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

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.