Our latest efforts to counter Kremlin’s “festival of thiefdom” in the West

Dec 27 2017

In the last few months, we at Free Russia Foundation have made consistent efforts: to expose Kremlin’s corruption and subversive plans surrounding Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and to educate about agents of post-Soviet corruption in the West.

This article summarizes our results and is a follow up to our initial work on it in 2017.

As far as Gazprom is concerned up to July we have been promoting our joint report with the Atlantic Council on Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe, which laid out an independent and realistic vision about subversion activity of Russian leadership through the gas industry in the West. However, we quickly understood that that report alone was not enough, as many Western counterparts of Gazprom remain totally uninformed about rampant corruption of the monopoly that has spread into Europe in various forms a long time ago. For this reason, in autumn we analyzed key anti-corruption investigations related to Gazprom’s management and published a report with a self-explicable title Corruption Pipeline: The Threat of Nord Stream 2 to EU Security and Democracy

This analysis is only a tip of the iceberg. If we had to uncover the full magnitude of how Putin’s regime uses corruption to undermine EU countries in the energy sector, it would take a series of reports. However, this paper specifically deconstructs historical myths about Germany’s supposed success in transforming USSR positively through gas trade and shows never fulfilled promises of benefits from Nord Stream 1 inside Russia. It also challenges established consensus among German corporations and elsewhere among Gazprom partners that Russian monopoly will never succeed in bringing grand corruption schemes inside Europe because EU law enforcement and regulators are apparently so efficient. In fact, they are not, Gazprom has already brought its criminal practices into Europe and in our paper, we show how it does it.

In October we visited Visegrad countries discussing the menace of Nord Stream 2 for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as the pipeline will potentially cut off and disrupt not just Ukraine but the whole region to the east of Germany. In Czech Republic we presented at Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), a meeting which was attended primarily by officials from relevant government agencies, various Embassies and experts on Russian security. While the audience agreed with postulates about the extent of Kremlin’s corruption and meddling in Europe through energy, the overall feeling was that the Republic had turned away from opposing Nord Stream 2 to a quiet neutrality. Czech energy companies had by now invested heavily into new capacity in anticipation for the launch of the pipeline and want a proper return on their initially reluctant investment.

We arrived in Prague when an anti-EU billionaire Andrej Babic won in parliamentary elections, and since then there has been a fear that the country will fall prey to Putin’s influence even further. However, there are many other parties and views in the Czech Republic and we found that our vision is being widely shared. The battle for hearts is not finished and the long-term position of the country towards Putin’s regime is something worth fighting for in public fora in Prague.

Another country on the fence about Nord Stream 2 is Slovakia. Bratislava’s GlobSec think tank has extensively covered this issue. This meeting had fewer policy-makers and more local analysts who seemed to share our view on the growing correlation between national security weakened cohesion between NATO members and Russia’s use of corruption in hybrid warfare against the West.

On the latter broad topic Free Russia made a joint report with the Kleptocracy Initiative (KI), Hudson Institute called How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West and on 11 October the Institute convened different experts on post-Soviet space and corruption to discuss the issue at a two-part panel. Just a few weeks before that a preliminary copy of the report was presented to current and former U.S. foreign policy professionals at the Dacor Beacon House.

In Visegrad countries we discussed the KI report at the cultural festival “Kulturus” which resulted in a collaboration article with Prague-based political analyst Alexander Morozov Toxic Money from Kremlin: Where is the Red Line?. In this expert comment, Alexander looked at the issue that Free Russia monitors closely: what Kremlin oligarchs will be sanctioned under the upcoming Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the much-anticipated decision in the US government is slated for February. In a move that we believe is connected to CAATSA, today US Treasury sanctioned 10 thieves-in-law (kingpins of Eurasian mafia) acknowledging the extent of their power and penetration into politics and business.

In November Free Russia made another round of presentations of both reports in Europe, this time in Denmark and Norway. Copenhagen’s CEPOS think tank kindly gave a platform to discuss all burning issues that we wanted to raise and the turnout, as the video of the event shows, has been tremendous. One of the reasons for that was a pending vote in the Danish parliament on the fate of Nord Stream 2. On 30 November, just ten days after our presentation, the parliament decided that its foreign policy ministry can from now on prohibit use of Denmark’s territorial waters for Gazprom’s pipeline on the grounds of national security. We believe our report on Gazprom’s corruption that was passed to Danish policy-makers may have played its part in tilting the vote in support of the motion.

In Oslo there was a closed presentation of both reports at Civita think tank and then a public hearing on the adoption of the Magnitsky Act as part of 40th anniversary of Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC). This great event brought together dozens of activists and researchers from CIS and EU countries. I talked about my research on Russian law enforcement officials that are already on U.S. Magnitsky list and how it showed that these people have been implicated in multiple cases abusing human rights and promoting corruption in Russia and beyond. I also placed that research in the broader context of the KI report mentioned above to show that violations in Russia go hand-in-hand with the multi-layered export of corruption to the West. NHC is planning to release select video recordings of the hearing shortly.

Finally, the year is ending on a very positive note – our colleagues have launched a long-awaited project Underminers. The idea is to publish 100 concise and easy-to-share profiles of agents and other intermediaries of post-Soviet kleptocracies that actively undermine democratic institutions and values in the West. The project was launched in early December and states two fundamental goals – to raise awareness among Western audiences and to increase support for the development and implementation of a comprehensive containment strategy against kleptocrats. The project kicked off with several profiles and an inaugural expert comment by Arkadiy Babchenko, a popular Russian blogger, and journalist, with a provocative polemical piece If Putin’s thieves become respected in the West, why should one obey laws? We expect this project to publish all 100 profiles in a speedy fashion over the course of several weeks in early 2018 (but without dumping all of them at once) and become a platform for learning and debate.

by Ilya Zaslavsky

This article summarizes our results and is a follow up to our initial work on it in 2017.

As far as Gazprom is concerned up to July we have been promoting our joint report with the Atlantic Council on Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe, which laid out an independent and realistic vision about subversion activity of Russian leadership through the gas industry in the West. However, we quickly understood that that report alone was not enough, as many Western counterparts of Gazprom remain totally uninformed about rampant corruption of the monopoly that has spread into Europe in various forms a long time ago. For this reason, in autumn we analyzed key anti-corruption investigations related to Gazprom’s management and published a report with a self-explicable title Corruption Pipeline: The Threat of Nord Stream 2 to EU Security and Democracy

This analysis is only a tip of the iceberg. If we had to uncover the full magnitude of how Putin’s regime uses corruption to undermine EU countries in the energy sector, it would take a series of reports. However, this paper specifically deconstructs historical myths about Germany’s supposed success in transforming USSR positively through gas trade and shows never fulfilled promises of benefits from Nord Stream 1 inside Russia. It also challenges established consensus among German corporations and elsewhere among Gazprom partners that Russian monopoly will never succeed in bringing grand corruption schemes inside Europe because EU law enforcement and regulators are apparently so efficient. In fact, they are not, Gazprom has already brought its criminal practices into Europe and in our paper, we show how it does it.

In October we visited Visegrad countries discussing the menace of Nord Stream 2 for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), as the pipeline will potentially cut off and disrupt not just Ukraine but the whole region to the east of Germany. In Czech Republic we presented at Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), a meeting which was attended primarily by officials from relevant government agencies, various Embassies and experts on Russian security. While the audience agreed with postulates about the extent of Kremlin’s corruption and meddling in Europe through energy, the overall feeling was that the Republic had turned away from opposing Nord Stream 2 to a quiet neutrality. Czech energy companies had by now invested heavily into new capacity in anticipation for the launch of the pipeline and want a proper return on their initially reluctant investment.

We arrived in Prague when an anti-EU billionaire Andrej Babic won in parliamentary elections, and since then there has been a fear that the country will fall prey to Putin’s influence even further. However, there are many other parties and views in the Czech Republic and we found that our vision is being widely shared. The battle for hearts is not finished and the long-term position of the country towards Putin’s regime is something worth fighting for in public fora in Prague.

Another country on the fence about Nord Stream 2 is Slovakia. Bratislava’s GlobSec think tank has extensively covered this issue. This meeting had fewer policy-makers and more local analysts who seemed to share our view on the growing correlation between national security weakened cohesion between NATO members and Russia’s use of corruption in hybrid warfare against the West.

On the latter broad topic Free Russia made a joint report with the Kleptocracy Initiative (KI), Hudson Institute called How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West and on 11 October the Institute convened different experts on post-Soviet space and corruption to discuss the issue at a two-part panel. Just a few weeks before that a preliminary copy of the report was presented to current and former U.S. foreign policy professionals at the Dacor Beacon House.

In Visegrad countries we discussed the KI report at the cultural festival “Kulturus” which resulted in a collaboration article with Prague-based political analyst Alexander Morozov Toxic Money from Kremlin: Where is the Red Line?. In this expert comment, Alexander looked at the issue that Free Russia monitors closely: what Kremlin oligarchs will be sanctioned under the upcoming Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the much-anticipated decision in the US government is slated for February. In a move that we believe is connected to CAATSA, today US Treasury sanctioned 10 thieves-in-law (kingpins of Eurasian mafia) acknowledging the extent of their power and penetration into politics and business.

In November Free Russia made another round of presentations of both reports in Europe, this time in Denmark and Norway. Copenhagen’s CEPOS think tank kindly gave a platform to discuss all burning issues that we wanted to raise and the turnout, as the video of the event shows, has been tremendous. One of the reasons for that was a pending vote in the Danish parliament on the fate of Nord Stream 2. On 30 November, just ten days after our presentation, the parliament decided that its foreign policy ministry can from now on prohibit use of Denmark’s territorial waters for Gazprom’s pipeline on the grounds of national security. We believe our report on Gazprom’s corruption that was passed to Danish policy-makers may have played its part in tilting the vote in support of the motion.

In Oslo there was a closed presentation of both reports at Civita think tank and then a public hearing on the adoption of the Magnitsky Act as part of 40th anniversary of Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC). This great event brought together dozens of activists and researchers from CIS and EU countries. I talked about my research on Russian law enforcement officials that are already on U.S. Magnitsky list and how it showed that these people have been implicated in multiple cases abusing human rights and promoting corruption in Russia and beyond. I also placed that research in the broader context of the KI report mentioned above to show that violations in Russia go hand-in-hand with the multi-layered export of corruption to the West. NHC is planning to release select video recordings of the hearing shortly.

Finally, the year is ending on a very positive note – our colleagues have launched a long-awaited project Underminers. The idea is to publish 100 concise and easy-to-share profiles of agents and other intermediaries of post-Soviet kleptocracies that actively undermine democratic institutions and values in the West. The project was launched in early December and states two fundamental goals – to raise awareness among Western audiences and to increase support for the development and implementation of a comprehensive containment strategy against kleptocrats. The project kicked off with several profiles and an inaugural expert comment by Arkadiy Babchenko, a popular Russian blogger, and journalist, with a provocative polemical piece If Putin’s thieves become respected in the West, why should one obey laws? We expect this project to publish all 100 profiles in a speedy fashion over the course of several weeks in early 2018 (but without dumping all of them at once) and become a platform for learning and debate.

by Ilya Zaslavsky

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More