Russia’s Reality. The Conversation with Vladimir Milov

Oct 29 2015

“Relatively good, to bad, to worse” – That’s how the relationship between the United States and Russia was described at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative event, A Conversation with Vladimir Milov.

Vladimir Milov, chairman of the Democratic Choice party in Russia, was welcomed by the Hudson Institute and Free Russia Foundation Monday afternoon to speak on matters of corruption and what lies ahead for Russia.

Milov worked in the Russian government in the 1990s and early 2000s and now represents the Institute for Energy Policy, a Moscow-based think tank. Corruption has changed in Russia since he was working for the Kremlin. In the 1990s, business and bureaucracy worked separately as two distinct entities. Private enterprise would often buy out government workers for favors in those days, but the two entities stayed relatively separate. Milov described the separation as a “firewall”.

Today, government bureaucracy and business are closely tied together. Yeltsin’s government was criticized, deservedly, for doling out favors to private interests, but today’s government, dead set on state investment, has failed to produce substantial growth in the Russian economy for quite some time. The investments that come into the country often do not stimulate the economy, rather, they enrich President Putin and his political allies. Many projects implemented by the Kremlin have been inefficient and provided little benefit to the Russian people, as has come up every so often as reported by the Russian business daily Vedomosti.

It is no question that the Russian government exercises extensive control over the state media. While some will point to President Putin’s sky-high approval rating as a broad mandate, Milov argued that that approval rating does not show the complexity of the stable but uncertain situation in Russia today. It’s true many ordinary Russians think quite highly of Putin himself, but the system he presides over still manages to invoke contempt among many of the Russian people. Russia today is a vertically oriented country-the system is exclusive and often prevents social mobility for the general populace. While the oligarchs do not have the same blatant influence they may have had under Yeltsin, they still control large portions of the government or government-subsidized industries.

It wasn’t that long ago that Russians were standing shoulder to shoulder in large anti-Putin demonstrations across the country in 2011 and 2012. Back then, Putin’s approval rating was stuck in the 40s.

“Then he injected a drug”, Milov explained. The drug being nationalism, a fervor that swept across Russia in 2014 as Crimea was annexed and the crusade against the “Fascist Kiev Junta” was on.

history_repeats_screengrab

That fervor is still visible on TV today, but cracks may be starting to appear. Despite TV news continuing on about Ukraine, Syria, and the faults of the United States, the people of Russia are starting to slowly turn towards other priorities closer to home. Living standards are fading while the economy is starting to sink. Putin’s approval rating remains high but the authorities in general are still perceived negatively.

Elections, particularly regional elections, are still tightly controlled in Russia, but that doesn’t mean Russia’s elections are a forgone victory for United Russia. In the cities, for instance, members of the ruling party are slowly falling out of favor with the people, who are fatigued by this highly monopolized system. The patriotic fervor of regaining Crimea and fighting fascists in the Donbas are losing momentum.

In the past the Russian government has always been willing to propose plans to fix whatever issues are bothering the Russian people. That’s been a constant, regardless of whether the plan was effective or not. These days, however, the main refrain from the government has been to wait. Wait, things will stabilize and return to normal, and be patient, because it may take a few years.

“Public opinion still matters in Russia”

This is not to say that Russia will see millions of protestors packed into Red Square in the near future calling for Putin to step down a la Maidan. The overall system in Russia is strong, and is unlikely to yield a popular uprising similar to Ukraine’s recent revolution. Milov attributed that to a more conservative and passive attitude among Russians when compared to Ukrainians. He did, however, expect some change, perhaps somewhat along the lines of what has happened recently in Turkey. For reference, Turkey has been under the control of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the right-wing Islamist Justice and Development Party, and his rule, like Putin’s, has been criticized for creeping authoritarianism. However, Turkey’s most recent election saw the Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, lose its parliamentary majority and go to the coalition negotiation table with the secular opposition, the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) which came in second. While their party did not win the election, Turkish people who supported the CHP and other opposition parties seemed to come out of the election relieved that the system of checks and balances in Turkey was still alive and functioning. Milov stressed that this could be a turbulent and difficult time in Russia, but that the ultimate result could be a more democratic, less stagnant, and cleanly governed country.

Could things go the other way?

“Of course, and that’s in Putin’s interests!” Milov said. But evidence seems to point to the contrary. Irkutsk recently went through a political split away from United Russia as did Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city. Milov seemed to believe that low turnout may be a goal of the authorities. If Russians went out to vote in large numbers, they could, especially in the cities, present a large problem for the Kremlin.

“Public opinion still matters in Russia”, Milov explained. “Even the Kremlin wants to have the people content, and if they lose support, concessions can and very well may happen, such as in 2005 when pensioners’ benefits were monetized!”

Even the anti-American nationalist rhetoric will lose its luster if Russian standard of living continues to decline.

The subject of the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov came up as well in the conversation. Milov, without hesitation, said he was under the impression that the Kremlin had arranged the assassination, stressing his knowledge of the way things worked in the Kremlin and a letter he send to the FSB rife with questions that he claimed point the finger at the state, but he also shed light on a division among liberal Russians-many of them believe that it is completely plausible that Mr. Nemtsov was simply killed by some Chechen thugs.

It didn’t take long after that for the subject to turn to one of Chechnya’s most (in)famous, Razman Kadyrov. Milov remained skeptical that Kadyrov was behind Nemtsov’s slaughter, since Mr. Kadyrov stood to lose from that type of stunt, as Kadyrov has fallen out of favor with many of Putin’s allies despite being close to Putin himself.

These types of tragedies and the search for justice, however, don’t seem to be the path to take for democratic change to happen in Russia. “If you talk to people about this kind of thing they tune out and ignore you. People want problems to be solved, and if you talk about that, people come to your side. People don’t want to talk about the murders and the bombings.”

Milov also stressed that even a period of turbulence leading to stronger democracy as suggested before would not immediately turn Russia into a western European republic.  “When you speak about change, people think about Western types of democracy, forget it. We’re looking towards a more imperfect system but a better system, one where more voices need to be heard? More openness, competitiveness, we don’t need to western standards yet, get more competitiveness first!”

Russia’s stagnant and precarious position today will be called into question sooner or later

When asked what he’d do about the state media monopoly from the United States, Milov’s proposed first steps of action were simple-don’t let these moguls and oligarchs invest in the west.

It’s going to take a long time. It’s going to be turbulent and likely met with substantial skepticism and opposition. It may present problems for Russia’s neighboring governments. And it may not be in 2016 when the Duma elections are held or even in 2018 when Russians go back to the polls to elect a president for the next six years. And perhaps most importantly, despite the romanticizing of Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution, it probably won’t happen with crowds jamming Red Square for months upon months. But Russia’s stagnant and precarious position today will be called into question sooner or later. It’s up to the people to figure out how to steer the country to strength in democracy, economic diversity, and clean governance.

by Kyle Menyhert

Vladimir Milov, chairman of the Democratic Choice party in Russia, was welcomed by the Hudson Institute and Free Russia Foundation Monday afternoon to speak on matters of corruption and what lies ahead for Russia.

Milov worked in the Russian government in the 1990s and early 2000s and now represents the Institute for Energy Policy, a Moscow-based think tank. Corruption has changed in Russia since he was working for the Kremlin. In the 1990s, business and bureaucracy worked separately as two distinct entities. Private enterprise would often buy out government workers for favors in those days, but the two entities stayed relatively separate. Milov described the separation as a “firewall”.

Today, government bureaucracy and business are closely tied together. Yeltsin’s government was criticized, deservedly, for doling out favors to private interests, but today’s government, dead set on state investment, has failed to produce substantial growth in the Russian economy for quite some time. The investments that come into the country often do not stimulate the economy, rather, they enrich President Putin and his political allies. Many projects implemented by the Kremlin have been inefficient and provided little benefit to the Russian people, as has come up every so often as reported by the Russian business daily Vedomosti.

It is no question that the Russian government exercises extensive control over the state media. While some will point to President Putin’s sky-high approval rating as a broad mandate, Milov argued that that approval rating does not show the complexity of the stable but uncertain situation in Russia today. It’s true many ordinary Russians think quite highly of Putin himself, but the system he presides over still manages to invoke contempt among many of the Russian people. Russia today is a vertically oriented country-the system is exclusive and often prevents social mobility for the general populace. While the oligarchs do not have the same blatant influence they may have had under Yeltsin, they still control large portions of the government or government-subsidized industries.

It wasn’t that long ago that Russians were standing shoulder to shoulder in large anti-Putin demonstrations across the country in 2011 and 2012. Back then, Putin’s approval rating was stuck in the 40s.

“Then he injected a drug”, Milov explained. The drug being nationalism, a fervor that swept across Russia in 2014 as Crimea was annexed and the crusade against the “Fascist Kiev Junta” was on.

history_repeats_screengrab

That fervor is still visible on TV today, but cracks may be starting to appear. Despite TV news continuing on about Ukraine, Syria, and the faults of the United States, the people of Russia are starting to slowly turn towards other priorities closer to home. Living standards are fading while the economy is starting to sink. Putin’s approval rating remains high but the authorities in general are still perceived negatively.

Elections, particularly regional elections, are still tightly controlled in Russia, but that doesn’t mean Russia’s elections are a forgone victory for United Russia. In the cities, for instance, members of the ruling party are slowly falling out of favor with the people, who are fatigued by this highly monopolized system. The patriotic fervor of regaining Crimea and fighting fascists in the Donbas are losing momentum.

In the past the Russian government has always been willing to propose plans to fix whatever issues are bothering the Russian people. That’s been a constant, regardless of whether the plan was effective or not. These days, however, the main refrain from the government has been to wait. Wait, things will stabilize and return to normal, and be patient, because it may take a few years.

“Public opinion still matters in Russia”

This is not to say that Russia will see millions of protestors packed into Red Square in the near future calling for Putin to step down a la Maidan. The overall system in Russia is strong, and is unlikely to yield a popular uprising similar to Ukraine’s recent revolution. Milov attributed that to a more conservative and passive attitude among Russians when compared to Ukrainians. He did, however, expect some change, perhaps somewhat along the lines of what has happened recently in Turkey. For reference, Turkey has been under the control of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the right-wing Islamist Justice and Development Party, and his rule, like Putin’s, has been criticized for creeping authoritarianism. However, Turkey’s most recent election saw the Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials AKP, lose its parliamentary majority and go to the coalition negotiation table with the secular opposition, the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) which came in second. While their party did not win the election, Turkish people who supported the CHP and other opposition parties seemed to come out of the election relieved that the system of checks and balances in Turkey was still alive and functioning. Milov stressed that this could be a turbulent and difficult time in Russia, but that the ultimate result could be a more democratic, less stagnant, and cleanly governed country.

Could things go the other way?

“Of course, and that’s in Putin’s interests!” Milov said. But evidence seems to point to the contrary. Irkutsk recently went through a political split away from United Russia as did Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city. Milov seemed to believe that low turnout may be a goal of the authorities. If Russians went out to vote in large numbers, they could, especially in the cities, present a large problem for the Kremlin.

“Public opinion still matters in Russia”, Milov explained. “Even the Kremlin wants to have the people content, and if they lose support, concessions can and very well may happen, such as in 2005 when pensioners’ benefits were monetized!”

Even the anti-American nationalist rhetoric will lose its luster if Russian standard of living continues to decline.

The subject of the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov came up as well in the conversation. Milov, without hesitation, said he was under the impression that the Kremlin had arranged the assassination, stressing his knowledge of the way things worked in the Kremlin and a letter he send to the FSB rife with questions that he claimed point the finger at the state, but he also shed light on a division among liberal Russians-many of them believe that it is completely plausible that Mr. Nemtsov was simply killed by some Chechen thugs.

It didn’t take long after that for the subject to turn to one of Chechnya’s most (in)famous, Razman Kadyrov. Milov remained skeptical that Kadyrov was behind Nemtsov’s slaughter, since Mr. Kadyrov stood to lose from that type of stunt, as Kadyrov has fallen out of favor with many of Putin’s allies despite being close to Putin himself.

These types of tragedies and the search for justice, however, don’t seem to be the path to take for democratic change to happen in Russia. “If you talk to people about this kind of thing they tune out and ignore you. People want problems to be solved, and if you talk about that, people come to your side. People don’t want to talk about the murders and the bombings.”

Milov also stressed that even a period of turbulence leading to stronger democracy as suggested before would not immediately turn Russia into a western European republic.  “When you speak about change, people think about Western types of democracy, forget it. We’re looking towards a more imperfect system but a better system, one where more voices need to be heard? More openness, competitiveness, we don’t need to western standards yet, get more competitiveness first!”

Russia’s stagnant and precarious position today will be called into question sooner or later

When asked what he’d do about the state media monopoly from the United States, Milov’s proposed first steps of action were simple-don’t let these moguls and oligarchs invest in the west.

It’s going to take a long time. It’s going to be turbulent and likely met with substantial skepticism and opposition. It may present problems for Russia’s neighboring governments. And it may not be in 2016 when the Duma elections are held or even in 2018 when Russians go back to the polls to elect a president for the next six years. And perhaps most importantly, despite the romanticizing of Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution, it probably won’t happen with crowds jamming Red Square for months upon months. But Russia’s stagnant and precarious position today will be called into question sooner or later. It’s up to the people to figure out how to steer the country to strength in democracy, economic diversity, and clean governance.

by Kyle Menyhert

Biden Administration Must Accelerate Efforts to Free Kara-Murza

Feb 22 2024

President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Biden:

We the undersigned write to express a two-fold request of your administration. As we all mourn the loss of Russian democratic opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who died in Russian custody while unjustly incarcerated on February 16, 2024, we request that you accelerate your efforts to release imprisoned Russian prodemocracy advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is an extremely vulnerable prisoner, and we fear that he may be the Kremlin’s next victim if the United States does not act swiftly.

Kara-Murza is a US lawful permanent resident (which the Levinson Act defines as a US national), a historian and Washington Post opinion writer, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, a deeply principled man, and a passionate advocate for political and civil rights in his native Russia. He is also currently being held as a political prisoner by Russian authorities. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kara-Murza chose to return to his country of origin in April 2022, saying that he must go back to stand with Russian antiwar protesters and against Putin. He was arrested just days after his return to Moscow, and has remained in prison since. In April 2023, Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence, on bogus charges for his criticism of Putin’s corrupt and repressive government and the Kremlin’s ongoing, devastating war against Ukraine.

Kara-Murza’s health has rapidly deteriorated while in custody. His wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, has reported that he has lost more than 50 pounds in the last year and is facing paralysis in both of his feet due to untreated polyneuropathy—a condition brought on as a result of the poisonings carried out by Putin’s government in the 2015 and 2017 attempts on his life. He was kept in solitary confinement for several months and is being held in a maximum-security facility.

Many of our organizations have been assured that his release is a “high priority” by several members of your administration; as a concrete demonstration of this claim, we request that Kara-Murza:

1.     Be immediately designated “wrongfully detained” under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act.

2.     Be included in any ongoing negotiations with Russia.

First, as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) with significant ties to the United States, Kara-Murza meets the legal criteria to be designated “wrongfully detained” under the Levinson Act, and the US State Department should do so expeditiously. On August 14, 2023, the State Department confirmed that LPRs have been designated “wrongfully detained” under the act; Kara-Murza should be also. One notable example of a US LPR being designated “wrongfully detained” under the Levinson Act is Paul Rusesabagina of Rwanda, the famed “Hotel Rwanda” activist. Rusesabagina was designated “wrongfully detained” by the US government after his August 2020 flight to Burundi was redirected to Rwanda, where he was subsequently arrested, tortured, and sentenced to 25 years in prison in a sham trial.

Kara-Murza meets 10 of the 11 criteria in the law, which makes him readily eligible for the “wrongfully detained” designation. The law clearly states that designations can be made on criteria “which may include” the 11 enumerated provisions, but nowhere does it state that all 11 criteria must be met.

The Kremlin clearly considers Kara-Murza to be a high-value political prisoner, shown by virtue of the fact that he received the maximum possible sentence for the fabricated crimes pinned on him simply for his opposition to Putin and the Kremlin’s illegal war in Ukraine. For this, we want to stress that “wrongfully detained” designations may be private (as opposed to public). If the State Department considers a public designation to be too incendiary, a private designation is a suitable option.

Second, it is critical that Kara-Murza be included in any discussions with Russian officials regarding prisoner releases. As a US national, as defined under the Levinson Act, and a person who is seen by Putin as a significant prisoner, it is crucial for both Kara-Murza’s well-being and American foreign policy that he be released. We feel strongly that the United States has a clear obligation to prioritize the release of all unjustly detained American nationals, which includes citizens like Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich, Alsu Kurmasheva, and Marc Fogel, as well as Kara-Murza.

Kara-Murza is a hero who has courageously dedicated his life to advancing freedom and democracy. For his vision of a democratic and peaceful Russia, which is deeply in line with US strategic interests, he has suffered greatly at the hands of Putin and his cronies. Kara-Murza continues to sacrifice to defend the principles we hold so dear in the United States, and he is extremely vulnerable in prison.

The tragic death of Navalny underscores the risks political prisoners, especially high-profile ones, face in prison. We urge the Biden administration to act swiftly to bring Kara-Murza home and to increase efforts to seek the release of all Russian political prisoners.

Regards,

Individual Signatories:

  • Michael J. Abramowitz, President, Freedom House
  • Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Paige Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, the Carter Center; Vice Chair, Free Russia Foundation
  • Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
  • John R. Beyrle, former US Ambassador to Russia and Bulgaria
  • George C. Biddle, Trustee and Chairman, Civil Courage Prize
  • Stephen E. Biegun, former US Deputy Secretary of State
  • Michael Breen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights First
  • Ellen Bork, Fellow, the George W. Bush Institute
  • William Browder, President, Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign
  • Agnès Callamard, PhD, Secretary General, Amnesty International
  • Christian Caryl, Independent Journalist
  • Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security; member, Freedom House Board of Trustees
  • Honourable Professor Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, OQ, AdE.; former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
  • Uriel Epshtein, Chief Executive Officer, Renew Democracy Initiative
  • Evelyn N. Farkas, PhD, Executive Director, the McCain Institute at Arizona State University
  • Jennifer Finney Boylan, Author
  • Jane Harman, Cochair, Freedom House Board of Trustees; former Congresswoman from California
  • Tirana Hassan, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
  • John E. Herbst, former US Ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan; Senior Director, the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council
  • Patrick Gaspard, President, Center for American Progress; former US Ambassador to South Africa
  • Carl Gershman, Former and Founding President, National Endowment for Democracy
  • Jon Huntsman Jr., former US Ambassador to Russia, China, and Singapore; former Governor of Utah
  • Garry Kasparov, former World Chess Champion; Russian opposition leader; Chairman, Renew Democracy Initiative
  • Jonathan Katz, former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Europe and Eurasia Bureau, US Agency for International Development
  • Ian Kelly, former US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and to Georgia; Ambassador in Residence, Northwestern University
  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder, the Russian Anti-War Committee
  • Peter Kovler, member, National Democratic Institute Board of Trustees
  • David J. Kramer, Executive Director, the George W. Bush Institute
  • Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Author
  • Leopoldo López, Freedom Activist; Cofounder and General Secretary, World Liberty Congress
  • Tom Malinowski, former Congressman from New Jersey; former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
  • Félix Maradiaga, Nicaraguan opposition leader; President, Foundation for the Freedom of Nicaragua; member, Freedom House Board of Trustees
  • Michael A. McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia
  • Sarah E. Mendelson, former US Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council
  • Alfred H. Moses, former US Ambassador to Romania
  • Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer, PEN America
  • Steven Pifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine
  • Pedro Pizano, Assistant Director for Democracy Programs, the McCain Institute at Arizona State University
  • Alina Polyakova, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for European Policy Analysis
  • Maria A. Ressa, Chief Executive Officer, Rappler; 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • Randy Scheunemann, Strategic Counselor, Halifax International Security Forum
  • Natan Sharansky, former political prisoner in the Soviet Union; recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • John Shattuck, Professor of Practice in Diplomacy, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University; former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic
  • Brandon Silver, International Human Rights Lawyer; Director of Policy and Projects, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
  • Gary Shteyngart, Author
  • Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History, Yale University
  • John J. Sullivan, former US Ambassador to Russia; former US Deputy Secretary of State
  • William B. Taylor Jr., former US Ambassador to Ukraine
  • Daniel Treisman, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Daniel Twining, PhD, President, International Republican Institute
  • Peter Van Praagh, President, Halifax International Security Forum
  • Alexander Vershbow, former US Ambassador to Russia; former Deputy Secretary General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • Melanne Verveer, former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues; Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
  • Wendell L. Willkie II, former Associate Counsel to the President of the United States; former General Counsel, US Department of Commerce; Cochair, Freedom House Board of Trustees
  • Damon Wilson, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Endowment for Democracy
  • Marie Yovanovitch, former US Ambassador to Ukraine

Organizational Endorsements:

  • Civil Courage Prize
  • Free Russia Foundation
  • Freedom House
  • The George W. Bush Institute
  • Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign
  • Human Rights First
  • Human Rights Foundation
  • Human Rights Watch
  • The McCain Institute
  • National Democratic Institute
  • National Endowment for Democracy
  • PEN America
  • Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
  • Renew Democracy Initiative
  • Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  • World Liberty Congress

cc:

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State

US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Mr. Jake Sullivan
National Security Advisor

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Alexei Navalny’s murder. Statement by Free Russia Foundation team

Feb 16 2024

Alexei Navalny’s death is a premeditated political assassination.

The personal responsibility for Navalny’s death lies with the man who usurped power and declared himself president of Russia. Navalny was murdered by Putin. This murder went on for years, every day, under the cover of lies and impunity. All these years, on Putin’s orders, he was persecuted, poisoned, imprisoned, and finally sent to a prison on the edge of Russia where he was held in torture-like conditions.

We offer our sincerest condolences to the family of Alexei Navalny — his wife Yulia, his children Daria and Zakhar, his brother Oleg, his mother Lyudmila Ivanovna, his father Anatoly Ivanovich, and all of Alexei’s family and friends. Your loss is immeasurable, and we stand united with each of you during this challenging time.

This isn’t merely a shock to us; it’s a deep and profound sorrow.

We call on world leaders, national governments, and international organizations to respond to this act of political terror.

The murderous regime in Russia represents a security threat to all citizens of the free world. It is in the interest of global security and the welfare of humanity to put an end to it.

Navalny’s murder was part of a tragic scenario against the backdrop of Russia’s dubious presidential “election”. Alexei Navalny, a leading critic of the Kremlin for years and a symbol of hope for change, had every chance of being elected as Russia’s legitimate president. This further emphasizes that Putin is an illegitimate usurper. Refusing to recognize him as the legitimate president now becomes not just a mandatory step, but a moral and political duty.

We demand justice for the memory of Alexei Navalny, for his family, and for all Russians who seek freedom. We will not stop until we achieve this goal. As long as tyranny and lawlessness persist, our work to defend human rights and promote democracy will continue.

Justice will prevail in Russia, and Navalny’s perpetrators will be punished.

Free Russia Foundation team.

The Plight of the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners

Oct 23 2023

Please join us for an in-person discussion on The Plight of the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners on Monday, October 30 from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm at the Victims of Communism Museum located at 900 15th St NW in Washington, DC. The event will give a voice for those who can no longer speak for themselves and will include an interactive exhibit featuring photos and quotes of prominent political prisoners held by the Kremlin.

Space is limited, RSVP is required. The conversation is public and on-the record, members of the press are welcome.

The event will mark the International Day of Political Prisoners and feature substantive updates by:

  • Sergei Davidis, Head of Political Prisoners Program, Memorial Human Rights Center;
  • Evgenia Kara-Murza, Advocacy Director at Free Russia Foundation;
  • Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on Russia;
  • MEP Andrius Kubilius, the Standing Rapporteur on Russia at the EU Parliament;
  • Karinna Moskalenko, Russia’s leading human rights lawyer, Founder of the Center de la Protection Internationale; and
  • Vadim Prokhorov, lawyer for political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza.

Expert presentations will be followed by an extensive Q&A session with the audience. The discussion will be moderated by Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation. To reserve your spot, please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/743473939567?aff=oddtdtcreator

Speakers’ Bios:

Andrius Kubilius is a Lithuanian politician and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). He served as Prime Minister of Lithuania from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2012. He was the leader of the conservative political party Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats. Kubilius became a member of the pro-independence Sąjūdis movement, which favored separation from the Soviet Union. He later became the Executive Secretary of the Sąjūdis Council. Soon after the re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence, Kubilius was elected to the Seimas (parliament). Since then, Kubilius has been an active figure in Lithuanian politics. Kubillius is the current Standing Rapporteur on Russia at the EU Parliament.

Mariana Katzarova (Bulgaria) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Russian Federation by the UN Human Rights Council on April 4, 2023. Ms. Katzarova led the UN Human Rights Council’s mandated examination of the human rights situation in Belarus in 2021-22. During the first 2 years of the armed conflict in Ukraine (2014-16), she led the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission team in Donbas as head of the regional office in Eastern Ukraine. For a decade she headed the Amnesty International investigations of human rights in Russia and the two conflicts in Chechnya. Ms. Katzarova founded RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War) in 2006 after working as a journalist and human rights investigator in the war zones of Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. At RAW, she established the annual Anna Politkovskaya Award for women human rights defenders working in war and conflict zones. She was Advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on combating human trafficking, and a senior advisor at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

Evgenia Kara-Murza is a Russian human rights activist and wife of political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza, the twice-poisoned Russian opposition leader, imprisoned since April 11, 2022 for speaking out about the war on Ukraine. She worked as a translator and interpreter in Russian, English, and French for pro-democracy NGOs including the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, the Institute of Modern Russia, and Pen America. She subsequently joined her husband Vladimir at Free Russia Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan international organization supporting civil society and democratic development in Russia. Advocating for human rights accountability and promoting civil society and democratic change in Russia, she serves as FRF Advocacy Director.

Sergei Davidis is Head of Political Prisoners Support Program and Member of the Council at the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, Russia. He was educated in Sociology at Moscow State University and on Law at Moscow State Law Academy. For many years, he was a participant and one of the organizers of the democratic opposition movement. His research interests are closely related to activities to support political prisoners in Russia, and he studies the sociological and legal aspects of politically motivated deprivation of liberty, in particular, in the context of world practice and international norms.

Karinna Moskalenko is Russia’s leading human rights lawyer. She was the first Russian lawyer to take a case to the European Court for Human Rights and won the first ever case against the Russian government at the court in Strasbourg. She founded the Center for International Protection in Russia in 1994. She is a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. While some of her clients are household names: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Garry Kasparov, Igor Sutyagin, Alexander Litvinenko to name a few, she has also represented countless victims of human rights abuses. She won more than 100 cases including AH & others v. Russian Federation where she was representing the rights of American families who were in the process of adopting children when Russia banned US adoptions with their so-called Dima Yakovlev law. Karinna moved her family to Strasbourg in 2006 where she founded the “Center de la Protection Internationale,” a human rights litigation NGO focused on litigating cases in international courts, which has filed and won more than 500 cases on behalf of its clients. For nine year, Karinna was a Commissioner for the International Commission for Jurists for which she is an Honorary member. Currently she is a head of the experts’ group, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council for the UN High Commissioner working on the UN mandated examination of human rights situation in Belarus. Vadim Prokhorov is a Russian human-rights lawyer who has defended critics of the Kremlin, including prominent opposition politicians and anti-corruption campaigners. He has defended many human rights activists, such as Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza and Vladimir Bukovsky. Prokhorov’s work as a lawyer has made him an important figure in the human rights field, as the Russian government has increasingly suppressed public dissent and oppositional work. This increase in governmental repression gravely impacted Prokhorov’s work, who has been representing human rights defender and opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza for the last ten years. Currently, Vadim Prokhorov continues his advocacy to protect the Russian opposition, political prisoners in Russian courts – online from abroad.

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.