Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

New Russian Law Further Encroaches on the Russians’ Right to Political Self-Determination

Jul 01 2022

By FRF Team

The new bill on local self-governance in Russia, which is currently under review at the second
reading in the State Duma, was introduced on December 16, 2021–almost two months before
Russia started a full-fledged war against Ukraine. The sponsors of the bill are pro-Kremlin United
Russia party deputies Pavel Krasheninnikov and Andrei Klishas, authors of several other
antidemocratic laws.

The bill was first introduced in 2020, around the same time as Putin’s government was pushing
through the illegal Constitutional amendments and aims to replace the existing federal law on
local self-governance adopted in 2003. The new law envisions two major changes:

  1. governors are empowered to single-handedly appoint mayors and unilaterally remove
    them from office;
  2. rural and urban settlements are abolished, and local government is transitioned to a
    single-level system. By 2028, these administrative units are to be merged with the city or
    municipal districts within the borders of the current municipal localities.

Putin’s regime justifies these changes as a way to increase self-governance efficiency by
consolidating financial, organizational, personnel and other resources.

The bill has been met with resistance in the State Duma, especially by the members of the
Communist and Just Russia parties. Following the first reading, 700 amendments were
submitted. The review is still ongoing, and the second reading was moved to the Duma’s fall
2022 session.

According to some Russian political experts, the new law will essentially deprive the Russians
living in small urban areas of political power. Others point out that the law will simply reflect
the existing political realities on the ground—that is, the fact that residents of small
municipalities and rural areas do not possess real political power anyway.

Free Russia Foundation: a Year in Review

Dec 29 2022

In May 2015, a report titled “Putin. War” was launched in Moscow, detailing the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and direct involvement in the military conflict in Donbass. The work on this report had been originally initiated by Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic leader of the Russian opposition, who tragically assassinated in the center of Moscow before he could finish it. His allies, including politician Ilya Yashin, who has been recently sentenced to a lengthy prison term in a clear case of political persecution, completed the report. Its preamble is a powerful call to action: “We should mass-print this report and give it out on the streets. Let us tell the Russian people how Putin started this war.”

The war. Since 2014, this menacing word has been encroaching, like a dark cloud, on European skies, until it finally exploded in 2022, raining down on Ukraine with thousands of rockets, destroying cities, killing and wounding civilians, sending millions of refugees away from home. February 24, 2022—the day the Kremlin began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine—has divided the life of millions into before and after.  

The past year has been life-changing for many. Last December, few could have imagined that the Donbass conflict would turn into an all-out war in the heart of Europe, precipitating humanitarian, energy, and other crises of global scale. With the onset of war, in Russia, we have seen a disturbing deterioration of state institutions, a massive wave of repression against dissidents, an imposition of military censorship, an increasingly unhinged propaganda, and a dramatic exodus of the Russians who opposed the war. The main challenge—the crisis of confidence—has emerged against the backdrop of Russia’s blatant violation of international treaties, norms, and human decency, but has not reached its peak yet. This war has also exposed flaws and failures that we all, as humankind, will be confronting for years to come.

Since its inception in 2014, Free Russia Foundation has been setting off alarms about the Kremlin’s growing aggression that threatens not only Russian citizens, but the entire world. On February 24, 2022, we strongly condemned Russian authorities’ criminal decision to launch an unprovoked, aggressive war against sovereign Ukraine. Russia’s forceful seizure of another country’s territory, its war crimes, and nuclear blackmail cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The invasion of Ukraine was shocking, painful, and profoundly traumatic for all of us. Yet, instead of incapacitating us, it strengthened our resolve, giving us new energy and purpose. Ending the war and alleviating the suffering it has unleashed became our focus. Since day one of the war, we have been campaigning to tell the truth about Putin’s war in Ukraine to the Russian people, spearheading efforts to free Ukrainian citizens taken hostage by the Kremlin, and assisting Russian activists, journalists, and politicians in exile so that they could continue their pro-democracy and anti-war efforts.

Helping Ukrainians brutalized by the war has been our priority. FRF has organized over 60 evacuation missions from the war zones in Kyiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhya, Kramatorsk, and others, taking to safety thousands of people—and their pets. We purchased medical equipment for Ukrainians in need, sending from the U.S. 200 tactical turnstiles (CAT), 70 equipped first-aid kits (IFAK), 70 anti-burn stickers, 70 breathing tubes; from Israel 105 emergency bandages, 110 anti-blood patches, 50 hemostatic bandages; from Turkey 80 walkie-talkies, and from Poland over 200 sleeping bags. We were sending tourniquets and drones to Ukraine.

On June 12, Free Russia Foundation coordinated anti-war rallies in 80 cities across 37 countries, striving to amplify Russians’ anti-war voices, show activists inside Russia that they are not alone, that there is international support for their fight, and counter the Kremlin propaganda’s claim that all Russians approve of the war.

On June 16, the Foundation launched an international campaign—#NOTOWAR / #НЕТВОЙНЕ—to unite voices of the Russian speakers around the world and help stop the war. In the wake of the Kremlin’s suppression of domestic dissent, this campaign calls on Russian diasporas and Russians in exile to speak out against the war—including on behalf of those Russians who, for objective reasons, cannot openly express their views. Through protests, information campaigns, and human rights activities, we pressure Russian authorities to withdraw troops from Ukraine, demonstrating the presence of a global anti-war Russian-speaking community. Our campaign includes both expert analyses and stories of ordinary Russians who have been affected by the war.

In September, the announced partial mobilization in Russia triggered a second wave of emigration. According to some estimates, between 150,000 and 1,500,000 citizens left the country—potentially amounting to the largest exodus in Russia’s recent history. Due to the drastic nature of this emigration wave, many Russians faced serious challenges along the way—from visa issues to financial hardships to acute emotional and psychological crises. FRF addressed this situation by providing legal and counseling support as well as drawing attention of European officials, diplomats, and journalists to these issues. Our legal aid program reached over 600 citizens of Russia and over 500 residents of Belarus. We helped several ethnic minority groups to evacuate thousands of people to Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

In the second half of 2022, Free Russia Foundation opened Resource Centers throughout Europe—in Berlin, Tallinn, Vilnius, and Tbilisi. These are public spaces where exiled anti-war Russian activists as well as Ukrainian activists working on humanitarian projects can get much needed assistance. Resource Centers offer legal aid and counseling, hold discussions, and organize anti-war events. We hope that these spaces will help build a strong global community committed to promoting democratic values, advancing peace, and facilitating political change in Russia.

The persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza, our former colleague (until August 2021) and Russia’s prominent politician and human rights activist, has been another unhappy development in 2022. Vladimir was detained in April in front of his apartment building in Moscow. At first, he was charged with an administrative offense—for allegedly disobeying police orders. Criminal charges were consequently added to his case. Vladimir was accused of disseminating false information about the Russian military (this charge referred to his March 15 speech at the Arizona House of Representatives, in which he said that the Putin regime “is dropping bombs on residential areas, hospitals and schools” in Ukraine). Next, he was charged with collaboration with an “undesirable organization” on the account of his organizing a roundtable in support of political prisoners at the Sakharov Center in Moscow in October of 2021.

Finally, in October, an additional criminal charge was brought against Kara-Murza — high treason. This accusation is based on three public speeches he had given abroad, including one in which Vladimir had said that Russia was persecuting political opposition and introducing total censorship. The charge of high treason for public speaking is a cynical cover for the Putin regime’s persecution of the freedom of speech. This high-profile political case is clearly designed to fully silence Russia’s pro-democracy movement.

In response to these outrageous attacks on Vladimir, Free Russia Foundation has launched a global campaign calling for his release. Hundreds of media outlets around the world covered his case. Human rights organizations, U.S. and European politicians, Russian opposition leaders and international opinion leaders issued statements in Vladimir’s support, condemning his political persecution.

This campaign has been spearheaded by his wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, who became FRF’s  Director for Advocacy in 2022. Evgenia has spoken in support of Vladimir and all Russia’s political prisoners at hundreds of meetings with stake holders and opinion leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Her speeches were heard at forums and conferences in the U.S. and Europe and in the interviews with CNN, BBC, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America, and many others. Public and political figures, such as Steven Cohen, William Browder, Irvin Cotler, Tom Malinowski, Roger Wicker, Robert Menendez, Michael McFaul, Ben Cardin, Marco Rubio, Dick Durbin, Vladimir Milov, Garry Kasparov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Lyubov Sobol, Sergey Aleksashenko, and many others joined the fight for Vladimir’s freedom. A group of the U.S. senators made a joint appeal to President Joe Biden, calling for action, under the Magnitsky Act, against those responsible for Vladimir Kara-Murza’s persecution.

Despite Vladimir’s arrest, decades of his anti-war and pro-democracy work have not been disrupted. He continues to write and share his work with the world through his lawyer. His resilience is truly inspiring. In recognition of his efforts, Vladimir has been the recipient of several international prizes and awards. In October, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced that its most prestigious award, the Václav Havel Prize for Human Rights, would be given to Vladimir. In November, the Geneva-based UN Watch also awarded him with its highest prize — the Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award. Vladimir dedicated this award to the thousands of people who had been arrested or detained in Russia for protesting Putin’s war in Ukraine.

This year, our team welcomed a prominent Russian pro-democracy politician, Vladimir Milov, as Vice President for International Advocacy. Vladimir is a recognized opposition leader, member of Alexey Navalny’s team as well as an economist and energy expert. Under Vladimir’s leadership, FRF continues combating autocracy and repression in Russia and countering aggression that the Putin regime unleashed on Ukraine and Belarus. Vladimir Milov is well-known for his unequivocal anti-war stance. In April 2021, he left Russia for Lithuania following persecution of Navalny’s organizations. In February 2022, he categorically condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On May 6, 2022, Russia’s Ministry of Justice added the politician to its blacklist of “foreign agents.” Milov is a regular guest on CNN and CNBC, and is often cited by The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal.

This year Vladimir Milov published several important papers: “The EU’s Relations With a Future Democratic Russia: A Strategy”, “Beyond the Headlines: The Real Impact of Western Sanctions on Russia”, “Yes, It Hurts: Measuring the Effects of Western Sanctions Against Russia”. A series of his articles were also written for FRF and published on the Foundation’s website, among them — “What is the Russian Public Opinion regarding Putin’s war against Ukraine?”, “Saying “Nothing Will Ever Change in Russia” is not Only Unhelpful, It is Wrong”, “Russian Society is in the Midst of a Profound Transformation not Captured by Traditional Opinion Polls”.

Free Russia Foundation continues to integrate the insights acquired through our “field” work into studies and reports. This year, we have released the following reports: “Russian Emigrants: The Cost of Freedom,” “The Russian Economy and Sanctions: Who’s Who?”, “A Case for Supporting Free Democratic Russia,” “Russia-Turkey Relations in the Context of War in Ukraine,” “Yandex — the Kremlin’s Weapon Against Democracy,” “Decolonization in Real Time: Why the World Should Support Russians Running from Mobilization.” We have also penned profiles of political prisoners in Russia. Hundreds of posts on our social media accounts have focused on exposing the truth about the war in Ukraine, repression and censorship in Russia, highlighting the activities of the anti-war movement in Russia and the work of the Foundation.

In early December, our organization celebrated its eighth anniversary. Back in 2014, Free Russia Foundation first announced itself to the world as a group of activists supporting civil society and democratic development in Russia. In just a few years, we have grown into a powerful global movement uniting hundreds of talented professionals—civil society activists, human rights advocates, entrepreneurs, scholars, politicians, and journalists. What unites us is the vision that a free and peaceful Russia should and can be part of a secure and prosperous international community. It is our willingness to devote time, knowledge, and experience to achieving a common goal that has contributed to the Foundation’s success.

In 2022, the threat posed to the world by the Putin regime became evident to many. With its nuclear blackmail, this personalist authoritarian regime now endangers not only the neighboring nations but the entire world. In his 22 years in power, Vladimir Putin managed to largely insulate his regime from external challenges and secure his position in power for life. His regime destroyed the opposition and the independent media, subjugated the elites, and instilled fear in the Russian public. He also uses the war to ramp up repression and strengthen control over the country, signaling willingness to escalate internationally as well.

At Free Russia Foundation, we are convinced that an end to this conflict and a lasting peace in the region are only possible if we work together towards this goal. We believe that Ukrainian people will prevail, and the resolute anti-war stance of many Russians gives us hope. We will continue to fight against the Putin regime, following our vision of the future where Russia can become a beacon of peace and prosperity.

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.