Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

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 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.