Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Fearful of Mass Protests, Putin Moves to Strangle What Was Left of the Independent Media

Mar 03 2022

By Free Russia Foundation Team

More than a week has passed since Putin declared his “special military operation.” The rest of the world refers to it as “war on Ukraine.” Along with Ukraine, Putin is rapidly destroying Russia. The West may be unable to appreciate the extent of the tragedy unfolding inside Russia right now, as its economy collapses, and the society feels the hatred of the entire world.

It’s not a war — it’s a “special operation

This week, Putin has completed his task of eliminating Russia’s independent media. In the late nineties, a fresh TV channel NTV used to broadcast a satirical program “Puppets,” which poked fun at prominent government figures. In the first decade and the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, on the same channel, viewers could watch the protests taking place on Bolotnaya Square and at the polls during the 2012 presidential elections.

Putin has skillfully seized control of the Russian television, depriving citizens of the opportunity to soberly assess the situation both inside the country and the implications of Putin’s foreign policy. Today, only “Putin’s” journalists are allowed on the airwaves. There, they create an alternative reality and suppress the truth. Notably, the name of the opposition leader Navalny is never mentioned on TV. Television is the only source of information for many Russians. This is true for most retirees, for example, who find it hard to “learn the Internet.”

Elections in Russia have also been hijacked. No independent, liberal or democratic candidates are allowed to participate in elections. And if they somehow make it onto the ballot, numerous schemes have been developed by authorities to prevent them from attaining the minimum threshold, leaving him or her with a measly 1 to 4% of the vote. As a result, political forces cannot unite to coordinate a mass protest similar to the Ukrainian “Maidan.” Those who do join protests end up in jail and are even assassinated.  

Right now, the Russian authorities are dealing a lethal blow to independent media. The TV Rain channel has decided to halt its broadcasting. This decision was made in response to the amendments adopted by the State Duma on imprisonment for “public dissemination of knowingly false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”

The punishment includes both a fine of 1.5 million rubles and 15 years in prison.

Even the word “war” is considered to be “knowingly false information”. This is why Roskomnadzor issued a warning to “Novaya Gazeta.”

On March 2, “Ekho Moskvy” was forced to stop broadcasting.

The Silver Rain radio station also stopped broadcasting.

As of March 4, 2022, all of the following media outlets have been blocked: “Dozhd”, Taiga.info, DOXA, “Echo Moskvy”, “Present Time”, The New Times, “Crimea. Realii”, “Ukrainian Pravda”, “Gordon”, “Interfax-Ukraine”, The Village, TSN, “Segodnya”, UNIAN, “Zerkalo Nedeli”, Vesti.ua and Zaxid.

Novaya Gazeta, Lenizdat.ru, Mediazone, Svobodnaya pressa, Journalist, and Wikipedia have received warnings.

This is not a laughing matter.  The authorities are imposing censorship, banning the words “war,” “attack,” and “invasion.” Information about the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the deaths of Ukrainian civilians caused by the Russian army has been declared untrue and is prohibited from dissemination. It is now forbidden to call the ongoing operation an attack, an invasion, or a declaration of war.

Kremlin’s media oversight agency Roskomnadzor mandates the media to cite only Russian government sources in their coverage of these events. Journalists breaking with this practice  face real prison sentences.

Along with the blocking of media platforms, Russian authorities are also slowing down Meta social networks, and in particular, Facebook. They are also restricting Twitter. On March 2, RoskomSvoboda reported on the supposed blocking Youtube in Russia. The same “slowdown” is taking place on Youtube. Users from Russia were unable to load static elements of YouTube, such as avatars and artwork. Roskomnadzor denies any slowdown of service.

All Google advertising banners that, in the judgement of the Russian authorities, spread inaccurate information, have stopped working.

These developments do not only cut off the Russian civil society from truthful information, but also deny Russians the opportunity to show the world that they are, in fact, against the war.

Free Russia Foundation Denounces the Verdict Delivered to the Participants of the “Ingush Case” as a Clear Mockery of Justice

Jul 28 2023

Free Russia Foundation, along with our staff, expresses our deep concern and indignation at the final verdict delivered today, July 28, 2023, by the Stavropol Court in the Russian city of Pyatigorsk, regarding the participants of the “Ingush Case.”

The verdict remains unchanged since December 2021 when Akhmed Barakhoev, Musa Malsagov, and Malsag Uzhakhov were each sentenced to 9 years in a general regime colony. Ismail Nalgiev, Bagaudin Khautiev, and Barakh Chemurziev received 8-year sentences each, while Zarifa Sautieva was sentenced to 7.5 years. They were all found guilty of using violence against representatives of the authorities, establishing an extremist group, and participating in its activities. 

The appeal trial lasted for over half a year, with the defense lawyers presenting their arguments for 12 days during the debates. In contrast, the prosecutor’s speech was remarkably brief, lasting only five minutes, where he simply read out the arguments from the objections, which were concise and fit on just a few sheets of paper.

This stands as one of the most significant political cases in Russian history. It all started on March 27, 2019, when a rally against the alteration of Ingushetia’s administrative border with the Chechen Republic in Magas led to a crackdown on the Ingush opposition. Consequently, administrative cases were initiated against hundreds of participants in the people’s protest, and dozens of them faced criminal charges.

The Memorial Center, an organization that monitors politically motivated cases, has officially designated all those convicted in the “Ingush Case” as political prisoners. According to Sergei Davidis, who serves as the co-chairman of the Memorial Center, this case stands out as one of the most unprecedented political cases in Russian history. He states, “Civil society leaders are being accused merely for being civil society leaders. There is no fabrication involved; instead, they are trying to twist perfectly legitimate actions into criminal acts.”

Free Russia Foundation shares the same perspective as Memorial and urges the international community to take notice of this blatant violation of human rights.

The verdict handed down to the participants in the “Ingush Case” is a true mockery of justice, primarily because the prosecution was unable to demonstrate that the oppositionists had actually formed an extremist group. Additionally, there was a failure to provide evidence of any criminal conspiracy to incite violence against law enforcement personnel. Throughout the indictment, words such as “probably,” “presumably,” and “maybe” were frequently employed, undermining the strength of the case. Notably, the word “approximately” was used more than ten thousand times

A few years back, Ingushetia demonstrated to the entire nation that it was possible to conduct multi-day protests with thousands of people in a peaceful manner, without jeopardizing law and order. However, the Kremlin viewed this as a display of free thinking that clashed with the current regime’s control, leading them to take punitive action against the organizers of the peaceful protest. This move was intended to send a warning to residents of other regions in Russia, showcasing the potential consequences they might face for seeking justice.

The criminal case brought against the organizers is undeniably politically motivated, with the aim of maintaining power and suppressing public activism from critics of Putin’s regime. The verdict delivered today represents yet another step in the direction of quashing constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of not only the people of Ingushetia but also citizens across Russia as a whole. It highlights the authorities’ attempt to curb any form of public activism and dissent.

Free Russia Foundation calls for the immediate release of all individuals unjustly convicted in the “Ingush Case.” Furthermore, we demand that the officials responsible for their unwarranted persecution be held accountable and brought to justice.

We urge the international community, human rights organizations, and all those who stand for freedom and justice to demonstrate their solidarity with the participants in the “Ingush Case.” It is crucial to support their fight for justice and the protection of human rights. Freedom and justice are fundamental and non-negotiable values, and any violation of these principles demands a resolute response and unified support.

We cannot afford to remain indifferent to the ongoing situation, and by coming together in solidarity, we can work towards fostering a truly democratic society.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on the Situation in Russia

Jun 24 2023

Free Russia Foundation is closely following the news surrounding the activities of the Wagner Group inside Russia with grave concern.

The events themselves, the diverging agendas advanced by various Russian power groups, and how they may unfold in the coming days are highly dynamic and uncertain. What is clear is that the political situation in Russia is extremely unstable and volatile, with the potential to escalate quickly and posing risks far beyond Russian borders.

This development, however, is a logical evolution of the lawlessness, violence, and corruption purposefully harnessed by Putin in order to remain in power and brutally wielded against Russian civil society in the form of repressions, and against the people of Ukraine in the form of military aggression.

Free Russia Foundation calls on the democratic world to provide Ukraine with all it requires for a decisive victory on the battlefield against Russian forces and to strengthen its commitment to pro-democracy Russians, both in-country and those forced into exile—as the two prerequisites for peace and stability in the region.

“We are agents of change.” The speech by FRF’s President Natalia Arno at the European Parliament

Jun 05 2023

On June 5-6, 2023, the European Parliament in Brussels at the initiative of Lithuanian MEP Andrius Kubilius and others, hosts a two-day conference “The Day After”, with the participation of over 200 representatives from Russia’s anti-war and opposition groups, journalists, prominent cultural figures, as well as European politicians.

On June 5, 2023, Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation spoke at the European Parliament in Brussels. In her opening remarks to the inaugural session of the Brussels Dialogue— Roundtable of EU and Democratic Russia Representatives, Ms. Arno described the heroic efforts by Russian civil society to stop the war and stand up to Putin’s regime; and called for a closer cooperation between Russian and European democratic forces to support Ukraine’s victory and ensure a lasting peace in Europe.

Below is the transcript of her full remarks.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished members of the European Parliament and EU institutions, esteemed representatives from across the transatlantic community, and my dear friends and colleagues who are selflessly fighting for a free and democratic Russia, 

Thank you all for being here today. My special thanks to the MEP from Lithuania, Standing Rapporteur on Russia, Andrius KUBILIUS and to Shadow Rapporteurs – Messrs. CIMOSZEWICZ, GUETTA and LAGODINSKY – and their amazing teams who worked tirelessly to gather us all for this historic event. We are thankful for a very timely realization at the EU level that we, pro-democracy anti-war anti-regime Russians, are an important actor in efforts to stop the war and the key force in transforming Russia into democracy. 

The Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February shook the world with its brutality and aggression, wretchedly echoing World War II. This war has been the first war watched on social media, brought to our living rooms– with every brutal death, every destroyed hospital, every orphaned child—staring into our face, breaking our heart, hundreds of times per day. But it’s not something that only exists on a computer screen. The reality on the ground is both unspeakable destruction and human cruelty that defies who we crave to be as humans. This war is black and white. The fight between the evil and the good, between the dictatorship and the democratic world with Ukraine on the front lines. There are no half tones, no moral ambivalence. Just like Hitler, Putin is perpetrating a criminal atrocity not only against Ukraine, but against freedom, democracy and our civilized way of life. 

This war is a huge tragedy for Ukraine, but it is also a catastrophic disaster for Russia. It’s a tragedy for so many Russians who understand what this war is, and it’s a tragedy that there are so many Russians who don’t understand it at all. 

This war has forced the world to take a new look at Russia. What is this country and who are these people engaged in unspeakable acts of brutality? Who are these people who passively watch as their army kills and destroys without any reason? They must be pure evil reincarnated! 

As the world, in pain and anger, looked for ways to respond, some of your governments shut your borders to all Russian passport holders, cancelled air traffic from Russia, pulled out businesses, denied services to all Russians, equated all Russians to Putin. We understood the reason for this. 

But let me remind you something. The Russian civil society and independent media were the first victim of Putin’s regime. We were the first ones to warn about the dangerous, corrupt, criminal, murderous nature of Putin’s regime. We were those telling you that his internal repressions will lead to external aggression. We were those who exposed the Kremlin’s export of corruption, influence campaigns in Europe and elsewhere. We were those who discovered Prigozhin’s factory of trolls and other disinformation tricks. We were the ones pleading the West not to enable Putin, not to operate with “realpolitik” and “business as usual”. In Putin’s war against freedom and democracy, Russian civil society has always been one of his priority targets. Many of us have paid a terrible price ourselves – losing our homeland, in many cases losing our freedom to imprisonment and to some of us, losing lives or family members. 

While we often hear there are no good Russians, I know many. All of us who are here today were invited by the European Parliament for our merits. We and our colleagues have moved mountains. Hundreds of us here represent civil society organizations, media outlets, grassroots initiatives with dozens of thousands activists and journalists in our networks. We communicate to millions through our YouTube and Telegram channels, newspapers, programs, and events. All of us are in exile now.

Inside Russia, many keep resisting, too. According to OVD-info, a portal tracking activism inside Russia, since the full-scale invasion there have been only 25 days without arrests for anti-war protests. There is the story of a Siberian grandmother— anti-war activist Natalia Filonova from my native Republic of Buryatia, whose special needs son was taken away from her in retribution for her protests and sent to a remote orphanage, while she herself is in jail awaiting trial. Another political prisoner Ilya Yashin, has just published a story about Natalia Filonova. Yashin himself is in jail for 8.5 years for telling the truth about Bucha.

Another real Russian patriot is a dear friend and man whom most of you know personally— Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has survived two assassination attempts by Putin’s regime, two comas, and still went back to Russia to testify to what is right and what is true. He is now in prison on a Stalin-era 25year sentence. 

Yesterday it was the birthday of Alexey Navalny who also survived Novichok poisoning and is slowly being killed in prison. 

All these names and many others will be mentioned at this conference and shouldn’t be forgotten. There are tens of thousands of documented stories like these. Tens of thousands of “good” humans arrested and prosecuted for their anti-war and pro-democracy stance. 

Why am I telling you all of this? In hopes that you see that Russian civil society was the first front in Putins war on democracy and peace.  As Western leaders dined and shook hands with Putin for 20 years, as Europeans accommodated Putin’s regime in exchange for cheap energy, as they offered citizenships to his associates, Putin was busy eradicating the Russian political opposition, independent media and civil society. 

Today, we address a pressing issue that lies at the heart of our shared destiny and demands our immediate attention and decisive action. Through all this shock from the devastating tragedy that we are all experiencing, I want to bring to you a message of resilience, hope and an urgent plea for solidarity. We, pro-democracy anti-war anti-regime Russians, are not only first victims of Putin’s regime, and not only targets for friendly fire and problems for your governments because we need visas and bank accounts, but most importantly, we are agents of change. Not foreign agents or undesirables as the Kremlin labels us, but agents of change, agents of the Russian people and Russia’s future. We are the part of the solution. We are the ones who are willing to transform Russia, to make it normal and civilized.

No doubt that Ukraine will win, but after the war it won’t be easy. We understand doubts about Russia’s democratization prospects, but we, pro-democracy anti-war anti-regime Russians, can’t afford to believe that freedom and democracy is not possible in our home country. Democracy in Russia is the only guarantee of sustainability of Ukraines victory and a key factor of stability and security in Europe and globally.

Those of us invited to this event have been working tirelessly as supporters of change for years. Our collective resume includes rallies against media capture and Khodorkovsky’s arrest in Putin’s early days, election observation missions proving massive fraud in all levels of elections throughout the country, “Dissenters Marches”, rallies on Bolotnaya and Sakharova and many other squares throughout the country and throughout the years, against the annexation of Crimea and invasion to Eastern Ukraine then and the full-scale invasion now. Our collective resume includes advocating for sanctions, both personal and sectoral, advocating for enforcement of sanctions and for making it harder for the Kremlin to circumvent them. Our collective resume includes assistance to Ukraine – evacuations from the war zone, search for Ukrainian POWs, litigation and advocacy on behalf of Ukrainian hostages of Putin’s regime held in Russian jails, cooperation on international justice mechanisms including the Tribunal and on documenting war crimes, humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians including shelters, clothing, medication. Our collective resume includes huge efforts by Russian independent media, bloggers, influencers, grassroots initiatives to tell the truth about this brutal war, to disseminate the factful information, to counter Kremlin’s narratives, to influence public opinion inside Russia. Our collective resume also includes discussions on how to achieve political transition, how to conduct sustainable reforms, how to make deputinization and even desovietization of Russia. 

We are not Europe’s headache, we are your asset. We ask our European partners to use our expertise, because nobody knows Russia better than us. Nobody knows Putin regime and his methods better than us. Nobody knows the Russian people better than us. Individually we do a lot. Collectively as a Russian pro-democracy anti-war movement we can do even more. With your solidarity, with the support of the democratic world, we can win. Working together is a force multiplier.

When I looked on your website yesterday, the main stated aims of the European Union within its borders are: to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its citizens. 

How do we promote peace now? We do everything we possibly can to make sure Ukraine wins this war. But it is clear, that until there is a real political change in Russia, until democracy and civil rights are reestablished for the Russian people, until Putin’s regime is brought to justice, no lasting peace is possible. It’s very practical for the Western democracies to support, strengthen and grow us— inside and outside of Russia. 

I am here to call on the EU as a community— to give voice to pro-democracy anti-war Russians at European institutions. Regular sessions of this conference, new report on Russia by the EU Parliament, EU Special Representative for Russia and other working mechanisms are important to discuss plans on reconstructing Ukraine after the war, prosecuting war criminals, and reforming Russia after Putin. So that Russians inside Russia see that Putin is wrong— the West does not seek to destroy Russia, and that Russians who are for democracy are not outcasts but are embraced by the international democratic community. 

We need a coherent Europe-wide strategy on how to stabilize the Russian civil society— save us from peril, prevent us from quitting the fight, help us mobilize and engage Russian society. This means clear legalization policies; some standard approach to our ability to work and travel. That means the end of the punitive measures such as denial of services that are not only counterproductive but also are illegal under the EU law. That means judging us on the basis of our values and our actions, not on the basis of our citizenship and nationality. That means support of our programs and initiatives.

In this room there are Russians from different regions and organizations, of different backgrounds, with different opinions and you might see some debates and disagreement throughout the program, but we have one unified position: Ukraine must win the war, and Russia must change from the inside to be a reliable and stable partner for the democratic world. Russia must return to its fundamental values of producing great poets, composers, physicists, and philosophers instead of being hackers, invaders, and war criminals. We in this room are here to join hands with our European partners and work with you to make this happen.

From the Board of Free Russia Foundation

May 18 2023

While traveling abroad recently, Free Russia Foundation’s president fell ill under circumstances that cause great concern. The matter is under investigation.

The health and safety of our staff and beneficiaries are our paramount concern.

Free Russia Foundation continues its work for a free, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Russia, reintegrated into the international community as a constructive and positive actor.

Statement on the Sentencing of Vladimir Kara-Murza

Apr 17 2023

Dear colleagues and friends,

Today, on April 17, 2023, the Russian judicial system handed down a monstrous sentence to Vladimir Kara-Murza, a politician, journalist, historian, our colleague and friend — a 25-year prison sentence, which effectively means the rest of his life. The verdict was reached based on false accusations, despite the absence of any evidence to support them.

We are at a loss for words to express our outrage and indignation at this unjust and merciless verdict. This is a clear act of revenge, without any basis or justification. The Putin regime no longer even attempts to make its accusations appear plausible. This is not merely a kangaroo justice, but rather a repeat of Stalin’s criminal statutes, his allegations, and his sentences. It is a new version of the year 1937. The Russian authorities are repeating the errors of the past, and leading the country directly towards the Gulag. In one of his letters from prison, Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote, “When evil is not recognized, condemned, and punished, it will inevitably return. This is the terrible lesson that post-Soviet Russia has taught the world.”

Many of us know Vladimir Kara-Murza not only as a public figure but also as a hero, a fighter for freedom and justice in Russia, and a close associate of Boris Nemtsov. Despite surviving two severe poisonings in 2015 and 2017, which brought him close to death, Vladimir continued to fight for the freedom and rights of Russian citizens. However, his health has significantly deteriorated since being imprisoned, and he is experiencing a loss of sensation in his limbs. Before our eyes, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a true patriot of Russia, is slowly dying in prison and may become another victim of Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The trial of Vladimir Kara-Murza was a ploy to silence his voice and remove him from the path of those who are willing to maintain their power in Russia at any cost. This is a clear act of political revenge from the Kremlin, in response to his longstanding pro-democracy stance and opposition activities, his active participation in advocating for personal international sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, and his public criticism of Vladimir Putin’s war on the people of Ukraine.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally. The criminal charges against him must be dropped.

Free Russia Foundation is urging the international community, public figures, and human rights organizations to increase their pressure on the Kremlin to release Vladimir Kara-Murza from detention, or to exchange him as part of humanitarian programs. We invite everyone to join our #FreeKaraMurza campaign and condemn this unjust sentence. We strongly believe that only through unity and solidarity can we secure Vladimir’s freedom.

We also want to express our support for Vladimir Kara-Murza and his family during this difficult time for them.

Free Russia Foundation will continue to fight for freedom and democracy in Russia until fundamental rights are reinstated. We encourage all Russian citizens to remain courageous, not to succumb to threats, and to resist evil. Justice will always be on the side of truth and freedom, and light will inevitably overcome darkness.