PUTIN’S CULT OF PERSONALITY

Aug 14 2015

Even Vladimir Putin’s most passionate defenders do not deny that he now has a personality cult, but even his most committed critics acknowledge that such a cult is not an explanation but rather something that must be explained, all the more so because the Putin cult did not emerge full-blown all at once but rather has emerged and evolved over the last 15 years.

Although few people spoke about a Putin cult of personality in the first years of his rule, the BBC already in 2001 pointed to the appearance of Putin portraits in many public spaces in Russia and Italy’s “Corriere Della Sera” had an article speculating about its emergence. More suggestively, British political scientist Richard Sackwa suggests that a personality cult was part and parcel of Russian leadership, noting that popular songs in Russia began at that time to speak about Putin the way they had earlier spoken about Stalin.

Now, almost everyone speaks about a Putin cult of personality. Recently, Oleg Panfilov, a professor in Tbilisi, discussed how and why that happened and pointed to the essential shift from ironic or even critical comments about Putin to completely respectful ones. He dates that shift, one essential to the formation of a real cult, to a letter from a group of Leningrad professors who were upset by the presentation of Putin on the “Clowns” television program and Putin’s own promulgation of his Information Security Doctrine in September 2000, a document which laid the groundwork for censorship and expanded government propaganda.

Soon after that, Panfilov writes, the task of forming the image of the leader was assumed by his propagandists. The population could no longer be trusted to come up with the right one, and there followed a new imagery with Putin as a judoist, a jet pilot, a bare-chested fighter, and a devoted churchman.  “Young people started wearing t-shirts with pictures of Putin,” he continues, and the notion of “a strong country with a strong president began to spread.”

But despite all this, which emerged at the very beginning of Putin’s reign, it would be incorrect to assert that most Russians viewed him as the leader that they conceive him to be today.  A minority did so from the very beginning, but the majority had to be involved in this cult. And that took both time and the unceasing efforts of the Kremlin’s image makers.

Over time, the jokes were becoming less welcome and the cult of personality was becoming more rigid

That, in fact, constitutes the paradox of Putin’s first term. On the one hand, many Russians, including members of the intelligentsia, really did feel a certain sympathy to the young, businesslike and decisive successor of Yeltsin especially since Putin could be counted on not to embarrass them by any drunken antics like trying to conduct an orchestra or forgetting to leave his plane when he was supposed to.  And they thus viewed the new president not as an ideal leader but as a normal one, something that for many of them seemed to be little short of a miracle. But on the other hand, there were the beginnings of a Soviet-style cult of the leader’s personality, even though at that time Putin himself did not risk speaking about a return to Soviet times or doing away with the freedoms of Yeltsin’s.

Indeed, it many cases, it is difficult if not impossible to draw a clear line between a healthy popularity of the Russian president and a real cult of personality.  As long as the Kremlin tolerated jokes and parodies about Putin that distinction did not seem to matter as any overly enthusiastic treatments of his leadership for his sobriety and discipline would be balanced by jokes about his Chekist past and style and about his resemblance to other dictators like Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Few Russians and even fewer foreign observers noted that over time, the jokes were becoming less welcome and the cult of personality was becoming more rigid, something that not only signaled an end to the freedoms of the 1990s but pointed to more repression ahead.  That process, however, did not take place all at once and even in 2010, it was still possible to parody Putin and Dmitry Medvedev by speaking of a “multitude” of personalities when in fact it was becoming ever more obvious that there was only one who could be supported: All the others but not that one could be the subject of laughter.

This situation might have gone on for some time had it not been for the rise of anti-government protests at the end of 2011.  They suggested that at least some Russians no longer loved Putin and that many of them as before continued to laugh at him.  That was unacceptable to the Kremlin image makers and their response to their discovery was a concerted effort to form a genuine cult of personality and to impose it on the population.

In order to understand what they have done, one needs to keep in mind that the most significant group of values for Russians at that time were “defensive” ones, that is, a commitment to stability, peace and happiness of the population, a relatively high standard of living and a desire to avoid anything that might challenge that. The reasons for that are obvious: no one wanted to go back to the difficult economic times of the end of the USSR and the beginnings of the Russian Federation, and all feared that what they had now might disappear overnight.

Putin’s image makers cleverly exploited these fears.  As a result, at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, they promoted the idea that peace and stability depended on the personality of Vladimir Putin and that his defeat or ouster in and of itself would lead to chaos. And linked to that notion were the ideas that Russians must put up with corruption, illegality and the violation of their own rights lest things get worse and that Russians must view any critics of the existing regime as enemies who are threatening to destroy peace and stability.  That in turn led to the formal division of society and the radicalization of both liberals and patriots.

protests-feb-4-putin-in-jail

It is important to note that at that time, Putin’s political system was not idealized. Instead, it was promoted as “a lesser evil” as compared to possible social cataclysms. And to that extent, one should not speak even then of a full-blown cult of personality in the usual sense of the term.  But it was at that moment that such a cult began to be formed and ever more quickly as the regime sought to defend itself against any challenges. As a result, the focus on defensive values declined and the propagandists began to form a great power vision of Russia and its leader, a shift that was occasioned by the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine and that involved talk about the Russian world, of Russia as an empire, and of Russia’s neighbors as temporarily lost but permanently part of that state.

There was an obvious basis for such a development: the way in which the Soviet authorities treated the borderlands, the mistakes of Russian leaders in the 1990s, and the sense among many Russians that the promises democrats and reformers had made had not and even could not be fulfilled, all of which made many Russians perfectly ready to accept the arguments of the Kremlin that what was needed was a specifically Russian way forward with a leader cult and all the rest.

Those feelings were played to and exploited by a group of aggressive “new ideologists” like Starikov and Dugin and the creation of youth organizations which celebrated the Soviet period, accused the US of destroying the USSR, and welcomed opposing Russian culture to Western civilization.  Conspiracy theories multiplied and more or less quickly were assimilated into the new definition of Russian patriotism, a definition which presupposed the existence of a strong leader like Putin. Such feelings in turn were intensified by the rehabilitation of the Soviet past, the appearance of the cult of the Chekist in society and the whitewashing of the crimes of Joseph Stalin.

This shift from defensive to offensive values involved not only the creation of a genuine cult of personality around the leader but the formation of an entirely new set of foreign and domestic policies, although it is not difficult to see that from the logical point of view, these two groups of values are mutually exclusive since the defensive values want peace at any price and the great power ones seek war with a hostile world until the empire can be restored.

There are several reasons why Russians are able to accept this fundamental contradiction.  First and most important, few think about these things but simply accept what they see and hear on television where no one pushes the two sets of ideas to the point that their mutually exclusive character becomes obvious. Related to that, the unprecedented level of propaganda has created for Russians a completely different, alternative reality in which the first group of values supposedly harmoniously combines with the second, even though that is obviously not the case. And finally, Kremlin propagandists have cleverly insisted that these two things can be held together only if people rally round Putin as the national leader, the only person who can achieve both things at once. That is the true basis of his personality cult now – and also why it is so dangerous.

The rehabilitation of the Soviet past and the thorough formation by means of culture and the mass media of an image of external and internal enemies have been intensifying with each passing month and has created for most Russians an image of their country as a besieged fortress which only one person can defend and save – Vladimir Putin. And that in turn has allowed the regime to combine the notions that “without him things will be worse” and that with him Russia will be able to “rise from its knees” and restore itself as a great power and empire.

The most tragic aspect of this is that under its influence have fallen many of those who protested against Putin in 2011-2012. In the past, they viewed Putin with humor and could distinguish black from white; but now, there is no place for humor and many of them have simply turned off their psychological defense mechanisms by viewing Putin as their salvation. But even more important, the Putin cult is useful to and being exploited by Putin’s entourage who see it as the only way to protect their illegal activities and who recognize that if things go wrong, Putin rather than they will be blamed.

As a result, Putin now enjoys unprecedented expressions of support; but it is important to remember that the 80 plus percent approval he normally gets now is not all of a piece. Instead, there are at least six different categories of people who lay stress on different parts of the cult and who may go their own separate ways if the Kremlin leader departs from their understanding too quickly or too radically in the future.

These include  the active imperialists who want an aggressive foreign policy and will not be satisfied by anything less, the active conformists who go along with the regime for pragmatic reasons, the passive conformists who see no reason for not going along and hope to avoid negative consequences for themselves, the mass of people who believe what they hear on television but don’t think too much about any particular issue, zombified people who accept everything they are told and blindly follow it, and the active victims of propaganda who incorporate propaganda into their own self-concepts.

At present, these six groups are held together by the current definition of the Putin cult of personality, but they are likely to go their own separate ways as the cult evolves – and consequently keeping track of how the leadership is promoting the cult at any particular time is a good indication of where the Kremlin is heading – and perhaps even more of what it and its chief occupant fear most.

By Ksenia Kirillova

Although few people spoke about a Putin cult of personality in the first years of his rule, the BBC already in 2001 pointed to the appearance of Putin portraits in many public spaces in Russia and Italy’s “Corriere Della Sera” had an article speculating about its emergence. More suggestively, British political scientist Richard Sackwa suggests that a personality cult was part and parcel of Russian leadership, noting that popular songs in Russia began at that time to speak about Putin the way they had earlier spoken about Stalin.

Now, almost everyone speaks about a Putin cult of personality. Recently, Oleg Panfilov, a professor in Tbilisi, discussed how and why that happened and pointed to the essential shift from ironic or even critical comments about Putin to completely respectful ones. He dates that shift, one essential to the formation of a real cult, to a letter from a group of Leningrad professors who were upset by the presentation of Putin on the “Clowns” television program and Putin’s own promulgation of his Information Security Doctrine in September 2000, a document which laid the groundwork for censorship and expanded government propaganda.

Soon after that, Panfilov writes, the task of forming the image of the leader was assumed by his propagandists. The population could no longer be trusted to come up with the right one, and there followed a new imagery with Putin as a judoist, a jet pilot, a bare-chested fighter, and a devoted churchman.  “Young people started wearing t-shirts with pictures of Putin,” he continues, and the notion of “a strong country with a strong president began to spread.”

But despite all this, which emerged at the very beginning of Putin’s reign, it would be incorrect to assert that most Russians viewed him as the leader that they conceive him to be today.  A minority did so from the very beginning, but the majority had to be involved in this cult. And that took both time and the unceasing efforts of the Kremlin’s image makers.

Over time, the jokes were becoming less welcome and the cult of personality was becoming more rigid

That, in fact, constitutes the paradox of Putin’s first term. On the one hand, many Russians, including members of the intelligentsia, really did feel a certain sympathy to the young, businesslike and decisive successor of Yeltsin especially since Putin could be counted on not to embarrass them by any drunken antics like trying to conduct an orchestra or forgetting to leave his plane when he was supposed to.  And they thus viewed the new president not as an ideal leader but as a normal one, something that for many of them seemed to be little short of a miracle. But on the other hand, there were the beginnings of a Soviet-style cult of the leader’s personality, even though at that time Putin himself did not risk speaking about a return to Soviet times or doing away with the freedoms of Yeltsin’s.

Indeed, it many cases, it is difficult if not impossible to draw a clear line between a healthy popularity of the Russian president and a real cult of personality.  As long as the Kremlin tolerated jokes and parodies about Putin that distinction did not seem to matter as any overly enthusiastic treatments of his leadership for his sobriety and discipline would be balanced by jokes about his Chekist past and style and about his resemblance to other dictators like Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Few Russians and even fewer foreign observers noted that over time, the jokes were becoming less welcome and the cult of personality was becoming more rigid, something that not only signaled an end to the freedoms of the 1990s but pointed to more repression ahead.  That process, however, did not take place all at once and even in 2010, it was still possible to parody Putin and Dmitry Medvedev by speaking of a “multitude” of personalities when in fact it was becoming ever more obvious that there was only one who could be supported: All the others but not that one could be the subject of laughter.

This situation might have gone on for some time had it not been for the rise of anti-government protests at the end of 2011.  They suggested that at least some Russians no longer loved Putin and that many of them as before continued to laugh at him.  That was unacceptable to the Kremlin image makers and their response to their discovery was a concerted effort to form a genuine cult of personality and to impose it on the population.

In order to understand what they have done, one needs to keep in mind that the most significant group of values for Russians at that time were “defensive” ones, that is, a commitment to stability, peace and happiness of the population, a relatively high standard of living and a desire to avoid anything that might challenge that. The reasons for that are obvious: no one wanted to go back to the difficult economic times of the end of the USSR and the beginnings of the Russian Federation, and all feared that what they had now might disappear overnight.

Putin’s image makers cleverly exploited these fears.  As a result, at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, they promoted the idea that peace and stability depended on the personality of Vladimir Putin and that his defeat or ouster in and of itself would lead to chaos. And linked to that notion were the ideas that Russians must put up with corruption, illegality and the violation of their own rights lest things get worse and that Russians must view any critics of the existing regime as enemies who are threatening to destroy peace and stability.  That in turn led to the formal division of society and the radicalization of both liberals and patriots.

protests-feb-4-putin-in-jail

It is important to note that at that time, Putin’s political system was not idealized. Instead, it was promoted as “a lesser evil” as compared to possible social cataclysms. And to that extent, one should not speak even then of a full-blown cult of personality in the usual sense of the term.  But it was at that moment that such a cult began to be formed and ever more quickly as the regime sought to defend itself against any challenges. As a result, the focus on defensive values declined and the propagandists began to form a great power vision of Russia and its leader, a shift that was occasioned by the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine and that involved talk about the Russian world, of Russia as an empire, and of Russia’s neighbors as temporarily lost but permanently part of that state.

There was an obvious basis for such a development: the way in which the Soviet authorities treated the borderlands, the mistakes of Russian leaders in the 1990s, and the sense among many Russians that the promises democrats and reformers had made had not and even could not be fulfilled, all of which made many Russians perfectly ready to accept the arguments of the Kremlin that what was needed was a specifically Russian way forward with a leader cult and all the rest.

Those feelings were played to and exploited by a group of aggressive “new ideologists” like Starikov and Dugin and the creation of youth organizations which celebrated the Soviet period, accused the US of destroying the USSR, and welcomed opposing Russian culture to Western civilization.  Conspiracy theories multiplied and more or less quickly were assimilated into the new definition of Russian patriotism, a definition which presupposed the existence of a strong leader like Putin. Such feelings in turn were intensified by the rehabilitation of the Soviet past, the appearance of the cult of the Chekist in society and the whitewashing of the crimes of Joseph Stalin.

This shift from defensive to offensive values involved not only the creation of a genuine cult of personality around the leader but the formation of an entirely new set of foreign and domestic policies, although it is not difficult to see that from the logical point of view, these two groups of values are mutually exclusive since the defensive values want peace at any price and the great power ones seek war with a hostile world until the empire can be restored.

There are several reasons why Russians are able to accept this fundamental contradiction.  First and most important, few think about these things but simply accept what they see and hear on television where no one pushes the two sets of ideas to the point that their mutually exclusive character becomes obvious. Related to that, the unprecedented level of propaganda has created for Russians a completely different, alternative reality in which the first group of values supposedly harmoniously combines with the second, even though that is obviously not the case. And finally, Kremlin propagandists have cleverly insisted that these two things can be held together only if people rally round Putin as the national leader, the only person who can achieve both things at once. That is the true basis of his personality cult now – and also why it is so dangerous.

The rehabilitation of the Soviet past and the thorough formation by means of culture and the mass media of an image of external and internal enemies have been intensifying with each passing month and has created for most Russians an image of their country as a besieged fortress which only one person can defend and save – Vladimir Putin. And that in turn has allowed the regime to combine the notions that “without him things will be worse” and that with him Russia will be able to “rise from its knees” and restore itself as a great power and empire.

The most tragic aspect of this is that under its influence have fallen many of those who protested against Putin in 2011-2012. In the past, they viewed Putin with humor and could distinguish black from white; but now, there is no place for humor and many of them have simply turned off their psychological defense mechanisms by viewing Putin as their salvation. But even more important, the Putin cult is useful to and being exploited by Putin’s entourage who see it as the only way to protect their illegal activities and who recognize that if things go wrong, Putin rather than they will be blamed.

As a result, Putin now enjoys unprecedented expressions of support; but it is important to remember that the 80 plus percent approval he normally gets now is not all of a piece. Instead, there are at least six different categories of people who lay stress on different parts of the cult and who may go their own separate ways if the Kremlin leader departs from their understanding too quickly or too radically in the future.

These include  the active imperialists who want an aggressive foreign policy and will not be satisfied by anything less, the active conformists who go along with the regime for pragmatic reasons, the passive conformists who see no reason for not going along and hope to avoid negative consequences for themselves, the mass of people who believe what they hear on television but don’t think too much about any particular issue, zombified people who accept everything they are told and blindly follow it, and the active victims of propaganda who incorporate propaganda into their own self-concepts.

At present, these six groups are held together by the current definition of the Putin cult of personality, but they are likely to go their own separate ways as the cult evolves – and consequently keeping track of how the leadership is promoting the cult at any particular time is a good indication of where the Kremlin is heading – and perhaps even more of what it and its chief occupant fear most.

By Ksenia Kirillova

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.

Joint Call of Parliamentarians on the condition of Alexei Navalny in prison

Apr 08 2021

April 8, 2021

We, the undersigned, are shocked and troubled by the most recent news of Alexei Navalny’s condition in prison. 

Russia’s leading opposition figure is reported to suffer severe back pain with losing sensitivity in parts of his legs. It is no more than six months since he survived a vicious poisoning attack with a nerve agent that has long-term crippling effects on his health. In prison, he is systematically denied any medical treatment. On top, prison guards wake him up every hour at night, a practice amounting to torture by sleep deprivation according to his lawyers. This is why medical experts called on the Russian authorities to allow Mr. Navalny’s treatment and why he himself now resorted to a hunger strike. Let’s not forget: Mr. Navalny’s incarceration itself is a travesty of justice – he was formally sent to prison for not checking in with Russian authorities on a fabricated case (as confirmed by European Court of Human Rights) when he was recuperating in Germany from poisoning and subsequent coma.

Russian authorities with its secret services tried to kill Alexei Navalny last August, they may now be attempting the same, in a slower, even more cynical way. 

Europe has offered Alexei Navalny a place to recover from the attempt at his life. Specialized labs in Germany, France and Sweden confirmed the assassination attempt used Novichok, an internationally banned chemical weapon. Angela Merkel personally met Mr Navalny in hospital and many other Western leaders expressed their solidarity after the poisoning attack. We need to intervene again. 

We urge Russia to immediately allow medical treatment of Alexei Navalny and release him from prison. We call on the EU Council as well as EU member states’ leaders to reach out to Russian authorities to request the immediate release of Alexei Navalny, which was mandated by European Court of Human Rights’ decision in February 2021. In addition, we demand the EU Council task EU ambassador to Russia to conduct, together partners from the UK, Canada and the US, a visit of the prison facility and meet Alexei Navalny. It is critical now that Alexei Navalny’s fate became the symbol of injustice many thousands face because of increasing brutality of Russian regime against its own citizens. 

In December 2020, the EU launched its Global Human Rights Sanction Regime modelled on so-called Magnitsky Act. This law has been inspired by one Sergei Magnitsky, a brave Russian lawyer who was tortured to death in prison in 2009 – he was systematically denied treatment when he developed a serious medical condition. We still can act now in case of Alexei Navalny so we avoid commemorating later.

Marek HILSER, Senator, Czech Republic

Andrius KUBILIUS, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Lukas WAGENKNECHT, Senator, Czech Republic

Žygimantas PAVILIONIS, MP, Lithuania

Miroslav BALATKA, Senator, Czech Republic

André GATTOLIN, Senator, France

Mikulas BEK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Nicolae ŞTEFĂNUȚĂ, MEP, Renew, Romania

David SMOLJAK, Senator, Czech Republic 

Petras AUŠTREVIČIUS, MEP, Renew, Lithuania

Tomas FIALA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Liudas MAŽYLIS, MEP, EPP Lithuania

Zdenek NYTRA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Dace MELBĀRDE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan SOBOTKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Matas MALDEIKIS, MP, Lithuania

Jiri RUZICKA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Bernard GUETTA, MEP, Renew, France

Jaromira VITKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic 

Rasa JUKNEVIČIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Petr OREL, Senator, Czech Republic 

Tomasz FRANKOWSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland 

Miroslava NEMCOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Hermann TERTSCH, MEP, ECR, Spain

Premysl RABAS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Aušra MALDEIKIENĖ, MEP, EPP, Lithuania

Ladislav KOS, Senator, Czech Republic 

Attila ARA-KOVÁCS, MEP, S&D, Hungary

Sarka JELINKOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Erik MARQUARDT, MEP, Greens, Germany

Pavel FISCHER, Senator, Czech Republic

Pernille WEISS, MEP, EPP, Denmark

Helena LANGSADLOVA, MP, Czech Republic

Roberts ZĪLE, MEP, ECR, Latvia

Jan LIPAVSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Klemen GROŠELJ, MEP, Renew, Slovenia

Pavel ZACEK, MP, Czech Republic

Riho TERRAS, MEP, EPP, Estonia

Ondrej BENESIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Miriam LEXMANN, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Frantisek KOPRIVA, MP, Czech Republic 

Sandra KALNIETE, MEP, EPP, Latvia

Petr GAZDIK, MP, Czech Republic 

Jerzy BUZEK, MEP, EPP, Poland

Tomas MARTINEK, MP, Czech Republic 

Janina OCHOJSKA, MEP, EPP, Poland

Jan BARTOSEK, MP, Czech Republic

Eugen TOMAC, MEP, EPP, Romania

Jan FARSKY, MP, Czech Republic

Ivan ŠTEFANEC, MEP, EPP, Slovakia

Roman SKLENAK, MP, Czech Republic

Krzysztof HETMAN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Frantisek VACHA, MP, Czech Republic

Ivars IJABS, MEP, Renew, Latvia

Marek VYBORNY, MP, Czech Republic

Franc BOGOVIČ, MEP, EPP, Slovenia

Zbynek STANJURA, MP, Czech Republic

Radvilė MORKŪNAITĖ-MIKULĖNIENĖ, MP, Lithuania

Petr FIALA, MP, Czech Republic

Raphaël GLUCKSMANN, MEP, S&D, France

Vít RAKUSAN, MP, Czech Republic

Juozas OLEKAS, MEP, S&D, Lithuania

Jaroslav VYMAZAL, MP, Czech Republic

Assita KANKO, MEP, ECR, Belgium

Adela SIPOVA, Senator, Czech Republic

Radosław SIKORSKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Róża THUN UND HOHENSTEIN, MEP, EPP, Poland

Javier NART, MEP, Renew, Spain

Andrzej HALICKI, MEP, EPP, Poland

Alexander ALEXANDROV YORDANOV, MEP, EPP, Bulgaria

Ondřej KOVAŘÍK, MEP, Renew, Czech Republic

Andreas SCHIEDER, MEP, S&D, Austria

Leopoldo LÓPEZ GIL, MEP, EPP, Spain

Sergey LAGODINSKY, MEP, Greens, Germany

Antonio LÓPEZ-ISTÚRIZ WHITE, MEP, EPP, Spain

Marketa GREGOROVA, MEP, Greens, Czech Republic

Lolita ČIGĀNE, MP, Latvia

Marko MIHKELSON, MP, Estonia

Renata CHMELOVA, Czech Republic

Bogdan KLICH, Senator, Republic of Poland

Transatlantic Interparliamentary Statement on Unprecedented Mass Arrest of Russian Pro-Democracy Leaders on March 13, 2021

Mar 25 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 25, 2021

Contacts:
Honourable Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, OQ, Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights
+1 514.735.8778
Natalia Arno, Free Russia Foundation
+1 202.549.2417

TRANSATLANTIC INTERPARLIAMENTARY STATEMENT
On unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders on March 13, 2021

“We, the undersigned members of the foreign affairs committees of legislatures around the world – the duly elected democratic voices of our constituents and countries – unreservedly condemn the unprecedented mass arrest of Russian pro-democracy leaders. 

A violation of the Russian constitution and of the country’s international legal obligations, these unjust and arbitrary arrests are an assault on the last bastion of the Russian democratic movement. United in common cause, we call for an end to Putin’s punitive persecution and prosecutions of Russian civil society leaders, the release of all political prisoners, and the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Russia’s architects of repression.

The crimes perpetrated by Putin’s regime against the Russian people and against the international community have been deadly and are well-documented. Left unchecked, its internal repression has often morphed into external aggression. Wars, murders, theft, embezzlement, nuclear blackmail, disinformation, election interference — they are so numerous and now so well-known, that we feel no need to enumerate all of them in this letter. Under the cover of Covid restrictions, we have seen a further intensification of these trends.

Last year, Putin’s regime illegally amended the Russian constitution, executing a constitutional coup, allowing Putin to stay in power indefinitely and thereby formalizing the Russian transition to authoritarianism. 

In January, he arrested Aleksey Navalny, who was punished with a nearly three-year prison term for not meeting his parole obligations because he was out of the country convalescing from a state-sponsored assassination attempt. Putin then brutally suppressed the nation-wide protests that emerged in Navalny’s support, arbitrarily arresting thousands, and launching criminal prosecutions against them.

On March 13th, security services entered a perfectly lawful Congress of elected municipal deputies and detained nearly 200 people for not adhering to the Kremlin’s command of how to interact with local constituents. In today’s Russia, disagreeing with Putin is not tolerated, and those who do find themselves in jail or worse.

Some of those detained included elected leaders like Ilya Yashin and Maxim Reznik, pro-democracy reformers Andrey Pivovarov and Anastasia Burakova, and popular politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. Mr. Kara-Murza is a top public intellectual and opposition leader whose transformative work on behalf of the Russian people has had a global resonance. His vision and values – eloquently conveyed with a uniquely compelling moral clarity and commitment, often before our respective legislatures – led to his earlier being targeted by the regime for assassination, attempts on his life that he survived twice. The work of such courageous leaders continues to be a source of inspiration in our pursuit of collective peace, security, and dignity for all.

For a society to succeed it must have a set of principles and values that guides it. Most notably, this includes a legal system that honors the rights of all its people and not solely for those who deem themselves leaders and the sycophants who profit from them.

Sadly, these recent developments demonstrate yet again that only Putin’s criminality and impunity prevail in Russia today. The way the regime runs its politics is indistinguishable from the way it runs its foreign policy and its business dealings. To indulge such malign behavior by the Kremlin toward those it disagrees with is to encourage its corrosive behavior in all these other areas.

The democracies of the world have a choice: maintain a normal relationship with a rogue state, continuing to send the message that its treatment of its own citizens is to be overlooked, and its malicious activities are to be condoned. Or, sending a clear and compelling message: that until the Kremlin reverses its troubling trajectory, the current status quo will be unacceptable. This includes targeted sanctions against Putin and his corrupt and criminal cronies – such as canceling access to our banking system, business ties, and safe harbor in our best neighborhoods and schools – ensuring that they cannot enjoy the liberties in our countries that they deny their compatriots in theirs. 

For the sake of a free Russia and a free world, we trust democracies will make the right choice.”

Rasa Jukneviciene, Member of the European Parliament

Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament

Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament

Pavel Fischer, Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of the Senate of the Czech Republic

Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Richards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Latvia

Žygimantas Pavilions, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Bogdan Klich, Senator, Chairman of the Foreign and European Union Committee of the Senate of the Republic of Poland

Eerik Niiles Kross, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Estonia

Emanuelis Zingeris, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania

Benjamin L. Cardin, Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)

Bill Keating, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations and Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment

Brian Fitzpatrick, Member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations

Kimberley Kitching, Senator, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Deputy Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Parliament of Australia

Chris Bryant, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Bob Seely, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.