being arbitrarily detained or arrested, and that numbers of political prisoners are increasing. 
  2. On 26 August 2021, the Investigative Committee of Belarus announced that it would not criminally investigate or prosecute allegations by 680 persons regarding allegations of torture and other crimes under international law.
  3. Belarusian authorities incite hate and intolerance towards representatives of any political views that contradict the state and that their lack of a proper legal response to hate crimes creates an atmosphere of impunity for offenders.
  4. Belarusian authorities have hindered the ability of civil society and media actors to document and report on human rights concerns in Belarus and persecuted individuals and groups attempting to do so. 
  5. Belarusian authorities have facilitated irregular migration (to other OSCE Participating States) which puts vulnerable people at risk, impacts on their human rights, and has a destabilizing effect on regional security. In doing so, they use people in a vulnerable position as an instrument of pressure on other countries.
  6. Belarusian authorities have disregarded its OSCE membership obligations by failing to substantively respond to human rights concerns identified by OSCE Participating States.
  7. The Government of Belarus has closed at least 185 organizations, arbitrarily arrested dozens of their associates and taken no meaningful steps to engage with civil society. Further, it has taken no steps to respond to the recommendations contained in the 5 November 2020 report under the Moscow Mechanism.

Free Russia Foundation ( is an international NGO dedicated to advancing democratic development and supporting civil society with centers in Kyiv, Ukraine; Tbilisi, Georgia; Prague, Czechia; Berlin, Germany; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Washington, DC, US.

The submission was prepared in cooperation with Scott Martin of Global Rights Compliance (‘GRC’). GRC is an international LLP working on international human rights, international humanitarian law and environmental law matters throughout the world.

[1] Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, The Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the United States.

“The Country is on the Verge of a Historic Catastrophe”: Over 100 Russian Public Figures Voice Support for the Memorial Rights Group

Nov 15 2021

Over 100 Russian human rights activists and artists, as well as 60 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) have signed the appeal in support of the Memorial Rights Group. Among signatories are writers Dmitry Bykov, Viktor Shenderovich and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, rights activists Andrei Babushkin, Nikolai Svanidze and Natalia Yevdokimova, politicians Lev Shlosberg, Grigory Yavlinsky, Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yashin, Andrei Nechaev and many others.

The petition stresses the importance of continuing the human rights association’s mission of preserving the memory of victims of the USSR repressions:

We, the creators and staff of educational projects, book publishers and editors, protest the persecution of the Memorial Society, the oldest non-governmental organization in Russia today.

Since 1989, Memorial has investigated the history of state terror in the twentieth-century Russia and commemorated its victims. Memorial is a museum, archive, and library; it hosts discussions, lectures, exhibitions, and books; and organizes the annual “Return of Names” campaign. Memorial is the repository of the historical memory of our society, the foundation for its healthy development and its future”— a November 15 statement signed by activists and scholars said.

“Today this future is in danger. Persecution of political opposition, civic organizations and independent journalists has become the norm. New Russian laws are at odds with civilized understandings of the law. The rector of one of Russia’s best universities has been imprisoned on manufatured charges… We demand the release of political prisoners and the repeal of unlawful repressive laws. Our country is in trouble, and we must unite to protect its future”, it added.

On November 15, the Kremlin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment directly the case of Memorial, but opined that Memorial “has been having problems for a long time in terms of following Russian laws.”

In the first four days since its launch, nearly 25,000 Russians have signed the online petition called “Hands Off Memorial!”. Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the moves to close Memorial and demanded Russian authorities stop using the illegal Foreign Agent law to persecute and intimidate the organization.

Case Background

On November 11, 2021, Russian human rights group Memorial received a notice from the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. According to it, the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General has requested the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of the country’s most prominent and respected human rights group for failure to comply with requirements of the illegal law on “foreign agents” (in particular, its requirements for labeling).

Putin’s government uses the new “foreign agents” designation to target whom it perceives as foreign-funded organizations engaged in political activity and affiliated persons.

The post on the website of the Supreme Court states that the Prosecutor’s Office also demands the liquidation of the organization’s subdivisions — a human rights center, an archive, a library and a museum.

A court hearing is scheduled for November 25, 2021.

Memorial itself has characterized the General Prosecutor’s order as “a political decision to destroy civil society” focused on “the history of political repression and the defense of human rights.” The group believes there are no legal grounds for liquidating the organization.

“We have repeatedly stated that the law was originally conceived as a tool to crack down on independent organizations, and insisted that it should be abolished,” Memorial said in a statement. “The decision to abolish International Memorial is politically motivated. It aims to destroy the organization which deals with the political repressions of the past and fights for human rights today.”

Late last month, Memorial said that the number of political prisoners in Russia has risen sharply in recent years. It listed more than 400 political prisoners, including top Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexey Navalny who survived a poisoning attempt with Novichok nerve agent last year.

Recently Russia declared the rights group “Russian LGBT Network” a “foreign agent,” along with lawyer Ivan Pavlov and “Team 29” Lawyers’ Association.

About Memorial

Memorial was established in the late 1980s during the “perestroika” reforms of the USSR. Between 1987 and 1990, while the USSR was still in existence, 23 branches of the society were set up and became active. When the Soviet Union collapsed, branches of Memorial in east and south Ukraine remained affiliated to the Russian network.

By 2018, Memorial had more than 60 branches and affiliated organizations scattered across Russia, with a quarter of them established in 2014 or later.

The branches advance the same mission of upholding human rights, documenting the past, and marking Days of Remembrance for the victims of political repression. Over the past twenty years Memorial has built up an online database of the victims of political repression in the USSR. Its fifth version contained over three million names and yet it was estimated that 75% of the victims had not yet been identified and recorded. International Memorial was added to the “foreign agents” registry in October 2016.

Free Russia Foundation asks you to urgently speak up in public calling for the immediate release of Lilia Chanysheva from illegal detention by Russian authorities

Nov 12 2021

On November 10, 2021, a prominent Russian opposition activist Lilia Chanysheva was put under a two-month arrest on charges of her alleged participation in the activities of an ‘extremist organization’— Alexey Navalny’s network.

Chanysheva’s home in Ufa, Bashkortostan, was raided early in the morning of November 9, after which she was detained, and later— arrested. This is the first arrest of a member of Alexey Navalny’s network on charges of extremism after it had been declared an ‘extremist organization’ earlier this year.

Lilia Chanysheva has refrained from participation in Navalny’s network after its official disbanding in April 2021— well before the court decisions designating Alexey Navalny’s network ‘extremist’ were made. This arrest is clearly a revenge for her past activities which were not illegal at the time. Punishing people for legal political activities is against even Putin’s Russia’s laws.

Chanysheva was one of the most prominent regional activists of Navalny’s network, chairing Navalny’s regional HQ in Ufa, Bashkortostan from 2017 until Navalny’s regional network was disbanded in April 2021. Before joining Navalny’s Presidential campaign in 2017, she used to work at Deloitte’s local office as an auditor. Later, she ran for an Ufa City Council seat, but was banned from election by authorities. Chanysheva had gained prominence as a major public opinion leader in particularly authoritarian Bashkortostan and was demonstrably law-obedient, advocating only legal means of political struggle, such as participation in elections.

During the court hearing on November 10, 2021 in Ufa, Chanysheva announced that she is two weeks pregnant (she had recently gotten married). She had never had any intention to leave Russia and has made no plans to do so, despite a clear threat to her safety, and with many of her former colleagues having left the country out of concerns for safety. Nonetheless, the Russian kangaroo court has issued a baseless verdict, placing Chanysheva in detention, despite the fact that she presents no public danger, was involved exclusively in legal activities, and had no intention to abscond.

Chanysheva’s arrest is yet another manifestation of a new wave of political repressions in Russia, as it is the first major arrest of a prominent figure from Alexey Navalny’s network since Navalny’s organization had been declared ‘extremist’. The arrest is even more disturbing, given the fact that Chanysheva had suspended her political activity a while ago, and is clearly being punished retroactively for her past, fully legal activities. It is worth considering serious sanctions against Russian authorities for this new concerning step of escalation of political repressions in Russia.