Mr. Huntsman goes to Moscow

Mar 09 2017

President Donald Trump has chosen Jon Huntsman to represent the United States as  Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Huntsman has an extensive record in public service. He served two terms as Governor of the state of Utah and was Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China under President Obama. He also briefly ran for president in 2012, but failed to gain much traction.

Governor Huntsman’s acceptance of this post comes at a time when the relations between the United States and Russian Federation are at a massively important and controversial crossroad.

In the primaries, Trump raised many eyebrows when he claimed that he’d “be friends with” President Vladimir Putin. This came as a considerable surprise when Congressional Republicans and Democrats were nearly unanimous in their support of the sanctions levied against the Kremlin for its actions in Eastern Ukraine, as well as Putin’s assistance to President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, by all accounts a bloodthirsty dictator.  When asked about Ukraine, Trump shrugged and said it was Europe’s problem. When asked about the suspicious deaths of dissident Russian journalists and opposition figures, Trump flipped the question and asked “You think we [the United States] are so innocent?” When pressed for an explanation on Trump’s controversial remarks and actions during the Vice Presidential debates, now-Vice President Mike Pence seemed to deny everything, reverting back to the traditional Republican lines about holding the Kremlin accountable.

The Russian connection has only ballooned in press coverage since Trump’s remarks early in the presidential election. Democrats, cautious in their actions against Russia since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, started to take a more hard-line stance against cooperation with the Kremlin. Rumors started to swirl around Mr. Trump, alleging he was a pawn of the Kremlin.

These allegations are not without considerable evidence, but nothing has been proven quite yet. Investigations are underway and will require thorough scrutiny. Many Congressional Republicans, as well as almost all Congressional Democrats, have been sitting on their hands for an answer.

As Ambassador, Jon Huntsman does not possess a large amount of enumerated political power, but his experience should allow him to be an influential voice nonetheless. Huntsman bucked his own party when he accepted an ambassadorship to China under President Obama, and he seemed to gain considerable approval for his work.

Russia is a different animal altogether from China, though. Chinese foreign policy, while not passive, is not quite as direct and bold as Russia’s has been, especially in regards to Ukraine. It’s true the Chinese government is building islands in the South China Sea, much to the rage of Vietnam, but Beijing is much more reliant on soft power than Moscow. Anti-American sentiment in China certainly exists, but it is not as pronounced as that of Russian state media. The economic relationship between the United States and Russia is also quite different than that of the Sino-American relationship. The United States does not rely on Russian goods the way it does with Chinese goods, and a protectionist trade policy like Trump is promising would affect our relations with China much more than Russia.

The Trump Administration, while young, has been mired in slip-ups and controversy since it started out of the gate. Whether these scandals and controversies deserve the scrutiny and criticism they are getting is up for debate, but a by-product of the clumsy start has been that the Trump Administration has not produced a lot of concrete results – good or bad – in regards to foreign policy. It’s important to remember that Trump has only been in office for less than two months, so there’s a lot more time to write about his presidency. Messages regarding the Administration’s policy on the Kremlin have been inconsistent. Allegations of telephone calls concerning possible sanctions removal between Trump and President Putin are often followed by statements that there will be no sanctions removal “until Crimea is returned to Ukraine”.

Huntsman is an interesting choice for the Ambassadorship. During his brief run for president in 2012, he was often, for better or worse, portrayed as the “moderate” in the Republican party primary because of his beliefs on LGBT rights, climate change, and evolution. One could argue this was more due to his demeanor than his actually being “moderate” as his economic views are quite conservative and he was Governor of one of the most conservative states in America, but the perception seemed to stick.

Huntsman, when judged purely on his own experience, is earnestly qualified for this job. He claimed he was proud to have taken the Ambassadorship to China under President Obama because he saw it as an opportunity to serve his country. However, he will not be setting policy in the same way his boss will, and Ambassadors do not typically dissent against the government they serve, though they can obviously lend their counsel. Therefore, what Huntsman does is likely going to depend on how the Trump Administration manages to weather the storm of possible deeper involvement with pro-Kremlin officials and what type of relationship they decide to pursue with the Kremlin. As of now, we can only really speculate, but the choice itself seems to be well thought out.

By Kyle Menyhert,
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Huntsman has an extensive record in public service. He served two terms as Governor of the state of Utah and was Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China under President Obama. He also briefly ran for president in 2012, but failed to gain much traction.

Governor Huntsman’s acceptance of this post comes at a time when the relations between the United States and Russian Federation are at a massively important and controversial crossroad.

In the primaries, Trump raised many eyebrows when he claimed that he’d “be friends with” President Vladimir Putin. This came as a considerable surprise when Congressional Republicans and Democrats were nearly unanimous in their support of the sanctions levied against the Kremlin for its actions in Eastern Ukraine, as well as Putin’s assistance to President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, by all accounts a bloodthirsty dictator.  When asked about Ukraine, Trump shrugged and said it was Europe’s problem. When asked about the suspicious deaths of dissident Russian journalists and opposition figures, Trump flipped the question and asked “You think we [the United States] are so innocent?” When pressed for an explanation on Trump’s controversial remarks and actions during the Vice Presidential debates, now-Vice President Mike Pence seemed to deny everything, reverting back to the traditional Republican lines about holding the Kremlin accountable.

The Russian connection has only ballooned in press coverage since Trump’s remarks early in the presidential election. Democrats, cautious in their actions against Russia since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, started to take a more hard-line stance against cooperation with the Kremlin. Rumors started to swirl around Mr. Trump, alleging he was a pawn of the Kremlin.

These allegations are not without considerable evidence, but nothing has been proven quite yet. Investigations are underway and will require thorough scrutiny. Many Congressional Republicans, as well as almost all Congressional Democrats, have been sitting on their hands for an answer.

As Ambassador, Jon Huntsman does not possess a large amount of enumerated political power, but his experience should allow him to be an influential voice nonetheless. Huntsman bucked his own party when he accepted an ambassadorship to China under President Obama, and he seemed to gain considerable approval for his work.

Russia is a different animal altogether from China, though. Chinese foreign policy, while not passive, is not quite as direct and bold as Russia’s has been, especially in regards to Ukraine. It’s true the Chinese government is building islands in the South China Sea, much to the rage of Vietnam, but Beijing is much more reliant on soft power than Moscow. Anti-American sentiment in China certainly exists, but it is not as pronounced as that of Russian state media. The economic relationship between the United States and Russia is also quite different than that of the Sino-American relationship. The United States does not rely on Russian goods the way it does with Chinese goods, and a protectionist trade policy like Trump is promising would affect our relations with China much more than Russia.

The Trump Administration, while young, has been mired in slip-ups and controversy since it started out of the gate. Whether these scandals and controversies deserve the scrutiny and criticism they are getting is up for debate, but a by-product of the clumsy start has been that the Trump Administration has not produced a lot of concrete results – good or bad – in regards to foreign policy. It’s important to remember that Trump has only been in office for less than two months, so there’s a lot more time to write about his presidency. Messages regarding the Administration’s policy on the Kremlin have been inconsistent. Allegations of telephone calls concerning possible sanctions removal between Trump and President Putin are often followed by statements that there will be no sanctions removal “until Crimea is returned to Ukraine”.

Huntsman is an interesting choice for the Ambassadorship. During his brief run for president in 2012, he was often, for better or worse, portrayed as the “moderate” in the Republican party primary because of his beliefs on LGBT rights, climate change, and evolution. One could argue this was more due to his demeanor than his actually being “moderate” as his economic views are quite conservative and he was Governor of one of the most conservative states in America, but the perception seemed to stick.

Huntsman, when judged purely on his own experience, is earnestly qualified for this job. He claimed he was proud to have taken the Ambassadorship to China under President Obama because he saw it as an opportunity to serve his country. However, he will not be setting policy in the same way his boss will, and Ambassadors do not typically dissent against the government they serve, though they can obviously lend their counsel. Therefore, what Huntsman does is likely going to depend on how the Trump Administration manages to weather the storm of possible deeper involvement with pro-Kremlin officials and what type of relationship they decide to pursue with the Kremlin. As of now, we can only really speculate, but the choice itself seems to be well thought out.

By Kyle Menyhert,
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.

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