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’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More

Civic Solidarity Platform Appeal with Regard to the Recent Events in Belarus

Aug 12 2020

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD REACT IMMEDIATELY AND STRONGLY TO RIGGED PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND MASSIVE VIOLENCE OF SECURITY FORCES AGAINST PEACEFUL PROTESTORS IN BELARUS More