Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Economic stagnation widens gap between Russian authorities and people

May 25 2018

On Friday, May 18, Free Russia Foundation and Atlantic Council organized an expert panel to discuss the politics and economics of Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. Experts expect further economic stagnation, with no structural economic reforms in sight, and discussed the growing gap between the Russian government and citizens.

The panel discussion included experts:

Vladimir Milov, opposition politician, economist, and energy expert and a Free Russia Foundation expert;

Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council ;

Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Adjunct Professor of European Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Moderated by: Ambassador John Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Inadequate system and stagnation

“Russia is going through the biggest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Vladimir Milov yet “the government has no plan on how to address this.”  Living standards in Russia have decreased significantly since 2014 and the economy is dominated by ineffective state monopolies, a low level of entrepreneurship, weak growth levels and an absence of foreign investment, said Milov.

That the system is unsustainable was already clear in 2013 – a year before the war in Ukraine and political sanctions – when economic growth was just about 1 percent despite quite high oil prices at the time, said Milov.  “We built a paternalistic economy of redistribution rather than an economy that encourages private initiative, investment, innovation and increased productivity,” said Milov.

“The inadequacy of the system is understood by pretty much everybody, including a lot of people surrounding Vladimir Putin,” said Milov. Yet there is now “too much power centered around this particular figure,” who is not interested in real economic reforms.

Alina Polyakova said that despite the recent “lofty promises” of the Kremlin to focus on domestic and economic issues, it is unlikely that economic reforms are to be carried out since it “would undermine the regime itself.” “I think there is a linchpin here – for the regime to stay in power, for the Kremlin elite to stay in power, they have to maintain this patrimonial paternal system they have established,” said Polyakova. “If you think about self-preservation, which is the number one priority of Putin’s regime at this moment and for the foreseeable future, why would you do that [pursue economic reforms]?”

Anders Aslund also ruled out the possibility of any significant economic reforms in the near future. With an average of 1 percent growth over the last nine years, Putin didn’t have an economic plan before the elections, mainly running on the issue of Crimea, now in its fourth year of annexation, and after the elections he issued just “one tiny decree” with vague promises of improving the economy, with no concrete numbers, said Aslund.

Russia suffers from a steady capital flight of $30-40 billion a year – about 3% of GDP, with approximately $10-20 billion taken offshore, mainly illegally, by Putin’s cronies, according to Aslund. Russia has very little investment considering the level of its economic development, he said. Many innovators are leaving the country and the sanctions discourage Westerners from lending to Russia, whereas the country’s defense spending has increased from 3.3% of GDP in 2008 to 5.3% in 2017, and this in an economy with almost no economic growth, said Aslund.

And if one looks at the composition of the new government, which is headed by the same prime minister, who is himself suspected of corruption, and surrounded by technocrats mainly from the same inner circles, it is clear that “this is going nowhere,” said Aslund.

He added, “What we can say for sure is that there will be no reforms because Russia is a kleptocracy and it works for its rulers – it doesn’t work for its population.”

Priorities: geopolitics not living standards

While the government is occupied with geopolitics, ordinary Russians are faced with declining living standards. “We have a really huge gap between authorities and the population,” said Milov.

The majority of people support Putin’s current foreign policy initiatives – largely due to pervasive propaganda – but it is not on the list of their priorities, said Milov.  People want the government to re-focus on domestic, social and economic issues, yet this not a priority for the government.

State TV continues to talk about Ukraine, Syria and Trump, said Milov. It says that people “have to suffer” because Russia is doing great geopolitically; people “should be patient” and in some time “things are going to get back to normal by themselves,” said Milov.

People are not given the real economic picture and perspectives, and the voice of the opposition is also unable to reach the majority of the population, said Milov.  Yet people do feel there is a problem

“because of their [empty] pockets” and the opposition is working hard to reach out to them. There is a need to explain to people the link between Russia’s foreign policy and declining living standards.

Milov said that the government has been successful in spreading the message that any alternative to Putin would create “total chaos.”  Also, given the historical experience, Russian people are skeptical of radical changes and are afraid of the unknown, said Milov.

“It is quite difficult to try to change the situation, but it is also very possible and this is something that the opposition has been doing,” said Milov.

Alina Polyakova said that the regime seems to be “nervous and anxious” regarding “its own ability to maintain control,” with the population “becoming more disillusioned with the system.” The previous social contract between the government and people – to provide economic growth in exchange for political rights – seems to have been re-written since 2012 into a new form which stresses Russia’s role as a “great power” and the Russian “people have to pay for this.”  Yet is questionable how long this new contract will be sustainable, said Polyakova.

It is also essential, said Polyakova, to directly link Putin with the government in the eyes of the Russian people. Despite the low level of trust the Russian people have in the government, Putin’s approval ratings remain high as if Putin were somehow “above” the government.

Anders Aslund said that although the regime doesn’t look sustainable, one has to be cautious in assessing the future since Soviet history shows the regime “can last for many years.”

What the West can do though, said Aslund, is to continue to reveal Russian kleptocrats and their hidden money abroad. The West should continue adopting legislation that would reveal the beneficial owners of the anonymous companies offshore that are together estimated to be hiding up to $1 trillion of Russian money.

by Valeria Jegisman

The panel discussion included experts:

Vladimir Milov, opposition politician, economist, and energy expert and a Free Russia Foundation expert;

Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council ;

Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow – Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Adjunct Professor of European Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Moderated by: Ambassador John Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Inadequate system and stagnation

“Russia is going through the biggest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Vladimir Milov yet “the government has no plan on how to address this.”  Living standards in Russia have decreased significantly since 2014 and the economy is dominated by ineffective state monopolies, a low level of entrepreneurship, weak growth levels and an absence of foreign investment, said Milov.

That the system is unsustainable was already clear in 2013 – a year before the war in Ukraine and political sanctions – when economic growth was just about 1 percent despite quite high oil prices at the time, said Milov.  “We built a paternalistic economy of redistribution rather than an economy that encourages private initiative, investment, innovation and increased productivity,” said Milov.

“The inadequacy of the system is understood by pretty much everybody, including a lot of people surrounding Vladimir Putin,” said Milov. Yet there is now “too much power centered around this particular figure,” who is not interested in real economic reforms.

Alina Polyakova said that despite the recent “lofty promises” of the Kremlin to focus on domestic and economic issues, it is unlikely that economic reforms are to be carried out since it “would undermine the regime itself.” “I think there is a linchpin here – for the regime to stay in power, for the Kremlin elite to stay in power, they have to maintain this patrimonial paternal system they have established,” said Polyakova. “If you think about self-preservation, which is the number one priority of Putin’s regime at this moment and for the foreseeable future, why would you do that [pursue economic reforms]?”

Anders Aslund also ruled out the possibility of any significant economic reforms in the near future. With an average of 1 percent growth over the last nine years, Putin didn’t have an economic plan before the elections, mainly running on the issue of Crimea, now in its fourth year of annexation, and after the elections he issued just “one tiny decree” with vague promises of improving the economy, with no concrete numbers, said Aslund.

Russia suffers from a steady capital flight of $30-40 billion a year – about 3% of GDP, with approximately $10-20 billion taken offshore, mainly illegally, by Putin’s cronies, according to Aslund. Russia has very little investment considering the level of its economic development, he said. Many innovators are leaving the country and the sanctions discourage Westerners from lending to Russia, whereas the country’s defense spending has increased from 3.3% of GDP in 2008 to 5.3% in 2017, and this in an economy with almost no economic growth, said Aslund.

And if one looks at the composition of the new government, which is headed by the same prime minister, who is himself suspected of corruption, and surrounded by technocrats mainly from the same inner circles, it is clear that “this is going nowhere,” said Aslund.

He added, “What we can say for sure is that there will be no reforms because Russia is a kleptocracy and it works for its rulers – it doesn’t work for its population.”

Priorities: geopolitics not living standards

While the government is occupied with geopolitics, ordinary Russians are faced with declining living standards. “We have a really huge gap between authorities and the population,” said Milov.

The majority of people support Putin’s current foreign policy initiatives – largely due to pervasive propaganda – but it is not on the list of their priorities, said Milov.  People want the government to re-focus on domestic, social and economic issues, yet this not a priority for the government.

State TV continues to talk about Ukraine, Syria and Trump, said Milov. It says that people “have to suffer” because Russia is doing great geopolitically; people “should be patient” and in some time “things are going to get back to normal by themselves,” said Milov.

People are not given the real economic picture and perspectives, and the voice of the opposition is also unable to reach the majority of the population, said Milov.  Yet people do feel there is a problem

“because of their [empty] pockets” and the opposition is working hard to reach out to them. There is a need to explain to people the link between Russia’s foreign policy and declining living standards.

Milov said that the government has been successful in spreading the message that any alternative to Putin would create “total chaos.”  Also, given the historical experience, Russian people are skeptical of radical changes and are afraid of the unknown, said Milov.

“It is quite difficult to try to change the situation, but it is also very possible and this is something that the opposition has been doing,” said Milov.

Alina Polyakova said that the regime seems to be “nervous and anxious” regarding “its own ability to maintain control,” with the population “becoming more disillusioned with the system.” The previous social contract between the government and people – to provide economic growth in exchange for political rights – seems to have been re-written since 2012 into a new form which stresses Russia’s role as a “great power” and the Russian “people have to pay for this.”  Yet is questionable how long this new contract will be sustainable, said Polyakova.

It is also essential, said Polyakova, to directly link Putin with the government in the eyes of the Russian people. Despite the low level of trust the Russian people have in the government, Putin’s approval ratings remain high as if Putin were somehow “above” the government.

Anders Aslund said that although the regime doesn’t look sustainable, one has to be cautious in assessing the future since Soviet history shows the regime “can last for many years.”

What the West can do though, said Aslund, is to continue to reveal Russian kleptocrats and their hidden money abroad. The West should continue adopting legislation that would reveal the beneficial owners of the anonymous companies offshore that are together estimated to be hiding up to $1 trillion of Russian money.

by Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Kremlin’s Decision to Annex the Occupied Territories of Ukraine and Preparations for Mobilization in Russia

Sep 20 2022

On September 20, 2022, the occupation authorities of the self-proclaimed republics “LNR” and “DNR” and other occupied territories of Ukraine, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, hastily announced that they would hold “referendums on joining Russia” in the near future. The authorities of the “LNR” and “DNR” added that the vote will take place as early as this week, from September 23 to 27, 2022.

On the same day, the Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization,” “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian Criminal Code. The deputies voted for the law in the third reading unanimously — all 389 of them. Now voluntary surrender, looting and unauthorized abandonment of a unit during combat operations will result in imprisonment.

From the first day of the war unleashed by Putin’s regime and its allies against independent Ukraine, Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights activists forced to leave the country because of direct security threats, has condemned the crimes of Putin’s regime against independent Ukraine. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and consider human life and freedom to be of the highest value.

The forthcoming “referendums”, mobilization, and martial law are a collapse of the whole system of “Putin’s stability,” the illusion of which the Kremlin has been trying to maintain since the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is preparing to blatantly violate international law once again and launch an attack on democracy and freedom in Ukraine and Europe. Any statements by the Kremlin that residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine want to become part of Russia are false.

Three decades ago, the Ukrainian people proclaimed the independence of their state. Since 2014, the world has seen that Vladimir Putin has undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and any attempts at anti-war protest in Russia through military force, repressive legislation, false statements, and massive state propaganda. Despite all the suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has failed to achieve this goal: Ukrainians continue to show fortitude and determination to defend their country at any cost, and Russian anti-war resistance continues despite repression.

We consider any attempts to tear away Ukrainian territory through so-called “referendums” categorically unacceptable and call on state institutions and international human rights organizations to join the demand for an immediate end to the war and the liberation of the occupied territories. Any war brings suffering to humanity and endangers peace. We will not allow a totalitarian dictatorship to prevail and we will continue to fight for Ukraine’s independence and Russia’s democratic future.

Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Vladimir Milov as Vice President for International Advocacy

Sep 01 2022

September 1, 2022. Washington, DC. Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Russian politician, publicist, economist, and energy expert Vladimir Milov as FRF Vice President for International Advocacy.

In her announcement of Vladimir’s new role, Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation, remarked: “I am delighted to welcome this distinguished Russian civil society leader to our team. I am certain that Vladimir will become our force multiplier and make a profound contribution to FRF’s mission, including strengthening civil society in Russia, standing up for democracy defenders who oppose war, both inside and outside the country, building coalitions and mobilizing supporters. Vladimir Milov’s professional skills and extensive experience in human rights advocacy will help us come up with effective and innovative approaches to combat the authoritarian regime and repression that the current Russian government has unleashed against citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”

Vladimir Milov was born on June 18, 1972. From 1997—2002 he worked in government agencies, more than 4 years of which were in senior positions, from assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Commission to the Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia.

Vladimir Milov has bravely and publicly called out the authorities for monopolizing the economy, and encroaching into public and political life of Russian citizens. Milov’s profile as an opposition leader rose thanks to his joint project with Boris Nemtsov. The report titled “Putin. Results,” condemned the activities of the Russian government during Putin’s presidency. In 2010, Mr. Milov headed the Democratic Choice movement, which later served as the basis for the creation of a political party with the same name.

In 2016, Mr. Milov became an associate of the unregistered presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. On May 11, 2017, he began hosting a weekly segment on the economy, “Where’s the Money?” on the NavalnyLIVE broadcast on YouTube.

In April of 2021, he left Russia for Lithuania amidst persecution of Alexei Navalny’s organizations. In February of 2022, he categorically condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On May 6, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Vladimir Milov to the list of media outlets considered as “foreign agents.” Vladimir Milov is a regular guest expert for the world’s leading media outlets — CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal.

Kara-Murza faces a new charge as the Kremlin cracks down on its opponents

Aug 04 2022

Russian pro-democracy politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who’s been in jail since April for allegedly spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military, now also stands accused of “carrying out the activities of an undesirable organization,” which names Free Russia Foundation in the newly filed charge.

Free Russia Foundation, unconstitutionally designated as an “undesirable” organization by the Russian government in June 2019, did not organize an event on political prisoners in Moscow in 2021. FRF does not have any presence or programs inside Russia. Additionally, FRF has never conducted any work in the State of Arizona.

FRF strongly condemns the new charges brought against Vladimir Kara-Murza by Russian authorities and demands the dropping of all charges against him and calls for his immediate release.

“All actions of the Kremlin directed against Russian opposition politicians and activists have nothing in common with establishing the truth. They are instead aimed solely at getting rid of opponents of Putin’s regime,” FRF President Arno stated.

Free Russian Foundation and Boris Nemtsov Foundation launch “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign

Jul 25 2022

Russia is not Putin. We are Russia.

We aim at sharing this message with our friends around the world — therefore, in cooperation with Boris Nemtsov Foundation we are launching “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign.

We are going to be telling the stories of active pro-democracy anti-war Russians who have not lost their hope. US nationals also participate in this campaign: Francis Fukuyama, investigative journalist Casey Michel, and alumni of Boris Nemtsov Foundation media school.

Thank you for your donation:

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom honors the political legacy of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian liberal opposition politician assassinated in Moscow in 2015. It promotes freedom of speech and education along with the vision that Russia is a part of Europe.

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.