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

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

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.