LGBT Rights: Ukraine inches forward, Russia stays in the dark

Nov 17 2015

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

It wasn’t easy. The bill failed to pass during the first two attempts, but the sufficient support needed was eked out on the third attempt. The bill will now go to President Poroshenko’s desk for a signature.

This is an important step forward for Ukraine in its ambitions to be a part of the European Union. Most of the European Union protects at least some of the rights of their LGBT citizens.

Unfortunately, what is perceived as an important step towards equality in the countries of Western Europe is considered a sign of immorality and degeneracy in Eastern Europe. Prejudice against sexual minorities is widespread in Eastern Europe, and the Kremlin is an accomplice to this prejudice by passing laws that restrict the freedom of expression to LGBT Russians. Some small political parties have shown their opposition to these laws such as the Yabloko party, which has organized “Russia without pogroms” rallies, comparing the anti-gay laws of today to the violent pogroms against Jews under Tsar Aleksandr III.

Ukraine is not at all immune to these prejudices. Despite his support of this anti-discrimination law, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada thundered that same-sex marriage would not ever happen in Ukraine and President Poroshenko, who also supported the bill, also reaffirmed his commitment to “family values”. Indeed, a recent pride parade in Kiev was attacked by Right Sector nationalists and while the police stood firm against the attackers, many participants were still injured in the brawl.

Interior Ministry members stand guard as activists take part in the so-called Equality March, organized by a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, in Kiev, Ukraine, June 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

In Russia, simply being gay is not “illegal”, but the law does very little to protect LGBT Russians. Numerous violent attacks have happened in Russia since the Kremlin implemented a new law against “gay propaganda” under the guise of “protecting families.” This law has led to an uptick in homophobic rhetoric in the Duma, hate crimes that have gone neglected, and other types of discrimination.

The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church since the end of communism, once seen as a positive resurrection of ancient traditions stamped out by the Soviets, has also played a role. The Kremlin has used and cooperated with the Orthodox Church  to justify its intolerant attitudes and while Russia is not a terribly religious or religiously homogenous country (many Russians are atheist, non-practicing, or even Muslim), it is still a socially conservative country where distrust of “non-traditional lifestyles” is common. Indeed, the anti-gay laws passed had widespread popular support.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, one of Russia’s most famous and influential composers, is widely speculated to have been a gay man, but his sexuality was denied by the Soviets and continues to be denied by the Kremlin today. It’s a move that has infuriated many in the musical community.

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding homosexuality in Russia that is evident even with Russia’s president. Right before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, President Putin claimed that gays “were welcome” in Sochi, but asked them to stay away from children, which set off all kinds of outrage.  Immediately, pro-gay press outlets were furious. Some claimed that Putin was implying that being gay was equivalent to pedophilia, and some took it as an implication that gay people were out to poison the minds of children. Both accusations were widely dismissed as absurd and prejudiced. Unfortunately, this attitude is not isolated. The Russian curse word “pidaras”, which is roughly equivalent to the homophobic slur “faggot” in American English, carries an implication of pedophilia as well as it is a near equivalent to the word “pederast”.

LGBT people are not out to destroy the institution of the family, they want to be included in that institution from a legal perspective. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law implies LGBT people are trying to recruit impressionable children into some kind of vague sinister organization, another similarly preposterous claim. Sexuality is not a choice as some seem to believe, it is a normal and natural, although fairly uncommon, phenomenon that occurs in animals as well as humans.

At the end of the day, it should not matter what people do in their personal lives. The rights of all Russians must be protected and upheld.

by Kyle Menyhert

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

It wasn’t easy. The bill failed to pass during the first two attempts, but the sufficient support needed was eked out on the third attempt. The bill will now go to President Poroshenko’s desk for a signature.

This is an important step forward for Ukraine in its ambitions to be a part of the European Union. Most of the European Union protects at least some of the rights of their LGBT citizens.

Unfortunately, what is perceived as an important step towards equality in the countries of Western Europe is considered a sign of immorality and degeneracy in Eastern Europe. Prejudice against sexual minorities is widespread in Eastern Europe, and the Kremlin is an accomplice to this prejudice by passing laws that restrict the freedom of expression to LGBT Russians. Some small political parties have shown their opposition to these laws such as the Yabloko party, which has organized “Russia without pogroms” rallies, comparing the anti-gay laws of today to the violent pogroms against Jews under Tsar Aleksandr III.

Ukraine is not at all immune to these prejudices. Despite his support of this anti-discrimination law, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada thundered that same-sex marriage would not ever happen in Ukraine and President Poroshenko, who also supported the bill, also reaffirmed his commitment to “family values”. Indeed, a recent pride parade in Kiev was attacked by Right Sector nationalists and while the police stood firm against the attackers, many participants were still injured in the brawl.

Interior Ministry members stand guard as activists take part in the so-called Equality March, organized by a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, in Kiev, Ukraine, June 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

In Russia, simply being gay is not “illegal”, but the law does very little to protect LGBT Russians. Numerous violent attacks have happened in Russia since the Kremlin implemented a new law against “gay propaganda” under the guise of “protecting families.” This law has led to an uptick in homophobic rhetoric in the Duma, hate crimes that have gone neglected, and other types of discrimination.

The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church since the end of communism, once seen as a positive resurrection of ancient traditions stamped out by the Soviets, has also played a role. The Kremlin has used and cooperated with the Orthodox Church  to justify its intolerant attitudes and while Russia is not a terribly religious or religiously homogenous country (many Russians are atheist, non-practicing, or even Muslim), it is still a socially conservative country where distrust of “non-traditional lifestyles” is common. Indeed, the anti-gay laws passed had widespread popular support.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, one of Russia’s most famous and influential composers, is widely speculated to have been a gay man, but his sexuality was denied by the Soviets and continues to be denied by the Kremlin today. It’s a move that has infuriated many in the musical community.

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding homosexuality in Russia that is evident even with Russia’s president. Right before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, President Putin claimed that gays “were welcome” in Sochi, but asked them to stay away from children, which set off all kinds of outrage.  Immediately, pro-gay press outlets were furious. Some claimed that Putin was implying that being gay was equivalent to pedophilia, and some took it as an implication that gay people were out to poison the minds of children. Both accusations were widely dismissed as absurd and prejudiced. Unfortunately, this attitude is not isolated. The Russian curse word “pidaras”, which is roughly equivalent to the homophobic slur “faggot” in American English, carries an implication of pedophilia as well as it is a near equivalent to the word “pederast”.

LGBT people are not out to destroy the institution of the family, they want to be included in that institution from a legal perspective. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law implies LGBT people are trying to recruit impressionable children into some kind of vague sinister organization, another similarly preposterous claim. Sexuality is not a choice as some seem to believe, it is a normal and natural, although fairly uncommon, phenomenon that occurs in animals as well as humans.

At the end of the day, it should not matter what people do in their personal lives. The rights of all Russians must be protected and upheld.

by Kyle Menyhert

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

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 Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • 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. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.