Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Russian foreign policy: disruption and reflection of domestic policies

Jun 18 2018

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president.

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. The panelists argued that Russian foreign policy is largely a reflection of domestic developments, that there is a distinction between the Kremlin regime and Russia itself, and that thoughtful engagement and cooperation is needed between Russia and the West.

The panel included:

Andrei Kozyrev, a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1990-1996)
Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Former Deputy Leader of the People’s Freedom Party
Vitali Shkliarov, Russian Political Strategist; Former Senior Campaign Adviser to Ksenia Sobchak

Russian foreign policy: a disruptive approach intertwined with domestic politics

Natalia Arno said that there are many voices in the West that call for forgetting past disputes and starting a dialogue with Russia to tackle global challenges, but it is important to remember “how Putin acts and why he started to act like he does.” “The phenomenon of disruption,” said Arno, “is the main choice for his foreign policy.” The West’s failure to take serious steps after the war in Georgia in 2008, she said, contributed to the expansion of disruptive strategies in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, and it is unlikely that Putin will stop there. “While we are trying to understand his policies, we should always remember it is very beneficial for him to act in a disruptive way on the international arena.”

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russia’s course in turning away from an “open-minded” foreign policy during 18 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule has partly been a consequence of a “sense of betrayal by the West,” such as the expansion of NATO. The “betrayal” rationale is how Putin explains the shift in foreign policy to himself and to the people of Russia, “selling” a story of “us against them” that helps Putin “unite people” backing him. The escalation of tensions and Western sanctions have only helped Putin entrench this message, supported by a perfected propaganda machine. “Over the years that has become his [Putin’s] mantra,” said Shkliarov, adding that the West’s actions to push Russia into isolation are only contributing to this.

“When we talk about Putin’s foreign policy,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, “it is very important to keep in mind that his foreign policy is a reflection and a function of a continuation of his domestic politics.”  He refuted the concept of an “early, middle and late Putin,” saying that the authoritarian trends of his rule, which have now “reached extremes,” have been present since the beginning. Western leaders have largely preferred to ignore domestic repressions within Russia, in an effort to preserve the “modus operandi” of international cooperation, thus pursuing their own interests over values, yet this strategy has turned out to be shortsighted. “Mr. Putin has shown it is just a matter of time before domestic repression translates into external aggression,” said Kara-Murza.  He said Russian foreign policy has always been determined by the domestic situation.  The world will see a completely different foreign policy take effect with a democratic change in Russia, as was the case prior to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, he said.

Andrei Kozyrev said it is essential to “distinguish between Russian national interest and the regime’s interests,” and the current foreign policy is completely contrary to the Russian national interest. Portraying the West as an enemy has helped justify the seizure of power by the security services, “rather than a democratically elected government.” Russian involvement in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts is contrary to the national interest, said Kozyrev, and Russia needs cooperation and partnerships with “most developed countries in the world” in order to become a modern country. In fact, said Kozyrev, he does not see real conflicting interests in U.S. and Russian foreign policy that make cooperation impossible. “Russia and the U.S. cooperate in outer space, so it only takes one step to descend from outer space to the earth, and it depends on domestic development in Russia,” said Kozyrev.


Engaging with Russia

Vitali Shkliarov said that Russians and Americans have to try to find a way for dialogue. The current U.S. president, he said, “is building a bridge with the most aggressive dictator” of North Korea, so why wouldn’t engagement between the U.S. and Russia work? Communication is very important in building dialogue and there is scope for cooperation in the fight against terrorism and in other global challenges, said Shkliarov. “I believe where there is a will, there is a way,” said Shkliarov, but noted that at the moment it feels like “there is no will on either side.” 

Natalia Arno said a policy of deterrence, containment and engagement should be applied towards Russia. Russian civil society, independent media and pro-democratic forces could be engaged in dialogue, said Arno, adding that behind the headlines there is actually a growing grassroots movement in Russia. Arno said there are more and more young people demanding change in Russia, and more people are participating in local politics – the only level of government left where democratically minded people can act. An example of this, she said, is last year’s successful municipal elections in Moscow, where the democratic opposition candidates became the second largest political power in the capital after the ruling party. These “new institutionalized sprouts of pro-democracy forces” are examples of who needs to be engaged in the dialogue, said Arno. 

Vladimir Kara-Murza said contact with civil society is important, but there is also the question of engagement with the regime, and the quality of engagement. Even during the most difficult periods of the Cold War, said Kara-Murza, Western leaders were able to successfully negotiate arms control agreements and often secure the release of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. He said that with more than 150 political prisoners in Russia today, and the hunger strike of Oleg Sentsov – the jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who demands the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia – there are not a lot of Western leaders who prominently raise this issue. “It is not about engaging or not engaging, it is not a question of talking or not talking with Putin’s regime – it is a question of what you talk about, […] it is about engaging with principles and engaging smartly.”

Andrei Kozyrev said that for any engagement to be successful, diplomatic efforts and thoughtful, prepared agreements are necessary, rather than just “engagement which ends with hugs and kisses.” Authoritarian leaders, said Kozyrev, dislike democracy, but “they also like to be seen as accepted by Western leaders because it plays to their domestic image of tough but respected,” said Kozyrev. Yet engagement is important and possible, said Kozyrev – “it is important to see where you can cooperate and where not.”

By Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Kremlin’s Decision to Annex the Occupied Territories of Ukraine and Preparations for Mobilization in Russia

Sep 20 2022

On September 20, 2022, the occupation authorities of the self-proclaimed republics “LNR” and “DNR” and other occupied territories of Ukraine, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, hastily announced that they would hold “referendums on joining Russia” in the near future. The authorities of the “LNR” and “DNR” added that the vote will take place as early as this week, from September 23 to 27, 2022.

On the same day, the Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization,” “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian Criminal Code. The deputies voted for the law in the third reading unanimously — all 389 of them. Now voluntary surrender, looting and unauthorized abandonment of a unit during combat operations will result in imprisonment.

From the first day of the war unleashed by Putin’s regime and its allies against independent Ukraine, Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights activists forced to leave the country because of direct security threats, has condemned the crimes of Putin’s regime against independent Ukraine. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and consider human life and freedom to be of the highest value.

The forthcoming “referendums”, mobilization, and martial law are a collapse of the whole system of “Putin’s stability,” the illusion of which the Kremlin has been trying to maintain since the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is preparing to blatantly violate international law once again and launch an attack on democracy and freedom in Ukraine and Europe. Any statements by the Kremlin that residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine want to become part of Russia are false.

Three decades ago, the Ukrainian people proclaimed the independence of their state. Since 2014, the world has seen that Vladimir Putin has undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and any attempts at anti-war protest in Russia through military force, repressive legislation, false statements, and massive state propaganda. Despite all the suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has failed to achieve this goal: Ukrainians continue to show fortitude and determination to defend their country at any cost, and Russian anti-war resistance continues despite repression.

We consider any attempts to tear away Ukrainian territory through so-called “referendums” categorically unacceptable and call on state institutions and international human rights organizations to join the demand for an immediate end to the war and the liberation of the occupied territories. Any war brings suffering to humanity and endangers peace. We will not allow a totalitarian dictatorship to prevail and we will continue to fight for Ukraine’s independence and Russia’s democratic future.

Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Vladimir Milov as Vice President for International Advocacy

Sep 01 2022

September 1, 2022. Washington, DC. Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Russian politician, publicist, economist, and energy expert Vladimir Milov as FRF Vice President for International Advocacy.

In her announcement of Vladimir’s new role, Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation, remarked: “I am delighted to welcome this distinguished Russian civil society leader to our team. I am certain that Vladimir will become our force multiplier and make a profound contribution to FRF’s mission, including strengthening civil society in Russia, standing up for democracy defenders who oppose war, both inside and outside the country, building coalitions and mobilizing supporters. Vladimir Milov’s professional skills and extensive experience in human rights advocacy will help us come up with effective and innovative approaches to combat the authoritarian regime and repression that the current Russian government has unleashed against citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”

Vladimir Milov was born on June 18, 1972. From 1997—2002 he worked in government agencies, more than 4 years of which were in senior positions, from assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Commission to the Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia.

Vladimir Milov has bravely and publicly called out the authorities for monopolizing the economy, and encroaching into public and political life of Russian citizens. Milov’s profile as an opposition leader rose thanks to his joint project with Boris Nemtsov. The report titled “Putin. Results,” condemned the activities of the Russian government during Putin’s presidency. In 2010, Mr. Milov headed the Democratic Choice movement, which later served as the basis for the creation of a political party with the same name.

In 2016, Mr. Milov became an associate of the unregistered presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. On May 11, 2017, he began hosting a weekly segment on the economy, “Where’s the Money?” on the NavalnyLIVE broadcast on YouTube.

In April of 2021, he left Russia for Lithuania amidst persecution of Alexei Navalny’s organizations. In February of 2022, he categorically condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On May 6, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Vladimir Milov to the list of media outlets considered as “foreign agents.” Vladimir Milov is a regular guest expert for the world’s leading media outlets — CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal.

Kara-Murza faces a new charge as the Kremlin cracks down on its opponents

Aug 04 2022

Russian pro-democracy politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who’s been in jail since April for allegedly spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military, now also stands accused of “carrying out the activities of an undesirable organization,” which names Free Russia Foundation in the newly filed charge.

Free Russia Foundation, unconstitutionally designated as an “undesirable” organization by the Russian government in June 2019, did not organize an event on political prisoners in Moscow in 2021. FRF does not have any presence or programs inside Russia. Additionally, FRF has never conducted any work in the State of Arizona.

FRF strongly condemns the new charges brought against Vladimir Kara-Murza by Russian authorities and demands the dropping of all charges against him and calls for his immediate release.

“All actions of the Kremlin directed against Russian opposition politicians and activists have nothing in common with establishing the truth. They are instead aimed solely at getting rid of opponents of Putin’s regime,” FRF President Arno stated.

Free Russian Foundation and Boris Nemtsov Foundation launch “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign

Jul 25 2022

Russia is not Putin. We are Russia.

We aim at sharing this message with our friends around the world — therefore, in cooperation with Boris Nemtsov Foundation we are launching “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign.

We are going to be telling the stories of active pro-democracy anti-war Russians who have not lost their hope. US nationals also participate in this campaign: Francis Fukuyama, investigative journalist Casey Michel, and alumni of Boris Nemtsov Foundation media school.

Thank you for your donation:

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom honors the political legacy of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian liberal opposition politician assassinated in Moscow in 2015. It promotes freedom of speech and education along with the vision that Russia is a part of Europe.

Free Russia Foundation is starting to document cases of abduction by the Russian army of Ukrainians for the International Criminal Court

Jul 13 2022

In the temporarily occupied territories of the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, in addition to the killing of civilians and horrific destructions carried out by the Russian army: a severe violation of the norms of international law in the form of abduction of Ukrainians into the territory of Russia has been taking place.

Prior to being interned, Ukrainians are placed in so-called “filtration camps” where they are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

All these actions violate the Hague Conventions and constitute an international crime.

We plan to collect information about such abduction cases, put it in written pleadings, and submit them to the International Criminal Court.

If you have been subject to abduction (internment), please, fill in the form via the link.