On the good side. In modern Russia

Feb 02 2016

At first glance, Putin’s Russia might give one an erroneous impression that the majority of active citizens have already left the country, and those who stayed behind are all packed and ready to go anywhere at a moment’s notice.

However, this is not true.  Despite overwhelming pressure, many genuine citizens keep trying to do something useful for their country.

For instance, Alexei Navalny, a blogger and head of the Anticorruption Foundation, has been promoting the idea of anticorruption investigations.  He demonstrated by personal example that any Russian citizen can control officials and legislators through the use of simple procedures and basic skills. This is why volunteers have taken such a liking to the state procurement (government purchases) website.

The practice of election observation—that is, the struggle for the key right to the freedom of choice—was brought into fashion by Alexandra Krylenkova’s St. Petersburg Observers.  Activists from this movement virtually went through the school of life by first memorizing laws and becoming familiar with corrupt and unfair practices often used by chairmen of election commissions, after which they were thrown to the wolves, that is, sent to polling places.

The May 6 Committee, created to support people arrested and later convicted for their involvement in the so-called riots that took place on May 6, 2012 on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow (when in fact it was a large-scale peaceful demonstration against the aforementioned election fraud at polling places) showed the opposition’s willingness and capability to defend its fellow citizens.   Civic activists provide moral, legal, and informational support to those opposed to the regime and its practices. RosUznik (Russian Prisoner,) a nonprofit organization offering support and assistance to people detained during civic and political protests, is involved in similar activities. This organization’s website can be used, for instance, to send messages of encouragement to political prisoners.

All in all, projects directed at providing help to prisoners are in high demand in Russia because Russian citizens, who are already very often subjected to abuse by the authorities, become completely deprived of any rights behind bars.  And this is not only a question of politics.

The MediaZona (Media Penal Colony) website, for instance, covers the cases of human rights abuse in Russian prisons.   This site was launched by a nongovernmental human rights organization, Zona Prava (Justice Zone,) founded by members of the notorious punk group Pussy Riot immediately following their release after a prison sentence for their performance of an anti-Putin “punk prayer.” Olga Romanova, a renowned Russian journalist, and her civil rights movement Rus Sidyaschaya (Russia Behind Bars,) whose goal is to provide support to many wrongfully convicted people in Russia, are involved in similar activities.

Maria Berezina, founder of the Russian Ebola project, works closely with MediaZona. The 26-year-old Maria was the first human rights activist in Russia to gather statistics from public sources relating to deaths in police custody, pretrial detention, and police cars.  The young woman admits that doing this kind of work is morally difficult, since behind each death, there is a real person, who had a family and friends. She says, however, that such monitoring is vitally important, because in order to treat a disease, one first has to make a correct diagnosis.

As for humanitarian projects, media resources are being created to promote charity work. Such projects include, for instance, the Takie Dela (So It Goes) website, which is an online resource of the Nuzhna Pomosch (Help Needed) charity foundation established by well-known photographer and volunteer Mitya Aleshkovsky.

“We focus on people and their lives in the midst of events. Our project promotes the idea of mutual aid and self-organization.   We develop the projects of charity foundations throughout the country by raising awareness and seeking public financing for these initiatives,” is how the creators of Takie Dela describe their information resource. Journalist Andrei Loshak is chief editor of the Takie Dela online outlet.

It has to be said that charity in Russia is rather poorly developed. According to the World Giving Index produced by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF,) Russia ranks 129th on the list of 145 countries surveyed.

However, this fact did not deter activists from the St. Petersburg organization Nochlezhka (Flophouse) that helps the homeless from unfolding truly large-scale activities with the help of Yulia Titova, owner of a chain of charity shops Spasibo!  (Thank you!)

“The main common task of charity shops is to turn good but unwanted items into a useful resource for other people,” Titova explains.  “Charity shops in different countries have similar purposes but slightly different routines. The work of the Spasibo! chain is organized as follows: City residents bring in unwanted items in perfect condition. These items are then sorted.   Ninety percent go to various charitable organizations and are distributed among those in need, and 10 percent go to Spasibo! stores, where these items are later sold.  The money left over after all expenses have been met is then donated to charity. Unusable clothing items are recycled.”

As for Nochlezhka itself, this project is quite unique for Russia, if only because activists come up with all sorts of outside-the-box solutions in order to involve as many people as they can in their activities. It is considered proper among Russian Facebook users to support at least one of their initiatives. For example, on a particular day, people are invited to get a cup of coffee in cafes and restaurants participating in the Express-Help event launched by Nochlezhka.  All proceeds from selling coffee that day are later transferred into the organization’s account.  In late 2014, renowned Russian rock-musicians, including Yuri Shevchuk, Maxim Pokrovsky, and Sergei Shnurov recorded a cover version of a Russian folk song Oy, Moroz, Moroz calling on their fans not to be indifferent but to help people who “have no home and no one to wait for them.” Nochlezhka provides those in need with food, warming centers, and shelters.

09

Liza Alert, a nonprofit search-and-rescue volunteer organization, is yet another project pursuing a humanitarian purpose. This volunteer group that dedicates itself to preventing child deaths was founded by ordinary Muscovites.  Liza Alert was launched in 2010, when volunteers—just ordinary Moscow residents at the time—failed to find in time the 5-year-old Liza Fomkina, who had gotten lost in the woods. The group’s founders admit that had they been better coordinated and begun the search earlier, they could have possibly saved the child.

Yet another volunteer-based NGO operating in Russia’s second-largest city, Deti Peterburga (Children of St. Petersburg,) is worth mentioning when speaking about children-oriented nonprofit organizations. It offers assistance to the children of immigrants, for example, by providing free Russian-language education. “All our lessons and activities are free for children of any nationality and social status,” the Deti Peterburga website emphasizes.

Some liberal activists, disenchanted with politics and trying to focus on smaller-scale goals, are now teaching at the Deti Peterburga school.   Sisters Katya and Yulia Alimov are playing a leading role in the organization. The young women devote all of their free time to children because all St. Petersburg residents “should communicate and find common ground.”

Lessons take place in libraries. Children were almost thrown out of a library once because its director turned out to be a racist who believed that people should “take care of their own children—not burden everyone with somebody else’s.”   Activists retorted that you cannot divide kids into “ours and somebody else’s.”

The staff of the educational and social habilitation center Anton Tut Ryadom (Anton is Right Here) helps adults with autism to socialize.  The idea of this foundation belongs to renowned Russian film director Lyubov Arkus, who noticed that society is trying to wall off people with special needs. However, contact could probably be established, if people with autism received appropriate training and assistance in finding the right job, and if society were better educated about autism.   Many Russian show business and movie stars, such as Danila Kozlovsky, one of the most popular Russian actors, support the organization.  However, Russian businessmen have not been showing much enthusiasm in supporting Anton Tut Ryadom, because people with autism cannot be cured, and thus there is “no point in getting involved.”

The founders of Otkrytaya Biblioteka (Open Library) also consider it their goal to educate and raise awareness. On the last Saturday of every month, they invite St.Petersburg residents to one of the libraries downtown, where they get to meet Russia’s best-known people, including filmmakers, actors, writers, journalists, legislators, musicians, officials, and scientists, and pose them questions, for example, about the country’s future. Despite the claims by government propaganda, judging by the number of participants, who usually barely fit in the auditorium, the public shows definite interest in such discussions.

biblioteka-15

The initiators of yet another project called Dissernet also focus on “informed exposures.” Experts who launched this initiative check Russians’ master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations for plagiarism.  Unfortunately, in Russia, academic credentials do not necessarily guarantee that people actually wrote their dissertations or theses themselves.   Politicians and businessmen often defend theses or dissertations containing extensive plagiarism just to make their resumes look more attractive.  Journalists once witnessed a comical scene that took place in Russia’s Constitutional Court. State Duma Member Dmitri Vyatkin was trying to lose a tail in the person of Dissernet founder Andrei Zayakin, who was following him and reading aloud extracts from Vyatkin’s thesis that the legislator had stolen from different authors, and demanding that Vyatkin accept responsibility for theft.  Dissernet creators highlight an old problem. Unscrupulous Russian officials and legislators do not consider it a crime to steal not only money from the country’s budget, but also other people’s intellectual property.

One of Dissernet’s cofounders, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, reminds his fellow citizens of the country’s history by installing, together with the Memorial society, plaques on buildings known as the Last Addresses of people who were murdered or left to rot in prison camps by Stalin’s regime. Such commemorative plaques stating names, professions, and the dates of birth, execution, and rehabilitation of those arrested can be seen in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Tver, Perm, Taganrog, and other Russian cities.

“Maybe around 10,000 people walk through Myasnitskaya Street or Pokrovka [Street] in one day,” Parkhomenko says.  “One person, then maybe another one and yet another one will stop and read the name on the plaque, then maybe search for it online and pause to think that there is nothing more precious than life. This idea somehow fails to take root [in our country]. Thus, the concept of our project: One name, one life, one sign.”

maxresdefault

Outside of the educational format, a few initiatives directed at preserving the environment are worth mentioning.   The aforementioned sisters Alimov coordinate the RazDelni Zbor (Separate Collection) campaign in one of St. Petersburg’s districts. Once a month, ordinary city residents take recyclable paper, used batteries and plastic to collection stations. For a country that has no culture of separate waste collection, this initiative directed at encouraging environmental responsibility is a very important step forward. Ecologists working at collection stations accept recyclable material no matter the weather.   Former opposition municipal legislator Alexander Shurshev is an active supporter of the initiative.  Some believed that after his term in office expired, and election fraud prevented him from being reelected, Shurshev, having no more need for PR, would abandon the campaign.  The young man, however, continues to support the waste collection initiative, since this is “truly important for our city.”

Despite deteriorating conditions, propaganda, and increasing censorship, media managers and journalists are striving to deliver quality products.  While the aforementioned Takie Dela project covers issues faced by ordinary people, the relatively recently created Meduza website discusses politics and the economy.  The core team of this independent media organization is composed of staff members from the once-popular Lenta.ru website, who left that media outlet in protest against the dismissal of its chief editor, Galina Timchenko.  Meduza is based in Riga, Latvia.

Thus, one may conclude that there are tens of thousands of people in Russia who remain involved in public life and are willing to contribute to making their country a better place because, as they say, Russia is their home and “why should I move away and leave my home for crooks and thieves to pillage?”

by Aleksandra Garmazhapova
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

However, this is not true.  Despite overwhelming pressure, many genuine citizens keep trying to do something useful for their country.

For instance, Alexei Navalny, a blogger and head of the Anticorruption Foundation, has been promoting the idea of anticorruption investigations.  He demonstrated by personal example that any Russian citizen can control officials and legislators through the use of simple procedures and basic skills. This is why volunteers have taken such a liking to the state procurement (government purchases) website.

The practice of election observation—that is, the struggle for the key right to the freedom of choice—was brought into fashion by Alexandra Krylenkova’s St. Petersburg Observers.  Activists from this movement virtually went through the school of life by first memorizing laws and becoming familiar with corrupt and unfair practices often used by chairmen of election commissions, after which they were thrown to the wolves, that is, sent to polling places.

The May 6 Committee, created to support people arrested and later convicted for their involvement in the so-called riots that took place on May 6, 2012 on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow (when in fact it was a large-scale peaceful demonstration against the aforementioned election fraud at polling places) showed the opposition’s willingness and capability to defend its fellow citizens.   Civic activists provide moral, legal, and informational support to those opposed to the regime and its practices. RosUznik (Russian Prisoner,) a nonprofit organization offering support and assistance to people detained during civic and political protests, is involved in similar activities. This organization’s website can be used, for instance, to send messages of encouragement to political prisoners.

All in all, projects directed at providing help to prisoners are in high demand in Russia because Russian citizens, who are already very often subjected to abuse by the authorities, become completely deprived of any rights behind bars.  And this is not only a question of politics.

The MediaZona (Media Penal Colony) website, for instance, covers the cases of human rights abuse in Russian prisons.   This site was launched by a nongovernmental human rights organization, Zona Prava (Justice Zone,) founded by members of the notorious punk group Pussy Riot immediately following their release after a prison sentence for their performance of an anti-Putin “punk prayer.” Olga Romanova, a renowned Russian journalist, and her civil rights movement Rus Sidyaschaya (Russia Behind Bars,) whose goal is to provide support to many wrongfully convicted people in Russia, are involved in similar activities.

Maria Berezina, founder of the Russian Ebola project, works closely with MediaZona. The 26-year-old Maria was the first human rights activist in Russia to gather statistics from public sources relating to deaths in police custody, pretrial detention, and police cars.  The young woman admits that doing this kind of work is morally difficult, since behind each death, there is a real person, who had a family and friends. She says, however, that such monitoring is vitally important, because in order to treat a disease, one first has to make a correct diagnosis.

As for humanitarian projects, media resources are being created to promote charity work. Such projects include, for instance, the Takie Dela (So It Goes) website, which is an online resource of the Nuzhna Pomosch (Help Needed) charity foundation established by well-known photographer and volunteer Mitya Aleshkovsky.

“We focus on people and their lives in the midst of events. Our project promotes the idea of mutual aid and self-organization.   We develop the projects of charity foundations throughout the country by raising awareness and seeking public financing for these initiatives,” is how the creators of Takie Dela describe their information resource. Journalist Andrei Loshak is chief editor of the Takie Dela online outlet.

It has to be said that charity in Russia is rather poorly developed. According to the World Giving Index produced by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF,) Russia ranks 129th on the list of 145 countries surveyed.

However, this fact did not deter activists from the St. Petersburg organization Nochlezhka (Flophouse) that helps the homeless from unfolding truly large-scale activities with the help of Yulia Titova, owner of a chain of charity shops Spasibo!  (Thank you!)

“The main common task of charity shops is to turn good but unwanted items into a useful resource for other people,” Titova explains.  “Charity shops in different countries have similar purposes but slightly different routines. The work of the Spasibo! chain is organized as follows: City residents bring in unwanted items in perfect condition. These items are then sorted.   Ninety percent go to various charitable organizations and are distributed among those in need, and 10 percent go to Spasibo! stores, where these items are later sold.  The money left over after all expenses have been met is then donated to charity. Unusable clothing items are recycled.”

As for Nochlezhka itself, this project is quite unique for Russia, if only because activists come up with all sorts of outside-the-box solutions in order to involve as many people as they can in their activities. It is considered proper among Russian Facebook users to support at least one of their initiatives. For example, on a particular day, people are invited to get a cup of coffee in cafes and restaurants participating in the Express-Help event launched by Nochlezhka.  All proceeds from selling coffee that day are later transferred into the organization’s account.  In late 2014, renowned Russian rock-musicians, including Yuri Shevchuk, Maxim Pokrovsky, and Sergei Shnurov recorded a cover version of a Russian folk song Oy, Moroz, Moroz calling on their fans not to be indifferent but to help people who “have no home and no one to wait for them.” Nochlezhka provides those in need with food, warming centers, and shelters.

09

Liza Alert, a nonprofit search-and-rescue volunteer organization, is yet another project pursuing a humanitarian purpose. This volunteer group that dedicates itself to preventing child deaths was founded by ordinary Muscovites.  Liza Alert was launched in 2010, when volunteers—just ordinary Moscow residents at the time—failed to find in time the 5-year-old Liza Fomkina, who had gotten lost in the woods. The group’s founders admit that had they been better coordinated and begun the search earlier, they could have possibly saved the child.

Yet another volunteer-based NGO operating in Russia’s second-largest city, Deti Peterburga (Children of St. Petersburg,) is worth mentioning when speaking about children-oriented nonprofit organizations. It offers assistance to the children of immigrants, for example, by providing free Russian-language education. “All our lessons and activities are free for children of any nationality and social status,” the Deti Peterburga website emphasizes.

Some liberal activists, disenchanted with politics and trying to focus on smaller-scale goals, are now teaching at the Deti Peterburga school.   Sisters Katya and Yulia Alimov are playing a leading role in the organization. The young women devote all of their free time to children because all St. Petersburg residents “should communicate and find common ground.”

Lessons take place in libraries. Children were almost thrown out of a library once because its director turned out to be a racist who believed that people should “take care of their own children—not burden everyone with somebody else’s.”   Activists retorted that you cannot divide kids into “ours and somebody else’s.”

The staff of the educational and social habilitation center Anton Tut Ryadom (Anton is Right Here) helps adults with autism to socialize.  The idea of this foundation belongs to renowned Russian film director Lyubov Arkus, who noticed that society is trying to wall off people with special needs. However, contact could probably be established, if people with autism received appropriate training and assistance in finding the right job, and if society were better educated about autism.   Many Russian show business and movie stars, such as Danila Kozlovsky, one of the most popular Russian actors, support the organization.  However, Russian businessmen have not been showing much enthusiasm in supporting Anton Tut Ryadom, because people with autism cannot be cured, and thus there is “no point in getting involved.”

The founders of Otkrytaya Biblioteka (Open Library) also consider it their goal to educate and raise awareness. On the last Saturday of every month, they invite St.Petersburg residents to one of the libraries downtown, where they get to meet Russia’s best-known people, including filmmakers, actors, writers, journalists, legislators, musicians, officials, and scientists, and pose them questions, for example, about the country’s future. Despite the claims by government propaganda, judging by the number of participants, who usually barely fit in the auditorium, the public shows definite interest in such discussions.

biblioteka-15

The initiators of yet another project called Dissernet also focus on “informed exposures.” Experts who launched this initiative check Russians’ master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations for plagiarism.  Unfortunately, in Russia, academic credentials do not necessarily guarantee that people actually wrote their dissertations or theses themselves.   Politicians and businessmen often defend theses or dissertations containing extensive plagiarism just to make their resumes look more attractive.  Journalists once witnessed a comical scene that took place in Russia’s Constitutional Court. State Duma Member Dmitri Vyatkin was trying to lose a tail in the person of Dissernet founder Andrei Zayakin, who was following him and reading aloud extracts from Vyatkin’s thesis that the legislator had stolen from different authors, and demanding that Vyatkin accept responsibility for theft.  Dissernet creators highlight an old problem. Unscrupulous Russian officials and legislators do not consider it a crime to steal not only money from the country’s budget, but also other people’s intellectual property.

One of Dissernet’s cofounders, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, reminds his fellow citizens of the country’s history by installing, together with the Memorial society, plaques on buildings known as the Last Addresses of people who were murdered or left to rot in prison camps by Stalin’s regime. Such commemorative plaques stating names, professions, and the dates of birth, execution, and rehabilitation of those arrested can be seen in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Tver, Perm, Taganrog, and other Russian cities.

“Maybe around 10,000 people walk through Myasnitskaya Street or Pokrovka [Street] in one day,” Parkhomenko says.  “One person, then maybe another one and yet another one will stop and read the name on the plaque, then maybe search for it online and pause to think that there is nothing more precious than life. This idea somehow fails to take root [in our country]. Thus, the concept of our project: One name, one life, one sign.”

maxresdefault

Outside of the educational format, a few initiatives directed at preserving the environment are worth mentioning.   The aforementioned sisters Alimov coordinate the RazDelni Zbor (Separate Collection) campaign in one of St. Petersburg’s districts. Once a month, ordinary city residents take recyclable paper, used batteries and plastic to collection stations. For a country that has no culture of separate waste collection, this initiative directed at encouraging environmental responsibility is a very important step forward. Ecologists working at collection stations accept recyclable material no matter the weather.   Former opposition municipal legislator Alexander Shurshev is an active supporter of the initiative.  Some believed that after his term in office expired, and election fraud prevented him from being reelected, Shurshev, having no more need for PR, would abandon the campaign.  The young man, however, continues to support the waste collection initiative, since this is “truly important for our city.”

Despite deteriorating conditions, propaganda, and increasing censorship, media managers and journalists are striving to deliver quality products.  While the aforementioned Takie Dela project covers issues faced by ordinary people, the relatively recently created Meduza website discusses politics and the economy.  The core team of this independent media organization is composed of staff members from the once-popular Lenta.ru website, who left that media outlet in protest against the dismissal of its chief editor, Galina Timchenko.  Meduza is based in Riga, Latvia.

Thus, one may conclude that there are tens of thousands of people in Russia who remain involved in public life and are willing to contribute to making their country a better place because, as they say, Russia is their home and “why should I move away and leave my home for crooks and thieves to pillage?”

by Aleksandra Garmazhapova
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

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.