Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Ensuring a Future for Democratic Civil Society in Russia – Discussion’s Summary

Jun 15 2016

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.

2016-06-10 11.07.18

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.

2016-06-10 11.46.50

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

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.

2016-06-10 11.07.18

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.

2016-06-10 11.46.50

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

Statement of Free Russia Foundation Condemning the Massive Missile Strike on Ukrainian Territory

Oct 10 2022

On the morning of October 10, the Russian military launched missile strikes against Ukrainian cities. They targeted Kyiv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Khmelnytskyi, Ternopil, Lviv, Zhytomyr, Kremenchuk, Kryvyi Rih, Konotop, Odessa, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Poltava. According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, more than 80 rockets were fired at the territory of Ukraine. A total of eleven people were killed and dozens were injured.

The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the strikes were carried out strictly against military, communications, and energy facilities in Ukraine. This is not true: museums, philharmonic halls, business centers, residential buildings, parks, and public transport stops are not military targets. One video circulated on social media shows a huge shell crater on a children’s playground. Fear, death and destruction have once again come to the capital of Ukraine. This is yet another demonstration of the Kremlin’s absolute cruelty and Vladimir Putin’s determination to continue his inhuman war against the sovereign state and its people.

We are deeply shocked by today’s large-scale missile attacks of the Russian Armed Forces on Ukrainian cities, which have caused widespread damage and resulted in the death and injury of many innocent people. We mourn the victims and express our sincere condolences to all Ukrainians who have suffered today. 

The Russian Federation’s escalation of war in Ukraine is unacceptable and must cease immediately. We call on world leaders, governments, and international human rights organizations to pressure the Kremlin to stop attacks on civilian infrastructure, withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine, and resume diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the war. We also demand that Vladimir Putin and all those involved in today’s attack be prosecuted for war crimes.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Human Rights Activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. A Congratulatory Letter from Free Russia Foundation

Oct 07 2022

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, and Russia’s Memorial HRC.

The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties is engaged in promoting human rights and democracy in the country, assistance programs for “Kremlin prisoners” — Ukrainian political detainees held in Russian jails, investigation of war crimes, tracing missing citizens, and providing assistance to thousands of Ukrainians affected by the war unleashed by the Putin regime.

Ales Bialiatski was one of the initiators of the democratic movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s. He devoted his entire life to the promotion of democracy and peace in his country. The Human Rights Center ” Viasna,” which he founded in 1996, collected information about those detained at the protests and torture in detention centers, provided help to the victims of law enforcement excesses.

Memorial, Russia’s most important human rights organization, was founded in 1987 by a group of likeminded activists who wanted to commemorate the victims of Soviet-era political repression. Members of the movement created a complex of sites dedicated to the victims of repression, and held demonstrations, exhibitions, and seminars on the subject of state terror. The first chairman of Memorial’s board was Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

In announcing the winners, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, stated that “the Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power.”

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, in congratulating her fellow human rights activists on their award, noted that the protection of civil liberties should be the space that can still unite the citizens of post-Soviet countries, dragged by the will of one man into the most grievous of conflicts.

“I welcome the decision of the Nobel Committee and salute all the laureates for the recognition of their merits. The award goes to people who embody not only the struggle for truth and justice, but also the very fundamental notion of freedom. It is also an indication of the plight of civil society in our countries, divided by the will of one man and now separated by history for decades to come. Just look at where we are today: the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, headed by Oleksandra Matviychuk, has been investigating the thousands of war crimes committed by Putin’s army on Ukrainian soil since February; Viasna, Belarus’ leading human rights organization, has been demolished, with Ales Bialiatski and many of its staff arrested; Memorial has been fined and liquidated, its assets have been seized by the authorities, and its team has been forced to flee the country. But I believe that we will not allow this regime to finally destroy our lives and the historical destinies of our peoples. Protecting basic human rights is still the space that unites us in 2022. I congratulate you, colleagues! Peace, freedom, and justice to our countries!”

Free Russia Foundation Condemns Expansion of Charges Under the Politically-Motivated Criminal Prosecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza and Demands His Immediate Release

Oct 06 2022

Today, Russian media outlets have reported that new charges of high treason (Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code) have been filed against opposition politician, human rights activist, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Vladimir Kara-Murza’s attorney Vadim Prokhorov confirmed that the charges of state treason have been filed against the politician on three counts. They allege speeches criticizing the Russian authorities at public events in Lisbon, Portugal; Oslo, Norway; and Washington, DC. According to the lawyer, the speeches, that indeed took place, posed no threat to the security of Russia, on the contrary, they were aimed at protecting the interests of Russia and its citizens and at correcting the current catastrophic situation.

The pro-democracy leader faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Vladimir Kara-Murza has pleaded not guilty.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, in her comments on the new charges expressed outrage at the illegal prosecution of Kara-Murza.  “Charges of state treason for public speeches are absurd especially with regards to Vladimir, who is globally recognized as a true patriot of Russia and revered for his work in defense of the interest of the Russian people and democratic principles.”

Arno noted that Vladimir Kara-Murza served as Foundation’s Vice President, but was relieved from that position on August 3, 2021. “This decision was made by our board in recognition of the fact that Vladimir had been spending most of his time working in Russia, that was his main focus and his plan,” she explained.

The Foundation considers the criminal case against Vladimir Kara-Murza fabricated and politically motivated, a retribution for his work in support of human rights and his courageous quest against Putin’s autocracy.

“It has been absolutely clear from the very beginning that the detention and persecution of Kara-Murza is part of the wider campaign by the Russian authorities to punish and suppress any dissent,” said Natalia Arno.

“Today, accusations of discrediting the Russian military and participating in activities of an undesirable organization have been further inflated by charged of high treason, one of the most severe criminal offenses that can send a person to prison for decades. Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for many years for a prosperous future for his country. For this, the Kremlin tried to kill him twice, but, having failed to achieve its aim, arrested him and is now persecuting him on false charges that could lead to years of unjust imprisonment.

This is a tragic case  that shows us the ways Vladimir Putin’s dictatorial regime is suppressing all opposition in order to sow fear among Russians and remain in power at any cost. For years, Vladimir Kara-Murza has been one of the most consistent and determined advocates of democracy and human rights in Russia. His bogus arrest only underscores the importance of the idea of justice for the people of Russia and Ukraine, who have suffered too long from the actions of the Kremlin kleptocracy.” Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, considers the charges against Vladimir Kara-Murza unjust and politically motivated, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. We demand the Russian authorities to stop manipulating the law to achieve false, illusory goals that destroy the very foundations of democracy and international security.

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Signing of the Treaty on the “Incorporation of New Territories into Russia,” De Facto the Annexation of the Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Sep 30 2022

On Friday, September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as well as the occupation administrations of Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, signed treaties in the Kremlin on “joining Russia.”

Free Russia Foundation strongly condemns the decision of Vladimir Putin and his administration to continue the illegal annexation of the occupied territories in Ukraine. The forcible change of international borders at the expense of another sovereign state and the so-called “referenda” that preceded it are a serious violation of the foundations of international law and cannot be recognized under any circumstances.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation: “Today Vladimir Putin has de facto announced the illegal annexation of the occupied territory of a sovereign state. The signing of this treaty is a blatant violation of the fundamental norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, of which Russia is a member. Such actions by the Russian President, together with previously announced military mobilization and nuclear blackmail, only lead to an escalation of the conflict and new human sacrifices. In the modern world, borders cannot be redrawn at gunpoint. Russia’s actions are illegal and unacceptable to the civilized world.”

Free Russia Foundation, which provides support to Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, calls on all countries and international organizations to join us in resolute and public condemnation of Russian military aggression and its illegal actions to tear away the territory of sovereign Ukraine. We urge you to call on the Kremlin to cease its hostilities and leave the territories it has seized.

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.