Russia’s new generation of democratic forces

May 15 2018

Free Russia Foundation recently hosted in Washington a delegation of pro-democracy municipal officials and activists from Russia. The delegates, representing various local government and political movements in Russia, participated in a series of panel discussions focusing on the recent success of the Russian opposition at the local level – and hopes for changing the political landscape and building bridges with the West.

Free Russia Foundation organized the panel discussions jointly with the Henry Jackson Foundation on May 4 and with the Atlantic Council on May 7. The following is a selection of key take-outs from the events:

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, said that alternative leaders are beginning to emerge in Russia. In September 2017, there was a breakthrough in Moscow’s municipal elections, in which pro-democracy candidates won over 200 seats, becoming the second largest political power in the Russian capital. This focus on local politics is a new strategy of the democratic movement in Russia, said Arno. With over 200,000 municipal seats across the country, local government could be the key to a democratic future in Russia. “The new generation of Russia’s democratic politicians has the vision, the long-term strategy and the determination to continue its fight to make Russia free, democratic and prosperous,” said Arno.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation and vice-chairman of Open Russia, said that in authoritarian states local government is often the only place for “real political life,” where candidates have a close relationship with citizens.  At this level, as Kara-Murza said, “official state propaganda loses some of its dominance” and municipal elections reveal the real public opinion, a potential “precursor” for significant political change.

Local government can also play a significant role in national or even international importance, said Kara-Murza. As one example, he cited Washington, D.C., City Council’s recent decision to rename a street in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, after a similar initiative stalled in the U.S. Congress. The D.C. initiative was carried out under the leadership of Phil Mendelson, who was also a special guest at the Free Russia Foundation event.

Julia Galiamina, a municipal deputy of Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District, said, “The democratization of Russia is only possible from the bottom up because democratizing forces at the top has proven to lead back to the authoritarian regime.” As the success of the 2017 local elections has shown, there are resources and potential at the local level and democratic forces need not move up, but horizontally, to spread democracy and to embrace civil society. During the last seven years, Galiamina said, there has been a rise in grassroots initiatives and civic activity, with people becoming more concerned about various local issues and starting to stand up for their rights. By embracing civic activism, people are moving toward new democratic ideas and democratic leaders should support these movements. The strategy, said Galiamina, should be to help people to become citizens, citizens to become civil activists, and civil activists to become local public office holders. Yet there is also the problem of a low level of trust towards authorities and a fear of politicization, said Galiamina. “One of our goals is to revive trust in politics and democratization,” she said.

Natalia Shavshukova, an organizer of the School of Local Governance and a former municipal deputy of the Levoberezhny District in Moscow, said that democracy cannot be forced on Russia – rather, it is a process and its values need to be advocated. Since democratic forces are excluded from the federal level and often from the regional level, the local level has become the main stage of democratic governance in today’s Russia. Yet there are also opportunities, as the success in last year’s municipal elections in Moscow has shown. “We should go further to replicate the success of Moscow’s city elections in other parts of Russia,” said Shavshukova, adding that the recent success owes itself to collaboration between different democratic groups, mainly new and unofficial ones.

Supporting protests is important since it builds solidarity and civil society, but if a rapid political change were to occur, there could be an issue with professional qualifications. The School of Local Governance provides training to local activists and members of liberal parties and movements, with more than 500 alumni across Russia, including 149 candidates who won seats in the Moscow elections last year, said Shavshukova. Looking at the big picture, there are 200,000 seats in local municipalities throughout Russia, with an additional 4,000 regional deputies and 450 State Duma deputies. But there is a lack of qualified candidates at the moment, said Shavshukova.

Vladislav Naganov is a municipal deputy in Khimki District Council, Moscow Oblast, who has largely built his campaign on the legacy of Evgenia Chirikova – a prominent environmental activist. Naganov said it is extremely important to build the political base and voter support for municipal deputies, which may pave the way for success at the regional and federal level. The network of supporters can grow through various local initiatives, including homeowner associations and environmental campaigns – the latter has enjoyed strong support in the Moscow region, said Naganov. Support can also be found among those who oppose the Moscow Oblast governor’s plans to centralize power in the region by transforming municipals districts into urban jurisdictions, which have appointed leaders as opposed to elected ones.

“Our only chance is to continue our hard work and to prepare for unexpected victories if the opportunity emerges,” said Naganov.

 by Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation organized the panel discussions jointly with the Henry Jackson Foundation on May 4 and with the Atlantic Council on May 7. The following is a selection of key take-outs from the events:

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation, said that alternative leaders are beginning to emerge in Russia. In September 2017, there was a breakthrough in Moscow’s municipal elections, in which pro-democracy candidates won over 200 seats, becoming the second largest political power in the Russian capital. This focus on local politics is a new strategy of the democratic movement in Russia, said Arno. With over 200,000 municipal seats across the country, local government could be the key to a democratic future in Russia. “The new generation of Russia’s democratic politicians has the vision, the long-term strategy and the determination to continue its fight to make Russia free, democratic and prosperous,” said Arno.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation and vice-chairman of Open Russia, said that in authoritarian states local government is often the only place for “real political life,” where candidates have a close relationship with citizens.  At this level, as Kara-Murza said, “official state propaganda loses some of its dominance” and municipal elections reveal the real public opinion, a potential “precursor” for significant political change.

Local government can also play a significant role in national or even international importance, said Kara-Murza. As one example, he cited Washington, D.C., City Council’s recent decision to rename a street in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, after a similar initiative stalled in the U.S. Congress. The D.C. initiative was carried out under the leadership of Phil Mendelson, who was also a special guest at the Free Russia Foundation event.

Julia Galiamina, a municipal deputy of Moscow’s Timiryazevsky District, said, “The democratization of Russia is only possible from the bottom up because democratizing forces at the top has proven to lead back to the authoritarian regime.” As the success of the 2017 local elections has shown, there are resources and potential at the local level and democratic forces need not move up, but horizontally, to spread democracy and to embrace civil society. During the last seven years, Galiamina said, there has been a rise in grassroots initiatives and civic activity, with people becoming more concerned about various local issues and starting to stand up for their rights. By embracing civic activism, people are moving toward new democratic ideas and democratic leaders should support these movements. The strategy, said Galiamina, should be to help people to become citizens, citizens to become civil activists, and civil activists to become local public office holders. Yet there is also the problem of a low level of trust towards authorities and a fear of politicization, said Galiamina. “One of our goals is to revive trust in politics and democratization,” she said.

Natalia Shavshukova, an organizer of the School of Local Governance and a former municipal deputy of the Levoberezhny District in Moscow, said that democracy cannot be forced on Russia – rather, it is a process and its values need to be advocated. Since democratic forces are excluded from the federal level and often from the regional level, the local level has become the main stage of democratic governance in today’s Russia. Yet there are also opportunities, as the success in last year’s municipal elections in Moscow has shown. “We should go further to replicate the success of Moscow’s city elections in other parts of Russia,” said Shavshukova, adding that the recent success owes itself to collaboration between different democratic groups, mainly new and unofficial ones.

Supporting protests is important since it builds solidarity and civil society, but if a rapid political change were to occur, there could be an issue with professional qualifications. The School of Local Governance provides training to local activists and members of liberal parties and movements, with more than 500 alumni across Russia, including 149 candidates who won seats in the Moscow elections last year, said Shavshukova. Looking at the big picture, there are 200,000 seats in local municipalities throughout Russia, with an additional 4,000 regional deputies and 450 State Duma deputies. But there is a lack of qualified candidates at the moment, said Shavshukova.

Vladislav Naganov is a municipal deputy in Khimki District Council, Moscow Oblast, who has largely built his campaign on the legacy of Evgenia Chirikova – a prominent environmental activist. Naganov said it is extremely important to build the political base and voter support for municipal deputies, which may pave the way for success at the regional and federal level. The network of supporters can grow through various local initiatives, including homeowner associations and environmental campaigns – the latter has enjoyed strong support in the Moscow region, said Naganov. Support can also be found among those who oppose the Moscow Oblast governor’s plans to centralize power in the region by transforming municipals districts into urban jurisdictions, which have appointed leaders as opposed to elected ones.

“Our only chance is to continue our hard work and to prepare for unexpected victories if the opportunity emerges,” said Naganov.

 by Valeria Jegisman

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.