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

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.