Putin’s next term: experts expect further deterioration in relations with Russia

Apr 07 2018

This week, experts gathered at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank, to discuss Russia’s recent presidential elections and Vladimir Putin’s next term. The experts largely expect relations between Russia and the West to deteriorate, while also calling into question Putin’s popularity at home.

The panel, which gathered on April 4th, included:

  • Strobe Talbott, distinguished fellow-in-residence at Brooking Institution
  • Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University
  • Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation
  • Julia Ioffe, contributing writer for The Atlantic

Moderated by Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at Brookings Institution

Cold War 2.0 or “worse before it gets better?”

Strobe Talbott said that we are in a Cold War 2.0, with Russia returning to autocracy and seeking to expand its dominance outside the country’s borders and to weaken the West. However, there are also differences with the Cold War, which makes the situation more alarming. For instance, there is “no process underway to mitigate the peril of a hot war,” said Talbott. There is no arms control mechanism between Russia and NATO and whereas “old treaties are wasting away,” new treaties are needed for areas such as the digital space.

Talbott said there is concern over “transatlantic confidence and institutions” due to “the stalled European project” and the lack of coherent policy towards Russia with president Trump, who has expressed an affinity for Putin and has hesitated to condemn autocratic leaders.

Talbott said that the West should be aware that the situation could get worse, saying Putin is dangerous because “he has gotten away with so much, so he will try to get away with more.”

Angela Stent said that President Putin is likely to continue to exploit the differences and policy disparities between the U.S. and the European Union. The current U.S. administration, she said, takes a tough approach towards Russia, but President Trump has held on to a belief of having a “forward-looking relationship with Putin.” In the EU, although countries have shown solidarity with Great Britain in the aftermath of the Sergey Skripal poisoning, it is far from “perfect unity.” With some EU leaders urging for dialogue and cooperation with Russia, it is clear for Putin that “nobody likes a high level of tensions.”

Julia Ioffe added that she would expect “to see more adventurism” from the Russian government. She said the reaction from the West on the poisoning of Sergey Skripal seems to have been unexpected for Putin, pushing him further into “a corner.” In order to get out, Putin might respond with another “spectacular egregious act” in the year to come. Putin is also still trying to renegotiate “the terms of surrender in the Cold War,” and to show that Russia is equal with the West and not a “child” who can be punished. Looking forward, Ioffe agreed that “things will get far worse before they get better.”

Real popularity?

Vladimir Kara-Murza said that the Western media still uses the word election in relation to Russia, without quotation marks and most of the world leaders congratulated Putin on the victory. This despite the OSCE’s statement that Russia’s presidential elections were “a choice without real competition,” as strong candidates were eliminated and critical voices were muffled. In Russia, says Kara-Murza, the elections have lost their purpose, with rules being shifted and “the end result never in doubt.”  Kara-Murza said that assertions of Putin’s popularity “have never been tested in fair elections.”

Yet this applies to elections on all levels in Russia, noted Kara-Murza. In Yekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia, the authorities have just abolished direct mayoral elections, said Kara-Murza, as they realized they couldn’t win over the popular and outspoken opposition candidate and current mayor Yevgeny Roizman. Mayors are only directly elected in seven regional capitals, which is less than a tenth of all the regional capitals, said Kara-Murza. “Directly elected mayors used to be a norm in Russian cities,” said Kara-Murza, “but are now fast approaching extinction.”

Ioffe added that in the aftermath of the tragic fire in the Siberian city Kemerovo on March 25th, when the “very popular” Putin visited the city, the streets were cleared from people and the president did not meet with grieving people. Putin only met with the governor, who apologized to Putin, not to people, which shows “who is accountable to whom and the popularity of the president.”

 “Phenomenal hypocrisy”

Stent noted that the Russian economy and money, unlike that of the Soviet Union, are integrated into the West, which makes it more difficult for Western countries to respond to Russia’s behavior.

Russian money “is very present in Great Britain,” which is one of the reasons Great Britain didn’t apply any strong measures against Russia after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. But this money is also very present in the U.S and its luxury real estate added Stent.

Kara-Murza said the elites of Putin’s regime “want to steal in Russia,” but to stash their wealth and families abroad. He said there is a “phenomenal hypocrisy” – a situation where people who violate basic human rights and rule of law in their own country, use the same privileges in the West. Moreover, the West, praising itself for democracy, rule of law and human rights, has been welcoming these people and their “dirty” money for a decade.

In terms of the violation of human rights, said Kara-Murza, Russia today is comparable to the late Soviet Union, with 146 political prisoners according to a modest estimate.  He praised the adoption of the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which allows personal sanctions against those involved in the abuse of human rights and corruption, but said more should be done.

Polyakova emphasized that the West needs to use personal sanctions, not broad economic sanctions that harm the economy and people as a result.

 by Valeria Jegisman

The panel, which gathered on April 4th, included:

  • Strobe Talbott, distinguished fellow-in-residence at Brooking Institution
  • Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University
  • Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation
  • Julia Ioffe, contributing writer for The Atlantic

Moderated by Alina Polyakova, David M. Rubenstein Fellow at Brookings Institution

Cold War 2.0 or “worse before it gets better?”

Strobe Talbott said that we are in a Cold War 2.0, with Russia returning to autocracy and seeking to expand its dominance outside the country’s borders and to weaken the West. However, there are also differences with the Cold War, which makes the situation more alarming. For instance, there is “no process underway to mitigate the peril of a hot war,” said Talbott. There is no arms control mechanism between Russia and NATO and whereas “old treaties are wasting away,” new treaties are needed for areas such as the digital space.

Talbott said there is concern over “transatlantic confidence and institutions” due to “the stalled European project” and the lack of coherent policy towards Russia with president Trump, who has expressed an affinity for Putin and has hesitated to condemn autocratic leaders.

Talbott said that the West should be aware that the situation could get worse, saying Putin is dangerous because “he has gotten away with so much, so he will try to get away with more.”

Angela Stent said that President Putin is likely to continue to exploit the differences and policy disparities between the U.S. and the European Union. The current U.S. administration, she said, takes a tough approach towards Russia, but President Trump has held on to a belief of having a “forward-looking relationship with Putin.” In the EU, although countries have shown solidarity with Great Britain in the aftermath of the Sergey Skripal poisoning, it is far from “perfect unity.” With some EU leaders urging for dialogue and cooperation with Russia, it is clear for Putin that “nobody likes a high level of tensions.”

Julia Ioffe added that she would expect “to see more adventurism” from the Russian government. She said the reaction from the West on the poisoning of Sergey Skripal seems to have been unexpected for Putin, pushing him further into “a corner.” In order to get out, Putin might respond with another “spectacular egregious act” in the year to come. Putin is also still trying to renegotiate “the terms of surrender in the Cold War,” and to show that Russia is equal with the West and not a “child” who can be punished. Looking forward, Ioffe agreed that “things will get far worse before they get better.”

Real popularity?

Vladimir Kara-Murza said that the Western media still uses the word election in relation to Russia, without quotation marks and most of the world leaders congratulated Putin on the victory. This despite the OSCE’s statement that Russia’s presidential elections were “a choice without real competition,” as strong candidates were eliminated and critical voices were muffled. In Russia, says Kara-Murza, the elections have lost their purpose, with rules being shifted and “the end result never in doubt.”  Kara-Murza said that assertions of Putin’s popularity “have never been tested in fair elections.”

Yet this applies to elections on all levels in Russia, noted Kara-Murza. In Yekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia, the authorities have just abolished direct mayoral elections, said Kara-Murza, as they realized they couldn’t win over the popular and outspoken opposition candidate and current mayor Yevgeny Roizman. Mayors are only directly elected in seven regional capitals, which is less than a tenth of all the regional capitals, said Kara-Murza. “Directly elected mayors used to be a norm in Russian cities,” said Kara-Murza, “but are now fast approaching extinction.”

Ioffe added that in the aftermath of the tragic fire in the Siberian city Kemerovo on March 25th, when the “very popular” Putin visited the city, the streets were cleared from people and the president did not meet with grieving people. Putin only met with the governor, who apologized to Putin, not to people, which shows “who is accountable to whom and the popularity of the president.”

 “Phenomenal hypocrisy”

Stent noted that the Russian economy and money, unlike that of the Soviet Union, are integrated into the West, which makes it more difficult for Western countries to respond to Russia’s behavior.

Russian money “is very present in Great Britain,” which is one of the reasons Great Britain didn’t apply any strong measures against Russia after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. But this money is also very present in the U.S and its luxury real estate added Stent.

Kara-Murza said the elites of Putin’s regime “want to steal in Russia,” but to stash their wealth and families abroad. He said there is a “phenomenal hypocrisy” – a situation where people who violate basic human rights and rule of law in their own country, use the same privileges in the West. Moreover, the West, praising itself for democracy, rule of law and human rights, has been welcoming these people and their “dirty” money for a decade.

In terms of the violation of human rights, said Kara-Murza, Russia today is comparable to the late Soviet Union, with 146 political prisoners according to a modest estimate.  He praised the adoption of the Magnitsky Act in 2012, which allows personal sanctions against those involved in the abuse of human rights and corruption, but said more should be done.

Polyakova emphasized that the West needs to use personal sanctions, not broad economic sanctions that harm the economy and people as a result.

 by Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.