Silencing Voices of Russian Opposition

Mar 18 2016

Putin’s Administration uses a variety of methods to silence those who disagree with the Kremlin’s policies, including political assassinations. Many Kremlin critics have been silenced by murder and the list is growing – Starovoitova, Yushenkov, Shchekochikhin, Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Nemtsov and others.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, died when he was poisoned with the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 (P-210) in the first ever nuclear terrorist attack in November 2006 in London. In 2014, the British Government established an official inquiry to investigate Mr. Litvinenko’s death. The inquiry established that Litvinenko was probably murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. The full verdict can be found here.

The case aroused widespread suspicion as Litvinenko said this before his death: “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

Free Russia Foundation organized a visit of Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, to Washington, DC on March 14-15 to inform U.S. officials and policy-makers about the results of the inquiry and to seek for specific actions from the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration.

On Tuesday the 15th, the Atlantic Council hosted a panel discussion put together by the McCain Institute and the Free Russia Foundation regarding the Kremlin’s silencing of Russian opposition. Featured at the panel besides the wife of the murdered Aleksander Litvinenko, were Dr. Alex Goldfarb of the Litvinenko Justice Foundation, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of Open Russia and the political party Parnas.

Kara-Murza recently survived a mysterious poisoning of his own. Although he survived, his case, as well as Litvinenko’s and many others, have become emblematic of the increasingly repressive and dangerous situation facing Russian opposition activists.

David Kramer of the McCain Institute moderated the event. He noted that repression of dissidents is not a new phenomenon under Vladimir Putin’s administration, but it was made clear at the opening of the panel that today it is “no longer an anomaly, but part and parcel of the Kremlin’s strategies.”

First to speak at the panel was Marina Litvinenko. She reminded that her husband’s murder was “the first ever act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city.” Mrs. Litvinenko informed that at the time of Alexander’s poisoning her husband worked with British and Spanish authorities investigating connections between Mr. Putin and his circle with organized crime – these links were confirmed by Spanish investigators after his death. She believes that this work was the main motive for his murder.

Dr. Alex Goldfarb, Litvinenko s close friend was next to speak. Litvinenko’s poisoning in London sent a grave message; even western cities like London were no longer safe. Polonium was utilized since it would be difficult to detect, but it was detected, which Dr. Goldfarb explained makes the chances of something like this happening in the west again unlikely.

Poison made another appearance more recently in the Russian dissident community when Vladimir Kara-Murza suddenly fell violently ill in a meeting in Moscow. He was lucky to be rushed to a hospital and cured, but the poison had taken a toll on him as he walked with a cane and explained that heavy metals were found in his blood. Nevertheless, Kara-Murza pledged that he would return to Moscow. “They want us to run but I won’t give them that pleasure”, he thundered to some applause. He insists: “We must practice what we preach: democracy, anti-corruption are not just ideas, they’re practices”.

Kara-Murza was one of many opposition figures who was also openly threatened by thugs likely tied to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen firebrand. He was asked what could be done from Washington, and his answer was simple. Let the opposition know they are not alone, but it is the Russian opposition’s job to bring democracy to Russia and no-one else’s. He did, however, praise the Magnitsky Act and his meetings with American politicians even taking the time to point out that the European Union had yet to pass anything like it, though he stated that the implementation of that “pro-Russian” law as he described was “feeble”.

Kara-Murza has spoke that West should include Russian propagandists which spread hatred in our country to the list of banned government figures as part of the sanctions. Russian politicians and propagandists like to criticize western values, but they will turn around and buy property and real estate in the West as well as send their children to American and European universities. “Russian governmentt officials who use media to create an environment of hate must be added to sanctions list…Russian authorities oppress citizens of Russia but invest stolen money in the West and educate their kids in the West”.

Kara-Murza also was keen to bring up the corruption that is pervasive in the Kremlin today. “Back in Soviet times there was an ideology to follow. Now the only ideology is money.”

Kara-Murza is right. The responsibility to bring democracy to Russia lies solely with the Russian people and those who strive for liberty within Russia. It’s time to turn away from the fear and hatred and mistrust of the present and look towards a brighter future that is out there for our country. Kara-Murza is also right that the Western measures against Russian corrupt officials have a very pro-Russian character, because the Russians who are involved in the fight against corruption, falsifications of elections and the illegitimate parliament are Russian patriots. They struggle for independent media, a media that informs rather than spreading propaganda. They are for dialogue and cooperation instead of threats, poisoning and murders.

by Kyle Menyhert

Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, died when he was poisoned with the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 (P-210) in the first ever nuclear terrorist attack in November 2006 in London. In 2014, the British Government established an official inquiry to investigate Mr. Litvinenko’s death. The inquiry established that Litvinenko was probably murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. The full verdict can be found here.

The case aroused widespread suspicion as Litvinenko said this before his death: “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

Free Russia Foundation organized a visit of Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, to Washington, DC on March 14-15 to inform U.S. officials and policy-makers about the results of the inquiry and to seek for specific actions from the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration.

On Tuesday the 15th, the Atlantic Council hosted a panel discussion put together by the McCain Institute and the Free Russia Foundation regarding the Kremlin’s silencing of Russian opposition. Featured at the panel besides the wife of the murdered Aleksander Litvinenko, were Dr. Alex Goldfarb of the Litvinenko Justice Foundation, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of Open Russia and the political party Parnas.

Kara-Murza recently survived a mysterious poisoning of his own. Although he survived, his case, as well as Litvinenko’s and many others, have become emblematic of the increasingly repressive and dangerous situation facing Russian opposition activists.

David Kramer of the McCain Institute moderated the event. He noted that repression of dissidents is not a new phenomenon under Vladimir Putin’s administration, but it was made clear at the opening of the panel that today it is “no longer an anomaly, but part and parcel of the Kremlin’s strategies.”

First to speak at the panel was Marina Litvinenko. She reminded that her husband’s murder was “the first ever act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city.” Mrs. Litvinenko informed that at the time of Alexander’s poisoning her husband worked with British and Spanish authorities investigating connections between Mr. Putin and his circle with organized crime – these links were confirmed by Spanish investigators after his death. She believes that this work was the main motive for his murder.

Dr. Alex Goldfarb, Litvinenko s close friend was next to speak. Litvinenko’s poisoning in London sent a grave message; even western cities like London were no longer safe. Polonium was utilized since it would be difficult to detect, but it was detected, which Dr. Goldfarb explained makes the chances of something like this happening in the west again unlikely.

Poison made another appearance more recently in the Russian dissident community when Vladimir Kara-Murza suddenly fell violently ill in a meeting in Moscow. He was lucky to be rushed to a hospital and cured, but the poison had taken a toll on him as he walked with a cane and explained that heavy metals were found in his blood. Nevertheless, Kara-Murza pledged that he would return to Moscow. “They want us to run but I won’t give them that pleasure”, he thundered to some applause. He insists: “We must practice what we preach: democracy, anti-corruption are not just ideas, they’re practices”.

Kara-Murza was one of many opposition figures who was also openly threatened by thugs likely tied to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen firebrand. He was asked what could be done from Washington, and his answer was simple. Let the opposition know they are not alone, but it is the Russian opposition’s job to bring democracy to Russia and no-one else’s. He did, however, praise the Magnitsky Act and his meetings with American politicians even taking the time to point out that the European Union had yet to pass anything like it, though he stated that the implementation of that “pro-Russian” law as he described was “feeble”.

Kara-Murza has spoke that West should include Russian propagandists which spread hatred in our country to the list of banned government figures as part of the sanctions. Russian politicians and propagandists like to criticize western values, but they will turn around and buy property and real estate in the West as well as send their children to American and European universities. “Russian governmentt officials who use media to create an environment of hate must be added to sanctions list…Russian authorities oppress citizens of Russia but invest stolen money in the West and educate their kids in the West”.

Kara-Murza also was keen to bring up the corruption that is pervasive in the Kremlin today. “Back in Soviet times there was an ideology to follow. Now the only ideology is money.”

Kara-Murza is right. The responsibility to bring democracy to Russia lies solely with the Russian people and those who strive for liberty within Russia. It’s time to turn away from the fear and hatred and mistrust of the present and look towards a brighter future that is out there for our country. Kara-Murza is also right that the Western measures against Russian corrupt officials have a very pro-Russian character, because the Russians who are involved in the fight against corruption, falsifications of elections and the illegitimate parliament are Russian patriots. They struggle for independent media, a media that informs rather than spreading propaganda. They are for dialogue and cooperation instead of threats, poisoning and murders.

by Kyle Menyhert

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s 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 Kremlin’s 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 Kremlin’s 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.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.