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

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.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More