Putin talks Terrorism in the State of the Nation

Dec 04 2015

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual State of the Nation Address to both houses of the Federal Assembly.

He opened his address with words of gratitude towards the members of the Russian Armed Forces fighting against “international terrorism”. A moment of silence was held for the defenders of the Fatherland, as they are called each February 23rd in commemoration.

Putin dove into a monologue about fighting terrorism next. He spoke about the many terrorist attacks Russia has been hit by. “We still grieve for them and will always grieve, along with the victims’ loved ones, “he declared somberly. Putin then claimed that “It took us nearly a decade to finally break the backbone of those militants. We almost succeeded in expelling terrorists from Russia, but are still fighting the remaining terrorists underground.”

This is a confusing claim. If Putin is referencing the two Chechen Wars, then it’s a bit boastful of him to claim that terrorism was almost expelled from Russia. It is true that Chechnya is much more stable than it once was, but stability doesn’t necessarily stamp out an ideology. The terrorists that engineered the recent attacks on Paris were French citizens, living in a democratic, stable, and free country, and they were still driven to the poisonous ideology of Islamic fundamentalism. Furthermore, Chechnya isn’t the only region of the North Caucasus that presents a challenge to Russia’s fight against terrorism While Groznyy’s brand new skyscrapers gleam and sparkle, regions such as Ingushetia and Dagestan still struggle from poverty and corruption. Ethnic minorities from these areas face discrimination and open racism, and Islamic fundamentalism still festers in these areas. If Putin wants to fight terrorism within Russia, he must not forget these areas.

Next, Putin spoke about the Syrian Civil War and Russia’s involvement in that war. Unsurprisingly, he wasted little time in laying blame on While he did not name any specific nations as culprits, his implications that the west-namely the United States and European Union, have turned Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria into hellish nightmares. It is abundantly clear that the Kremlin is much more interested in stability than democracy in the Middle East, and it certainly is hard to argue that many of these countries were much more stable before foreign intervention.

However, stability cannot be the only factor in examining what’s going on in the Middle East. Pro-Kremlin Russians are keen to point out the close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia as being hypocritical to the values the United States touts, and it is certainly true that the close relationship runs contrary to the ideas of democracy and liberty. The Kremlin cooperates with the Saudis as well, however, despite the rivalries related to Iran and to oil production. And it is ironic that Putin would accuse the western powers of “brutally imposing their own rules” in the region when every one of the countries he mentioned as being destroyed by the west were brutal dictatorships beforehand. The late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi openly praised acts of violence and terror. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have presided over a stable and developed nation but he actively oppressed Shia Iraqis and carried out genocide against the Kurdish minority living in northern Iraq. Bashar Al-Assad’s troops fired live rounds into peaceful protests in the first stages of Syria’s uprising. The Taliban in Afghanistan conducted repression of the Afghan people much like Saudi Arabia does today, and it’s only more ironic considering the Soviet War in Afghanistan was fought on the grounds of an ideology as well.

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President Putin clearly described the reason for military involvement in Syria: “The militants in Syria pose a particularly high threat for Russia. Many of them are citizens of Russia and the CIS countries. This is why it has been decided to launch a military operation there based on an official request from the legitimate Syrian authorities. Our military personnel are fighting in Syria for Russia, for the security of Russian citizens.” These are understandable reasons, but why now? The Syrian Civil War has raged for over four years and only recently has the Kremlin decided to get directly involved. Da’esh has posed a threat for much longer than Russian troops have been directly involved in the region. Two chief reasons for this involvement that have been debated were also left out, namely, the desire of the Kremlin to keep Assad in power, and the presence of a Russian military base in Syria’s north.

Putin then turned his attention towards “Russia’s newest enemy”, the Republic of Turkey. Turkey has received strikingly similar criticism from different sides of the globe for its perceived lack of urgency in fighting Da’esh. Critics of the Kremlin allege that Putin is more interested in helping Al-Assad advance on Free Syrian Army posts, while critics of Turkey claim Ankara is using its military might to beat up the Kurds in Syria rather than advance on Da’esh posts. Both criticisms have some validity to them, as Turkey still struggles to keep its Kurdish southeast regions stable and Russia’s close ties to the Assad government. The two countries are continuing their squabble, now trading accusations of oil purchases from the terrorists in Syria. From the tone of Putin’s remarks as well as those made by President Erdogan of Turkey, it looks like the spat between Moscow and Ankara isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.

Putin’s speech left out one very important and recent Russian foreign policy maneuver, and that is Ukraine. Ukraine was not mentioned once in Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly. Frankly, hours could be given to speculation as to why the still simmering conflict in the Donbas wasn’t mentioned. It could be argued that the sanctions levied against Russia have been replaced by the news out of Turkey and Syria, but those sanctions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and it’s still evident that they continue to sting the economic capabilities. A need to diversify and expand the economy away from oil and natural gas was brought up in the address, but specifics were rare and if action’s going to be taken, it would be helpful to see it sooner than later, and military campaigns in Ukraine as well as Syria aren’t likely to help that too much.

The war in Syria and icy tensions with Turkey have provided new talking points for Putin to rally the people around the white, blue, and red. How long they’ll stay around to distract from stagnation and uncertainty at home is yet to be seen.

by Kyle Menyhert

He opened his address with words of gratitude towards the members of the Russian Armed Forces fighting against “international terrorism”. A moment of silence was held for the defenders of the Fatherland, as they are called each February 23rd in commemoration.

Putin dove into a monologue about fighting terrorism next. He spoke about the many terrorist attacks Russia has been hit by. “We still grieve for them and will always grieve, along with the victims’ loved ones, “he declared somberly. Putin then claimed that “It took us nearly a decade to finally break the backbone of those militants. We almost succeeded in expelling terrorists from Russia, but are still fighting the remaining terrorists underground.”

This is a confusing claim. If Putin is referencing the two Chechen Wars, then it’s a bit boastful of him to claim that terrorism was almost expelled from Russia. It is true that Chechnya is much more stable than it once was, but stability doesn’t necessarily stamp out an ideology. The terrorists that engineered the recent attacks on Paris were French citizens, living in a democratic, stable, and free country, and they were still driven to the poisonous ideology of Islamic fundamentalism. Furthermore, Chechnya isn’t the only region of the North Caucasus that presents a challenge to Russia’s fight against terrorism While Groznyy’s brand new skyscrapers gleam and sparkle, regions such as Ingushetia and Dagestan still struggle from poverty and corruption. Ethnic minorities from these areas face discrimination and open racism, and Islamic fundamentalism still festers in these areas. If Putin wants to fight terrorism within Russia, he must not forget these areas.

Next, Putin spoke about the Syrian Civil War and Russia’s involvement in that war. Unsurprisingly, he wasted little time in laying blame on While he did not name any specific nations as culprits, his implications that the west-namely the United States and European Union, have turned Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria into hellish nightmares. It is abundantly clear that the Kremlin is much more interested in stability than democracy in the Middle East, and it certainly is hard to argue that many of these countries were much more stable before foreign intervention.

However, stability cannot be the only factor in examining what’s going on in the Middle East. Pro-Kremlin Russians are keen to point out the close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia as being hypocritical to the values the United States touts, and it is certainly true that the close relationship runs contrary to the ideas of democracy and liberty. The Kremlin cooperates with the Saudis as well, however, despite the rivalries related to Iran and to oil production. And it is ironic that Putin would accuse the western powers of “brutally imposing their own rules” in the region when every one of the countries he mentioned as being destroyed by the west were brutal dictatorships beforehand. The late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi openly praised acts of violence and terror. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may have presided over a stable and developed nation but he actively oppressed Shia Iraqis and carried out genocide against the Kurdish minority living in northern Iraq. Bashar Al-Assad’s troops fired live rounds into peaceful protests in the first stages of Syria’s uprising. The Taliban in Afghanistan conducted repression of the Afghan people much like Saudi Arabia does today, and it’s only more ironic considering the Soviet War in Afghanistan was fought on the grounds of an ideology as well.

hag6xr5d1vizhtebg2a27wbasjan02ik

President Putin clearly described the reason for military involvement in Syria: “The militants in Syria pose a particularly high threat for Russia. Many of them are citizens of Russia and the CIS countries. This is why it has been decided to launch a military operation there based on an official request from the legitimate Syrian authorities. Our military personnel are fighting in Syria for Russia, for the security of Russian citizens.” These are understandable reasons, but why now? The Syrian Civil War has raged for over four years and only recently has the Kremlin decided to get directly involved. Da’esh has posed a threat for much longer than Russian troops have been directly involved in the region. Two chief reasons for this involvement that have been debated were also left out, namely, the desire of the Kremlin to keep Assad in power, and the presence of a Russian military base in Syria’s north.

Putin then turned his attention towards “Russia’s newest enemy”, the Republic of Turkey. Turkey has received strikingly similar criticism from different sides of the globe for its perceived lack of urgency in fighting Da’esh. Critics of the Kremlin allege that Putin is more interested in helping Al-Assad advance on Free Syrian Army posts, while critics of Turkey claim Ankara is using its military might to beat up the Kurds in Syria rather than advance on Da’esh posts. Both criticisms have some validity to them, as Turkey still struggles to keep its Kurdish southeast regions stable and Russia’s close ties to the Assad government. The two countries are continuing their squabble, now trading accusations of oil purchases from the terrorists in Syria. From the tone of Putin’s remarks as well as those made by President Erdogan of Turkey, it looks like the spat between Moscow and Ankara isn’t going to be resolved any time soon.

Putin’s speech left out one very important and recent Russian foreign policy maneuver, and that is Ukraine. Ukraine was not mentioned once in Putin’s speech to the Federal Assembly. Frankly, hours could be given to speculation as to why the still simmering conflict in the Donbas wasn’t mentioned. It could be argued that the sanctions levied against Russia have been replaced by the news out of Turkey and Syria, but those sanctions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and it’s still evident that they continue to sting the economic capabilities. A need to diversify and expand the economy away from oil and natural gas was brought up in the address, but specifics were rare and if action’s going to be taken, it would be helpful to see it sooner than later, and military campaigns in Ukraine as well as Syria aren’t likely to help that too much.

The war in Syria and icy tensions with Turkey have provided new talking points for Putin to rally the people around the white, blue, and red. How long they’ll stay around to distract from stagnation and uncertainty at home is yet to be seen.

by Kyle Menyhert

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.