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.

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

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

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.