Natalia Arno

President of Free Russia Foundation

Dec 31, 2017
The review of 2017: the third year for the Free Russia Foundation

The year of 2017, the third year of operation for the Free Russia Foundation, proved to be a very eventful year. Over the course of this year,  we worked hard and achieved quite a lot.  We continued to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and to inform Western audiences on Russia-related matters.

We continued our think tank activities and published three more reports on Russia-related subjects, conducted a series of presentations of our papers in Europe and the U.S, Ukraine, and Russia and organized dozens of briefings for Western decision and policy makers.

In January, we translated the report by Ilya Yashin “Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” about the entire arsenal of military, disinformation and other methods Putin’s Russia uses in Ukraine. To attract more attention to the problem and convince the West to continue its assistance to Ukraine, FRF’s President Natalia Arno wrote an op-ed for the Hill saying that “If the world blinks Putin will seize the rest of Ukraine”. The report was presented by FRF at the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, British and German parliaments.

In May, together with the Atlantic Council, we published the report “Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe” by our research expert Ilya Zaslavsky. We jointly launched this report at the U.S. Senate with Senator Jeanne Shaheen as a keynote speaker. Then we had a European tour with the report presenting at the European Parliament, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and leading European think tanks including London’s Chatham House and Berlin’s Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP. More on that could be found here.

After that European trip, it became clear to us that we need to follow up with a new report exposing Gazprom’s corruption and political implications of its Nord Stream 2 project to EU security and democracy. Our report “Corruption Pipeline” was published in and FRF made new European tours to Visegrad and Scandinavian countries. More on that could be found here.

Throughout the year we continued to serve as an informal “Embassy” for Russian pro-democracy activists, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations and expert community in the U.S., for whom we arranged meetings with various American or international organizations, think tanks, media outlets or put together panels on urgent topics.

Thus, in March we hosted a prominent environmentalist Evgenia Chirikova. Together with the Atlantic Council, we conducted a panel on recent emigration from Russia “Putin’s Exodus: the new Russian brain drain”. Other panelists included Sergey Erofeev, a sociologist, and Mikhail Kokorich, an entrepreneur. With Evgenia Chirikova we had many briefings on the rise of grassroots activity in Russia at the U.S. Congress, Department of State and other DC organizations.

In May we assisted Meduza, a leading Russian-speaking independent media outlet and Memorial Human Rights Center with panels, briefings, and meetings. Together with Meduza and Foreign Policy Initiative, we held the panel at the U.S. Congress “The Struggle for Free Speech in Russia” moderated by Jamie Kirchik, Brookings.

In July, we arranged a speech of Vladimir Ashurkov from Alexey Navalny’s team at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.  In August, we hosted Konstantin Rubakhin, an anti-corruption activist and Maria Epifanova, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta-Baltics.

In September, we hosted Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Boris Nemtsov Family.  In partnership with Institute of Modern Russia and National Endowment for Democracy, we held the panel at the U.S. Senate discussing prospects for Russian pro-democracy movement And with the Atlantic Council and IMR we conducted the panel on Boris Nemtsov’s case and its political and legal implications.  During a three-day visit of Vadim Prokhorov to DC, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia and Natalia Arno, FRF’s President, briefed a number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen on the situation in Russia, Nemtsov’s case and discussed the perspectives of Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. The hearings on Nemtsov Plaza were held in December at DC city council and attended by Zhanna Nemtsova, President of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom among others. FRF submitted its written testimony in support of Nemtsov Plaza to DC Council as well.

This year we held a very big event – in April, we opened our Free Russia House in Kiev.  Since that time, our Kyiv office was busy with regular panels, conferences, trainings and screenings of documentaries with over 1,000 people attending our events. Throughout the year our Kyiv stage featured such speakers as the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius, Ambassador John Herbst, prominent journalists David Satter, Matvey Ganapolsky, Evgeny Kiselev, an exiled Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, political analysts Alexander Morozov, Taras Berezovets, the Director of the Kennan Institute Kyiv Office Ekaterina Smagliy, Ondřej Kundra, a leading Czech investigative journalist, Tamila Tasheva, the Chair of the Board of the Crimea SOS and many many others.

We continued our humanitarian and legal aid to Russian refugees and emigrants assisting more than 300 people only in Ukraine, where at the Free Russia House we have opened public legal and psychological assistance consulting offices.

We started another big program this year – assistance to human rights defenders who had to flee from Russia in recent years. Through long-term fellowships and internships, we keep them engaged into Russia-related issues and help them continue their investigations or research. It’s a new initiative and we will keep our partners and supporters informed of it.

We keep fighting for the release of Ukrainian hostages still kept in Russian prisons. We are proud to contribute to the release of two leaders of Crimean Tatars – Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiigoz. We are concerned Roman Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist, and many other Ukrainians are still imprisoned and we will keep fighting for their freedom. In March and October, we hosted Mark Feygin and assisted with his advocacy efforts at the U.S. Congress and among human rights organizations. Their cases were discussed at the UN sessions, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Lantos Commission and other structures. We provided all the necessary information to the Ukraine Caucus of the U.S. Congress to issue its statement on Roman Sushchenko.

Together with Open Russia, we kept organizing Campaign Schools for activists from various Russian regions. In April, we studied French political and election system and observed the first round of the French presidential elections. In May-June, we analyzed the EU institutions in Brussels. And in September, we studied the German election system and observed its parliamentary elections.

There is much more we’ve done this year, but we realize there is even much more to do in the upcoming 2018 and years ahead until we have a truly free and democratic Russia. Russia we are proud of.  Russia for its people. Russia, a reliable partner on the international arena.

Let us thank all our partners, colleagues, and supporters for working together this year. Let us wish you success and happiness in 2018. We are looking forward to the new year – the year we will be a step closer to a free Russia!