Russian Oligarchs in Oxford

Nov 05 2015

The University of Oxford, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, is under fire for accepting a donation of £75 million ($115 million) from Len Blavatnik to build new facilities for the Blavatnik School of Government.

It is also criticized for holding a joint business award with Alfa Bank in 2007-2011. Access Alfa Renova (AAR) consortium played a role in a Kremlin-sponsored harassment campaign against British Petroleum in Russia. This group of Russian billionaires included Len Blavatnik, the richest man in Britain, born in the USSR but now an American citizen.

The Guardian reports that in 2008 and 2009 dozens of British and western managers were “forced out of Russia”-as told by a letter by members of the Russian opposition- in a bitter dispute between BP and a group of powerful Russian billionaires. The billionaires, including Blavatnik, were joint partners with BP in TNK-BP, once Russia’s third-biggest oil company, a dispute that Oxford admits it didn’t investigate, despite a spokesman for the university claiming “Oxford University has a thorough and robust scrutiny process in place with regard to philanthropic giving. The Committee to Review Donations conducts appropriate due diligence based on publicly available information. The University is confident in this process and in its outcomes.”

In a letter to the Guardian, 21 academics, activists and dissidents have claimed that Blavatnik is a member of a consortium that “has long been accused of being behind a campaign of state-sponsored harassment against BP”, as part of which “Vladimir Putin’s FSB intelligence agency fabricated a case against two Oxford graduates”.

The letter in response to the controversy penned to The Guardian scathingly criticizes the university, claiming that Oxford must “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”, while also calling on the university to set in motion comprehensive reform in regards to transparency and procedure with regards to foreign donations.

The letter has many prominent dissidents’ signatures on it from both past and present. Pavel Litvinov, who openly protested the USSR’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and was sent into five years’ exile for it is one of them, as well as Vladimir Bukovsky, a dissident who has spoken in great detail about  the KGB’s psychiatric treatment against supposed enemies of the state. Vladimir Milov, who leads Russia’s Democratic Choice party and a friend to the late Boris Nemtsov, and the letter’s organizer, Ilya Zaslavskiy. Mr. Zaslavskiy, an expert of Free Russia Foundation, graduated from Oxford, ran Moscow’s Oxford alumni association, and has worked for TNK-BP.

The letter says that until a proper investigation is done politicians and other public figures who have endorsed the Blavatnik school should withdraw support. It also urges the university to carry out urgent “transparency and procedural reforms” with regard to foreign donations.

Demand a vigorous public debate about grants and awards that involves students, alumni, tutors, NGOs, political dissidents and the media –SIGN THE PETITION!

It’s true that Oxford’s faux pas won’t lead to dozens upon dozens of Oxford graduates going into the real world defending the Kremlin’s actions against the Russian people, and it’s silly to think the School of Government will be some kind of indoctrination centre reminiscent of the Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean ideological crusades, even if it does have an oligarch’s name attached to it. However, in principle, this decision is rife with hypocrisy. Oxford is one of the world’s best universities and for centuries has been a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to gain new perspectives on the world around them. Academic freedom is vitally important to any stable society and educational institutions must adhere to strict guidelines to uphold that freedom. If Oxford, already in hot water for its decision to accept the donation and for speaking in vague platitudes when confronted on its reasoning, is to stay the course and ignore popular discontent with its decision, it will, whether purposefully or not, reflect values that run contrary to what it as an educational institution is supposed to stand for, namely, secretive and perhaps even corrupt bureaucratic practices. It looks even worse when the school receiving this donation is a school of government, offering education in a public policy setting centered on the critical thinking necessary to be effective in the field.

On top of that, the school’s construction is not looked upon favorably by some directly involved in the university’s day-to-day operations. The Guardian reported that one Oxford academic, anonymously dubbed it an “architectural calamity”. He added that the university which contributed £25m towards the school had “squandered money on a frippery”. In addition, Martin Dewhirst, an Oxford graduate and former lecturer in Russian, accused the university of not carrying out adequate due diligence when it considered the prospective donation in January 2008. Dewhirst submitted two freedom of information requests asking Oxford to reveal who carried out checks on Blavatnik’s business activities inside Russia. Again, the opposition was met with artificial, vague explanation from the university, which said a donations acceptance review committee approved the donation “based on due diligence conducted by the Development Office”. The Guardian goes on to show that “In response to the freedom of information requests, the university said it did not consult Bob Dudley or anyone from BP about the donation. It said no articles were translated from Russian concerning Blavatnik’s business activities. It was unable to say how many members of the due diligence team “had a good reading knowledge of Russian”.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, the organizer of the letter opposing the donation, argues that Mr. Blavatnik “could have voted with BP against his Russian partners but in the end did not. Zaslavskiy also alleges the price was excessive and an “awful” deal for ordinary Russian taxpayers, frustratedly wondering “How is this good governance?”

Oxford has a choice to make here. It can either ignore the criticism, take the money, and continue on with a stain on its record unlikely to go away. Or it can order a more comprehensive review of the donation and its merits and continue from there. It will likely lead to some short-term embarrassment, but if the university reverses its decision it will ultimately keep its record much cleaner and likely avoid a scandal like this in the future. The latter is likely being taught to its students within its hallowed halls as the preferable alternative. Practice what you preach, or in this case, teach.

Free Russia Foundation has joined the petition to Oxford University demanding new and thorough due diligence into the activities of donors affiliated with Kremlin, based on clearly defined ethical norms and carried out by reputable, independent investigators. We urge Oxford to stop selling reputational prestige to Putin’s comrades from the Alfa Access Renova (AAR) consortium, which has a highly questionable business track.

YOU CAN SIGN THE PETITION HERE

It is also criticized for holding a joint business award with Alfa Bank in 2007-2011. Access Alfa Renova (AAR) consortium played a role in a Kremlin-sponsored harassment campaign against British Petroleum in Russia. This group of Russian billionaires included Len Blavatnik, the richest man in Britain, born in the USSR but now an American citizen.

The Guardian reports that in 2008 and 2009 dozens of British and western managers were “forced out of Russia”-as told by a letter by members of the Russian opposition- in a bitter dispute between BP and a group of powerful Russian billionaires. The billionaires, including Blavatnik, were joint partners with BP in TNK-BP, once Russia’s third-biggest oil company, a dispute that Oxford admits it didn’t investigate, despite a spokesman for the university claiming “Oxford University has a thorough and robust scrutiny process in place with regard to philanthropic giving. The Committee to Review Donations conducts appropriate due diligence based on publicly available information. The University is confident in this process and in its outcomes.”

In a letter to the Guardian, 21 academics, activists and dissidents have claimed that Blavatnik is a member of a consortium that “has long been accused of being behind a campaign of state-sponsored harassment against BP”, as part of which “Vladimir Putin’s FSB intelligence agency fabricated a case against two Oxford graduates”.

The letter in response to the controversy penned to The Guardian scathingly criticizes the university, claiming that Oxford must “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates”, while also calling on the university to set in motion comprehensive reform in regards to transparency and procedure with regards to foreign donations.

The letter has many prominent dissidents’ signatures on it from both past and present. Pavel Litvinov, who openly protested the USSR’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and was sent into five years’ exile for it is one of them, as well as Vladimir Bukovsky, a dissident who has spoken in great detail about  the KGB’s psychiatric treatment against supposed enemies of the state. Vladimir Milov, who leads Russia’s Democratic Choice party and a friend to the late Boris Nemtsov, and the letter’s organizer, Ilya Zaslavskiy. Mr. Zaslavskiy, an expert of Free Russia Foundation, graduated from Oxford, ran Moscow’s Oxford alumni association, and has worked for TNK-BP.

The letter says that until a proper investigation is done politicians and other public figures who have endorsed the Blavatnik school should withdraw support. It also urges the university to carry out urgent “transparency and procedural reforms” with regard to foreign donations.

Demand a vigorous public debate about grants and awards that involves students, alumni, tutors, NGOs, political dissidents and the media –SIGN THE PETITION!

It’s true that Oxford’s faux pas won’t lead to dozens upon dozens of Oxford graduates going into the real world defending the Kremlin’s actions against the Russian people, and it’s silly to think the School of Government will be some kind of indoctrination centre reminiscent of the Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean ideological crusades, even if it does have an oligarch’s name attached to it. However, in principle, this decision is rife with hypocrisy. Oxford is one of the world’s best universities and for centuries has been a place for people of all ages and backgrounds to gain new perspectives on the world around them. Academic freedom is vitally important to any stable society and educational institutions must adhere to strict guidelines to uphold that freedom. If Oxford, already in hot water for its decision to accept the donation and for speaking in vague platitudes when confronted on its reasoning, is to stay the course and ignore popular discontent with its decision, it will, whether purposefully or not, reflect values that run contrary to what it as an educational institution is supposed to stand for, namely, secretive and perhaps even corrupt bureaucratic practices. It looks even worse when the school receiving this donation is a school of government, offering education in a public policy setting centered on the critical thinking necessary to be effective in the field.

On top of that, the school’s construction is not looked upon favorably by some directly involved in the university’s day-to-day operations. The Guardian reported that one Oxford academic, anonymously dubbed it an “architectural calamity”. He added that the university which contributed £25m towards the school had “squandered money on a frippery”. In addition, Martin Dewhirst, an Oxford graduate and former lecturer in Russian, accused the university of not carrying out adequate due diligence when it considered the prospective donation in January 2008. Dewhirst submitted two freedom of information requests asking Oxford to reveal who carried out checks on Blavatnik’s business activities inside Russia. Again, the opposition was met with artificial, vague explanation from the university, which said a donations acceptance review committee approved the donation “based on due diligence conducted by the Development Office”. The Guardian goes on to show that “In response to the freedom of information requests, the university said it did not consult Bob Dudley or anyone from BP about the donation. It said no articles were translated from Russian concerning Blavatnik’s business activities. It was unable to say how many members of the due diligence team “had a good reading knowledge of Russian”.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, the organizer of the letter opposing the donation, argues that Mr. Blavatnik “could have voted with BP against his Russian partners but in the end did not. Zaslavskiy also alleges the price was excessive and an “awful” deal for ordinary Russian taxpayers, frustratedly wondering “How is this good governance?”

Oxford has a choice to make here. It can either ignore the criticism, take the money, and continue on with a stain on its record unlikely to go away. Or it can order a more comprehensive review of the donation and its merits and continue from there. It will likely lead to some short-term embarrassment, but if the university reverses its decision it will ultimately keep its record much cleaner and likely avoid a scandal like this in the future. The latter is likely being taught to its students within its hallowed halls as the preferable alternative. Practice what you preach, or in this case, teach.

Free Russia Foundation has joined the petition to Oxford University demanding new and thorough due diligence into the activities of donors affiliated with Kremlin, based on clearly defined ethical norms and carried out by reputable, independent investigators. We urge Oxford to stop selling reputational prestige to Putin’s comrades from the Alfa Access Renova (AAR) consortium, which has a highly questionable business track.

YOU CAN SIGN THE PETITION HERE

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.