Tag Archives: Kremlin

The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Ivan Lyubshin, a resident of Kaluga, as a political prisoner. The criminal case against him should be closed, he should be immediately released, and his allegations of torture should be objectively investigated.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Ivan Lyubshin

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.

Case Update:

Despite of the obvious political motivation of the criminal charges against Airat, on August 24, 2020, the Central District Military Court sentenced Airat Dilmukhametov to 9 years in a strict regime colony. He was found guilty on four counts: public calls for separatism, public justification of terrorism, public calls for extremism and its financing. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Airat Dilmukhametov

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.

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

The Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines, recognized Oleksandr Marchenko as a political prisoner. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Oleksandr Marchenko

On June 06, 2020, Pskov City Court sentenced Gennady Shpakovsky, 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness and a political prisoner from Pskov, western Russia, to six and a half years’ imprisonment for his faith. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Gennady Shpakovsky

The Memorial Human Right Center recognized Aitahadzhi Khalimov, a Kazakhstan citizen living in Russia, convicted to 3.5 years in prison for justifying terrorism by keeping video files on his social network page as a political prisoner. Aitahadzhi Khalimov saved three videos with archival footage from the first Chechen war on his VKontakte profile. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aitahadzhi Khalimov

The Memorial Human Right Center has recognized Nikolai Platoshkin – a left-wing politician and video blogger – as a political prisoner. Platoshkin is unjustly accused of planning mass riots. This charge is politically motivated and related to his oppositional social and political activities. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Nikolai Platoshkin

On October 2, 2019, Nariman Memedeminov, a dual citizen of Ukraine and of the Russian Federation, a resident of Crimea, activist of the Crimean Solidarity movement, and a citizen journalist, was sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony and banned from administering websites for two years in accordance with Part 1 of Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (“Public calls for terrorist activities”).

In 2013, Mededeminov published videos of events hosted by the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (an organization that was legally operating in Ukraine but banned in the Russian Federation) on his YouTube channel. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Nariman Memedeminov

In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Rakhmiddin Kamolov, a human rights activist and a Uzbekistan national serving a 16-year prison term in Russia, as a political prisoner. We believe that Kamolov was persecuted for political reasons in connection with a non-violent exercise of his rights such as freedom of conscience, religion, speech and association. Also, his right to a fair trial was violated. The purpose of the persecution was to force Kamolov to halt his public activities. Memorial Human Rights Center urges for the immediate release of Rakhmiddin Kamolov. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Rakhmiddin Kamolov

In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from a Siberian region of Yakutia, as a political prisoner. Deprivation of liberty was applied to him solely because of his political and religious beliefs, as well as a non-violent exercise of freedom of movement, expression, peaceful assembly, conscience, and religion. We urge for the immediate and unconditional release of Gabyshev and his full rehabilitation with redress. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Alexander Gabyshev

In accordance with international guidelines defining the term, Memorial Human Rights Center considers Aleksandr Atamanov, a resident of Pyatigorsk, a political prisoner. Aleksandr was charged with recruiting people into the Ukrainian Right Sector and possessing drugs. The guilt of Aleksandr Atamanov has not been proved and key pieces of evidence in the case were fabricated. Aleksand repeatedly said that violence was used against him in pre-trial custody and threats were made against his relatives. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aleksandr Atamanov

According with international guidelines and definitions, Memorial Human Rights Center considers two residents of Sevastopol, Crimea Aleksei Bessarabov and Vladimir Dudka political prisoners. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Aleksei Bessarabov and Vladimir Dudka

On June 2, 2020, Free Russia Foundation hosted a congressional discussion on the Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Continue reading The Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

On May 28, 2020, Russian civil and human rights activist Sergei Mokhnatkin died at the age of 66. Mokhnatkin died in a hospital suffering from complications from a spinal injury received in prison.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Sergei Mokhnatkin

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula. They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have relentlessly persecuted them.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Prosecution of Crimean Tatars

On Thursday, May 21, 2020, at 16:00 (Kyiv time) / 9:00 AM (Washington, DC) an international online forum will be held with the participation of human rights activists and scholars from Kyiv, Simferopol, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and Washington DC.

Forum participants will talk about the Kremlin’s implementation of hybrid deportation of Crimean Tatars and public activists on the peninsula, for which a whole system of political repression has been launched. The issue of defining the criteria for the status of a “political prisoner” will be raised and lists will be formed. The participants of the online forum will also announce the work on the introduction of new international sanctions against Russian officials who are directly involved in the organization of political persecution. Human rights activists will spread the awareness of the global petition to the UN, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the OSCE to save the lives of thousands of illegally detained in Russia, the Russian-occupied Crimea, and part of the Donbas from the threat of COVID-19 infection in prisons. The petition can be signed by following the link.

Speakers:

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Chairwoman of the Center for Civil Liberties NGO (Kyiv);
Sergey Davidis, Head of the Political Prisoners Support Program, Member of the Council at the Memorial Human Rights Center (Moscow);
Natalia Arno, President and Founder of the Free Russia Foundation (Washington);
Ilya Nuzov, Head of the Eastern Europe-Central Asia Desk at the International Federation for Human Rights (Paris);
Lilia Hemedzhy, a lawyer of the Crimean Solidarity initiative (Simferopol);
Wilfried Jilge, a historian of Eastern-Central Europe and Ukraine (Berlin);
Simon Papuashvili, Programme Director of the International Partnership for Human Rights (Brussels).

Event languages: Ukrainian and Russian.

The international online forum will be held on the second anniversary of the arrest of Server Mustafayev, coordinators of the Crimean Solidarity, which has united the relatives of political prisoners and activists in the occupied Crimea. According to his colleagues, he was the engine that drove the association. Since May 2018, Server has been held behind bars.
The event is organized by the global campaign #PrisonersVoise (formerly #SaveOlegSentsov) as part of the Week of Solidarity with the Crimean Tatars “Common Pain. Common History.” Informational support was provided by the PR agency KRASNI.

Live broadcast is available at the link.

Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Oleg Dmitriev, Oleg Ivanov, and Sergei Ozerov, supporters of a group called Artpodgotovka, convicted of preparing a terrorist act in the center of Moscow on November 5, 2017, as political prisoners.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Artpodgotovka

Despite numerous initiatives to amnesty prisoners, including political prisoners, ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, commemorating the victory of the Soviet Union and the Allies over Nazi Germany, the State Duma refused to give amnesty this year. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Victory Day’s Amnesty Cancelled

Earlier this week The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a new annual report on the state of religious freedoms across the globe. According to the report, religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated in 2019. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Prosecution of Religious Minorities in Russia in April 2020

Dear friend,

Please join us in signing this petition to help end the illegal detention of Yury Dmitriev, a 64-year old historian and a political prisoner, whose deteriorating health is now gravely endangered by the coronavirus pandemic. Continue reading Sign a Petition to Save Yury Dmitriev

Gennady Kravtsov is a radio engineer who was sentenced to six years in prison in a maximum-security colony on charges of committing a crime under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code (‘High Treason’). He has been in custody since May 27, 2014. Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized Gennady Kravtsov as a political prisoner because the actions he was accused of never took place and his right to a fair trial was violated. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Gennady Kravtsov

International aid in response to natural and manmade emergencies is a well-established practice. It demonstrates good will and solidarity, and helps victims overcome hardships. However, it can also be used to flaunt power, wealth and advanced technologies for political purposes.

Aid provided by Russia internationally, frequently amounts to nothing more than a demonstration of power, with materiel being of little practical use to the recipient. What is worse, the Russian government sends help to other countries without regard for the desperate need of its own people. This is, sadly, the case with the current Russian international coronavirus aid initiatives. In the past few weeks, Russia has dispatched and promoted its aid to the US, Italy, Serbia and other countries, as tragedy unravels throughout its own regions whose medical infrastructure is clearly not ready to effectively fight with the virus Covid-19.

On April 3 and 4, 2020, Russia sent eleven planes with 87 military officers including military medical personnel, special equipment and military transport for disinfection to  Serbia from to confront the spread of the virus Covid-19. The value of aid delivered to a country with about 7 million inhabitants was just below to what Russia sent weeks prior to Italy, a country with 60 million people. With this help, Russia sent a strong message on how important Serbia was. With a message posted on his twitter account, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic profusely thanked Putin for the help: “Very good conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Confirmed friendship, and significant help will arrive in Serbia. Thank you, Vladimir Putin and the Russian people!”

The contents of the dispatch were the same as those shipped to Italy. “It seems to me to be the same package that it was for Italy, and it requires our full gratitude to Russia because it shows how much they care about Serbia when it is not easy for them either”, Vucic said. Russian effort backfired when public reports emerged that help sent to Italy was not really useful, with its equipment designed for chemical attacks and not viral outbreaks. One can presume that the delivery to Serbia  also turned out to be more of a symbolic act.

Russia is not the only country taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic for political purposes. China has also been very public with its relief efforts, sending help internationally. On March 21, 2020, for example, a Chinese medical team arrived in Serbia to join the fight against the virus. They brought six medical professionals, ventilators, medical masks, test kits and other medical supplies. China has also provided financial support to Serbia for building test labs and other medical facilities. Two labs, – one in Belgrade and one in Nis, are expected to be ready by mid-April.

For the Serbian government, Russian and Chinese help is useful both, economically and politically. Dimitar Bechev, Director of the European Policy Institute, feels that the Serbian government is leveraging Russian and Chinese attention to advance its own standing within the EU. Alarmed by the prospect of Serbia falling under the influence of these authoritarian regimes, the EU may feel the urge to prioritize Serbia in exchange for its loyalty to the “European family”.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the March coronavirus aid dispatch from China,  the European Union announced a 93 million euros worth of support to Serbia. Even after this announcement, President Vucic continued his negotiations with Emanuel Macron for additional help from France.

Located midway from Asia to Europe, Serbia is strategic locale for both Russia and China. By becoming a part of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, Serbia has secured over $4 billion in direct investments from China and another $5 billion through loans and infrastructure projects. Serbia and China have also moved to deepen their security cooperation and have agreed on a technological partnership with a Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

Russian influence is historically strong in Serbia. Russia dominates the Serbian energy sector and seeks tirelessly to strengthen its position in the region even more. 80% of natural gas and 70% of crude oil imported to Serbia comes from Russia.  Gazprom owns 56.15% of NIS, the largest oil and gas company in Serbia. One of the legs of the TurkStream pipeline is planned to go through Serbian territory.

Sustaining political support among Serbian authorities is of critical importance to the Kremlin, which sees it as a zero-sum game. Seeking to preserve this support, the Kremlin attempts to retard and derail the Serbian integration into the EU and minimize the NATO influence on the country. Russia works to deepen its bilateral military relations through joint training and military sales to the Serbian Army; it is aggressive in its support for pro-Russian politicians and disinformation campaigns. Media outlets financed by pro-Kremlin forces spreads narratives advancing the Russian government agenda and undermining trust in the European Union and support of its values.

For the time being, Serbia shrewdly takes full advantage of  this international contest for influence by accepting benefits from all three sides – Russia, China and the EU – and by praising Putin, preparing for joining the EU and letting Chinese investments flow in.

The Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized another 130 Jehovah’s Witnesses as political prisoners and politically persecuted. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses

The PR Campaign:

April 2020 has witnessed a conspicuous uptick of publications in Western and Russian media in support of the Nord Stream 2 project:

All of these publications reference the release of results of an opinion poll and in English.

Who Paid for the PR Campaign? 

The poll was commissioned by the German Eastern Business Association (Ostausschuss – Osteuropaverein der Deutschen Wirtschaft, OAOEV)

OAOEV is a fairly new NGO that promotes German business in “Eastern” countries – from Russian to China. It was founded in 2018 through the partnership of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (Eastern Committee) and the Eastern Europe Business Association of Germany.

In December 2019, several OAOEV members met with Vladimir Putin. Following the meeting, OAOEV published a press release.

The press contact for the Nord Strom 2 Survey listed on the OAOEV website is Andreas Metz. Metz is described by Politico Europe as “member of Berlin-based lobbying group Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, which supports the pipeline Nord Stream 2.”

This OAOEV survey coincided with the November 1, 2019 appointment of Mario Mehren as the new spokesperson of its Russia working group. Mehren is a member of the shareholders committee of Nord Stream 2.

Mr. Mehren is also the Chairman and CEO of the natural gas and crude oil company Wintershall Dea – one of the two German companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project (the second is E.On). It is a joint venture of a German concern BASF (67%) and LetterOne (33%) co-owned by Russian oligarchs with strong ties to the Kremlin, – Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan.

There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that these oligarchs have close ties with the Putin’s regime and its intelligence services.

Wintershall Dea owns stakes of gas reserves in Russia and chemical factories in Germany that rely on the export of that gas.

In this role as the head of Wintershall Dea, Mario Mehren met with the CEO of Gazprom Alexei Miller numerous times:

Mr. Mehren has been on the record lobbying for Nord Stream 2 for a few years now. For example, he is a co-author of a 2018 disinformation piece about Nord Stream 2 in a US outlet.

Given the above connections of the oligarchs to the Kremlin and conflicted interests of the Wintershall Dea shareholders and top leadership, it is reasonable not to be believe in the independent nature or objectivity of this research poll.

Who Executed the Polls?

The Nord Stream 2 survey was executed by an infamous commercial polling agency Forsa Politik- und Sozialforschung AG, which had been accused of data manipulations in several of its past projects. In 2009, for example, the firm was involved in a scandal concerning a methodologically flawed survey whose cooked results claimed disapproval of the 2007 railroad operators’ strike and approval of privatization of the railway. It was uncovered that the biased study had been secretly funded by Deutsche Bahn.

Survey Claims:

Forsa’s Nord Stream 2 poll is based on a phone interview of 1,006 Germans and purports them to reflect the attitudes of the entire German population.

While neither the full Nord Stream 2 survey data nor its methodology have been made public, the Wintershall Dea website features the most extensive write-up of the Forsa Nord Stream 2 survey.

The Wintershall Dea website highlights the interpretation of data according to which the majority of German people do not see the U.S. as a reliable partner and juxtapose it to Putin’s Russia. Its title is “Forsa: less and less confidence in the U.S.

The survey’s other published findings also reinforce the anti-US and pro-Russian narrative through claims such as:

  • Only 10% of Germans regard the United States as a reliable energy supplier. That puts the U.S. behind the Middle East (with 14% of German citizens having confidence in the Middle East as a reliable energy supplier);
  • Over half (55%) of German citizens want closer economic ties with Russia;
  • More than three quarters (77%) of respondents say that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline construction should continue despite US opposition.

What Are the Prospects for Nord Stream 2?

With just a hundred miles of seabed pipeline construction remaining, the work on the Nord Stream 2 project was abruptly halted by US sanctions introduced in December 2019. The sanctions threaten to blacklist any foreign companies collaborating on the construction of the pipeline. This caused all foreign partners to pull-out from the construction and left Russia with no foreign vessels willing to complete the pipe-laying, according to analysis by Benjamin L. Schmitt published by the Jamestown Foundation.

Neither the sanctions, the Coronavirus Pandemic nor the perturbations on the global energy market seem to have any affect, as Putin vowed to finish the pipeline no later than the first quarter of 2021. Such a timeline, however, seems overly optimistic, for two reasons.

Firstly, Russia needs to receive a permit from Denmark to deploy in its territorial waters. Such a permit (given Denmark’s appreciation for the true nature and purpose of Nord Stream 2) is far from certain, and even if granted, may be issued with a significant delay. The Danish Energy Agency (DEA) had spent two and a half years evaluating Gazprom proposals before finally granting permission to build the pipeline in its waters in October 2019.

In February 2020, the Danish Energy Agency said it began negotiations with Nord Stream 2 AG regarding the unfinished Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, but the involvement of any specific new vessels has not yet been discussed.

Secondly, Russia currently has no vessels equipped to carry on the construction. According to a European energy expert and Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow Margarita Assenova, Russia has two ships it may potentially use to complete the project: Akademik Chersky and Fortuna.

Akademik Chersky, a vessel owned by a Moscow-based construction firm with a loan from Gazprombank, set sail from Russia’s Far East toward the Suez Port in Egypt in March 2020 and after several peculiar route diversions headed to Las Palmas in early April. It possesses dynamic positioning stipulated by Danish authorities. Chersky, however, requires a technology upgrade to be able to lay pipes. An upgrade can potentially be performed in two to three months. It would then take additional time for Akademik Chersky to reach the Baltic, said Assenova.

Fortuna, located in the Baltic Sea, does not have dynamic positioning. As explained by a CEPA report, “dynamic positioning is a computer-controlled system that automatically maintains the vessel’s position and heading, without the need to use anchors to maintain its course in deep waters. Avoiding anchors in the Baltic Sea is a key environmental and security requirement of Danish authorities for drilling platforms, research ships, and cable-laying and pipe-laying vessels.” Gazprom has floated an idea of attaching a tugboat with dynamic positioning to Fortuna, as reported in the Russian media.

Even if either of these schemes is successful, the vessels would still have to be insured, and its insurers would fall under the US sanctions. Russia has been developing its own instruments for insuring vessels under the new sanctions regime, according to Mikhail Korchemkin from East European Gas Analysis group.

What are the Objectives of this PR Campaign?

With its publicity campaign, Wintershall Dea has attempted to improve the political and social dynamics in Europe to facilitate the quickest completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline so badly wanted by the Kremlin.

While revenues from gas exports are not essential for the Russian federal budget, the sector has become the primary instrument of expropriating state resources and channeling them into the accounts of Putin’s’ cronies. As such it is one of the key factors to the ability of Putin to remain in power.

Putin’s regime simply cannot afford to lose its market share to a highly competitive US LNG. Gas price manipulation has proved an effective strategy for Gazprom in the past decade. By completing Nord Stream 2, Gazprom is hoping to brainwash European consumers in its ability to sustain high volumes of affordable gas supply for the long term while in reality Russian gas has always come with the political strings attached, bringing corruption and subversion of democratic institutions.

With this PR campaign, the Kremlin attempts to shift the focus away from its track-record of price manipulation and to the commercial aspects of this partnership with the EU, as well as convince the society that the Nord Stream 2 is a purely commercial project and not a political weapon of the Kremlin.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 15

10:00 AM WASHINGTON, DC / 16:00 BRUSSELS

ONLINE PRESENTATION OF RESEARCH PAPER “CONCEPTUALIZING MALIGN INFLUENCE OF PUTIN’S RUSSIA IN EUROPE”

 

The link for the presentation will be available upon registration. Please REGISTER HERE

Today’s expert literature on the Kremlin’s subversive activities in Europe is often confusing in terms of the concepts and definitions used by authors in their reports and analyses. The paper aims to remedy this shortcoming by providing a comprehensive theoretical framework for analyzing the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe in the most efficient way.

The paper highlights major areas in which actors of Putin’s Russia exercise malign influence, identify main categories of Russian operators and their European facilitators that conduct or help conduct the Kremlin’s political warfare against the West, and, finally, describes vulnerabilities of European states to malign influence of Putin’s Russia.

Speakers:

– Anton Shekhovtsov, FRF Senior Fellow

– Melissa Hooper, Director of Europe and Eurasia Policy at Human Rights First

– Maria Snegovaya, Adjunct Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Moderator:

– Grigory Frolov, FRF Vice President, Programs and Development

A special report by the EEAS on Coronavirus Disinformation offers a thorough analysis of tactics, strategies and vectors of effort by  Kremlin-controlled media on the issue of Coronavirus. During the past three months, the agency has documented over 110 instances of disinformation (i.e. excluding reposts and secondary materials citing them). Such a significant volume suggests that the Kremlin has a strategy and a plan on how to use the pandemic to advance its political agenda in Europe.

How is this strategy manifested and executed in Germany? And who are the prime targets for the Kremlin-controlled media in Germany?

In Germany, there are in essence two main target audiences – the German-speakers and the Russian-speakers. A great volume of German-language materials is generated by outfits such as RT Deutschland и Sputnik DE. Their level of activity is so massive (for RT Deutschland, for example, – up to 10 new videos per day and for Sputnik DE up to 30 published stories per day) that the German law enforcement now has several formal efforts dedicated to addressing their challenge. In March 24, 2020, the Federal Criminal Police and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution announced the start of programs to monitor fake news materials “whose spread may pose a threat to the societal order and security.”

Organic audiences (in German Top-100 in social nets) cultivated by RT and Sputnik as part of Russian campaigns to interfere in the EU in 2019 and German Parliamentary elections in 2017, today are used to spread the coronavirus disinformation throughout the German society. For the most part, they are people with far-right political orientations, those who support populist leaders, harbor anti-American sentiments and embrace conspiracy theories of various sorts.  Many of them have voted for the AfD party. This is not surprising, given that RT served as a de-facto party channel during the 2017 Bundestag elections campaign – it provided AfD candidates unrestricted publicity with an opportunity to discuss any issue, while completely ignoring all other parties and candidates.

Germany’s Russian-speaking community, of course, is also an important audience for the Kremlin propaganda outlets.  According to various statistics, Germany is home to between 3-5 mln Russian-speakers:

– About 3 mln arrived through the repatriation programs for Soviet Germans;
– About 300,000— are refugees of Jewish ethnic origins;
– About 300,000 ethnic Ukrainians;
– According to the official information published by the Russian Embassy in Germany — 500,000 remain citizens of the Russian Federation;
– Additionally, citizens from various former Soviet republics such as Moldova, Latvia, etc.

This amounts to a sizeable audience for whom Russian is the primary language used at home, as well as the main language for receiving important information and the news.

In addition to the Russian-language media outlets, the Kremlin aggressively employs social media platforms to shape opinion among the Russian-speaking audience in Germany. The Russian Odnoklassniki (translates as “classmates”) has at least 2.6 mln accounts based from Germany;  an online group “Russian Germans for AfD” has over 20,000 members; and the pro-AfD and pro-Putin group “Russian Germany” has more than 60,000 members.

Four narratives dominate within the continuous barrage of coronavirus-related disinformation and manipulation advanced by the Kremlin-controlled media in Germany:

1. Lack of unity in Europe and the absence of collective support and plan dealing with the coronavirus among the EU states.

In a weekly program Vesti Nedeli (which has about 5.7 mln viewers) broadcast by Russia’s First Channel on March 22, 2020, Dmitry Kiselev is speculating on the geostrategic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

“The Schengen Area regime was the first one to collapse.  Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Lithuania have reinstated control of their national borders. That means that the Schengen Area with the freedom of movement between its 26 members states no longer exists. Those are just the first few steps in the direction of giving up the spoils of civilization in favor of reinstating sovereign nation-states. In fact, this is the crash of the European Idea and transition to a new political culture with a different value system.

All the lip-service to solidarity, collective assistance, shared values, human rights and humanism, has gone with the wind the moment when Italy, who lost more people to coronavirus than China, asked the EU for help, and was rebuffed. Italy requested personal protection items and medical equipment, specifically lung ventilators. In response, Germany and France curbed their exports of medical masks.”

One would be hard-pressed to find “analysis” with a comparable concentration of lies.  Firstly, the Schengen agreements include clauses governing possible limitations and temporary moratoriums on travel, as well as governing the travel of non-EU citizens. Secondly, the European Commission urgently appropriated 50 million euros to help Italy.  Finally, France and Germany limited their national exports of medical masks due to their domestic deficits.

Similar materials and reports surfaced on the German-language Sputnik DE on March 19, 2020 and RT Deutschland on March 30, 2020. Some outlets have gone further and proclaimed the end of the European Union.

Alexander Nosovich commented in his March 13, 2020 editorial published by RuBaltic.Ru: “The Coronavirus response has demonstrated that the European Union does not exist in the minds of Europeans. When it is time to act, the Union ceases to exists as a political reality.”

VestiFM (ВестиFM) went even further and in all seriousness discussed the inevitable exit of Italy and Germany from the EU.

The nexus between the German right populists politicians and the Russian medical envoy to Italy deserve a special mention, as it played a key role in Putin’s decision to do so.

Turns out, the impetus was the March 20, 2020 letter penned by the Bundestag AfD member Ulrich Oehme (infamous for his pro-Russian stance and his travel to the occupied Crimea) and his Italian colleague, ultra-right populist from the Lega Nord party Paolo Grimoldi (who founded a “Friends of Putin” Caucus in the Italian Parliament) addressed to Roman Babayan (a Moscow City Duma Deputy and an anchorman of the NTV show “Your Own Truth”) and to Leonid Slutskiy (Chair of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, PACE delegate, member of the Russian right-wing Liberal-Democratic Partyparty, and named on the international list of sanctions adopted by the US, EU and Canada for his official legislative role in the Russian annexation of Crimea).

Babayan read the letter during a live broadcast of his show, which received wide coverage throughout the Russian media. For the Russian audience, a spectacle was played out where a teary plea from the Europeans was met with an immediate and gracious response from Russia.  It’s important to acknowledge that this narrative may be aimed more at the Russian domestic audience, as opposed to the Russian diaspora in Europe, though it permeates both.

2. Germany moves to rescind sanctions against Russia due to the pandemic.

Calls by three marginal Bundestag Members – Robby Schlund, AfD (who became famous for his effort to open an AfD office in Russia), Anton Friesen, AfD, and Alexander Noy, Left – are presented by the Kremlin media as the onset of a serious discussion to end sanctions against Russia. It has been peddled most actively by RIA News and Izvestia (and then reprinted by dozens of less prominent outlets such as regnum.ru, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, gazeta.ru and among the German-language outlets, such as  Sputnik, RT and Junge Welt who also touted that the tiny German Communist Party called to end sanctions against Cuba, Venezuela and Russia. It is important to clarify that such statements and calls are made by individual members of the Bundestag and fractions several times a day and do not amount to a formal legislative discussion or movement.

Against this backdrop, a significant reactivation of the Nord Stream 2 lobbying efforts have taken place. The pretext of this campaign was the publication of survey results prepared by Forsa, a leading German market research and opinion poll agency, and dealing with German attitudes on energy policy issues. Rossiyskaya Gazeta, whose editorial focus usually echoes the sentiments inside the Kremlin, immediately reported on the study: “Against the difficult economic situation related to coronavirus, the support for construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has grown. Three quarters of respondents (77%) support the most expedient completion of the Russian-European project, despite the limitations announced by the United States.”

In Germany itself, however, this information has been ignored by prime outlets and only featured only by marginal portals covering economic beats (such as finanzen.net.)

3. German lack of preparedness for the Coronavirus pandemic and shortage of doctors.

One would assume that the Kremlin propaganda machine would not waste time on spreading lies that are easily factchecked and quickly dismissed as disinformation. Nevertheless, an entire program on Vesti FM on February 29, 2020, did exactly that. Other peddled themes include the so-called “negative pandemic scenario” projecting that 50 million Germans will inevitably become infected and 1 million will die, which at this point is a mere hypothesis. Some Russian outlets such as Nezavisimaya Gazeta engage in despicable speculation on the circumstances of the suicide of a German state minister with headlines such as “The German Hysteria”.  Again, here, it is the Russian domestic audience that may have been the primary target, though the Russian-language audiences in Europe have been also been affected.

While most Kremlin-controlled media outlets have advanced the narrative of the German panic, Alexander Rahr, the darling of the Russian propaganda and an expert on all possible issues, offered an extensive commentary: “ It is improper to say that one does not feel the panic here.”

4. Refugees and Quarantine.

Russian disinformation outlets have been pushing a narrative that refugees in Europe violate quarantine.  Komsomolskaya Pravda has hired an AfD activist  Eugen Schmidt who has churned out several reports supporting this theme. Such narratives target Russian audiences with anti-migrant and racists views.

An anti-migrant publication germania.one is also advancing a similar line. On the other hand, Sputnik DE is vocal in its criticism of the failure of the German government to sustain safety and enforce quarantine measures inside refugee camps and asylum-seekers’ housing.

What are some of the preliminary conclusions and observations that could be made from the review of the fake, half-truth and misleading materials?

It is clear that the Kremlin-controlled outlets seek to sow uncertainty, fear of the future and distrust among the German population toward its government. At the same time, materials aired and published frequently contradict each other.  RT Deutschland, for example, is criticizing the German government for harsh restrictions, while Sputnik DE is criticizing it for lack of preparedness and inability to enforce quarantine. However, this is precisely the mechanism used by the Kremlin to execute its strategy of sowing uncertainty and even panic. Once the environment is right, it aims to push for the removal of sanctions under the pretext of helping the German economy recover. To shift attention away from its own fake news, RT Deutschland is claiming  that prominent Western outlets such as Tagesspiegel , FAZ, AFP  и DW  are spreading fake news against RT Deutschland.

Despite all of these efforts by the Kremlin-controlled media, the rating of the ruling coalition continues to grow, and the majority of Germans approve of measures taken by state and federal governments. According to a recent poll conducted by ARD-Deutschlandtrend (02.04.2020), 72% are satisfied with the crisis management measures adopted by the government in response to coronavirus pandemic. Likewise, the support is strong for the overall performance of the ruling coalition of parties (government): 63% are satisfied with its work (which is a 28% from a similar poll 02.03.2020)

Azat Miftakhov, a graduate student at the engineering mathematics faculty at Moscow State University and a supporter of anarchist views, is under investigation on two counts. He has been charged under Article 213, Section 2, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Hooliganism by a group of people by prior agreement,’ for which the penalty is up to seven years of prison) and is a suspect of an offence under Article 223.1, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Illegal preparation of explosive substances and explosive devices,’ for which the penalty is up to six years of prison). Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Azat Miftakhov

At the present time, the political life of Russia’s regions is all but destroyed. There are no organizational or financial resources for it and such a state of affairs is the result of a deliberate strategy to destroy democracy in Russia which has been implemented throughout the last 20 years.

Despite the fact that various regions of Russia have their own nuances and special features, on the whole, the situation is the same everywhere: the head of the region and the heads of the major municipalities are approved, and de facto appointed by the presidential administration, and all the rest of the regional leadership is appointed and approved by the governor. Those who disagree with this state of affairs are forced out of official politics.

On the whole, it should be acknowledged that after the presidential elections of 2018, political life in the regions was completely sterilized; so in that sense, there is only a point in discussing the reasons which led to this state of affairs and to think about the prospects for Russia to get back on track to democracy and federalism. Obviously, without radical changes in the leadership of Russia, the situation will not change, and as long as the laws, and most importantly, the president of Russia remains unchanged, any sort of revival of regional politics cannot be expected.

Democracy and Federalism in Russia

Democracy and federalism in Russia turned out to be powerless before the onslaught of autocracy in the early 2000s, because they had no real support either in the government itself or among citizens – and such a state of affairs had been programmed by the creators of the political system of Yeltsin’s Russia.

Even those government agencies which were formed directly by citizens had no real autonomy from the higher levels of government, primarily at the federal level, because the president was able to rid himself of inconvenient regional leaders and the regional leaders were able to oppress the municipalities. Naturally, in such circumstances the level of citizens’ trust in municipal and regional government was rather low, so the Kremlin was not afraid that some mayor or governor would be bold enough to argue with it, that they relied on the real support of the people, rather than on fixed elections. The local elites wasted so much effort on fighting among themselves that they were gladly ready to agree to the federal center’s terms, just to get rid of their rivals. In the end, a tactical alliance with the federal center became a trap; once they fell into it, local elites lost their political agency. This is what Putin exploited when he set about sterilizing regional politics completely.

The current state of affairs and its incorporation into the renewed text of the Russian constitution is the result of a constant and consistent attack on democracy and federalism. This has been under way for the entire 20 years of Putin’s rule, but as has been noted, it began much earlier. Essentially, the system created by Yeltsin in 1993-1996 had to guarantee the president that even if he had a minority in parliament and his personal rating was low, and if members of the opposition come to power in a number of regions and major cities, he could still remain in power and successfully block all the efforts of his critics.

Precisely within the framework of this concept, the prospects for local and regional self-government were in fact destroyed. Since all real powers were concentrated in the president, and all the other branches of government (parliament, the courts, the regions, and local self-government) were intentionally weakened, the deliberate course of the new President Putin enabled him to destroy both federalism and democracy in several years, without encountering any real resistance.

The Attack on Self-Government

Thus, as has already been said, the constitution of 1993 was written not so much to create a firm foundation for democracy and federalism in Russia, but rather to serve the interests of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Its authors were motivated by fear of a communist revanche, which they expected “from below.”

Obviously, local elites fully shared that fear of Yeltsin’s entourage, or rather exploited it for solving their own tactical problems. The presence in Russia in the 1990s of the so-called “red belt,” that is, the regions where the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) traditionally garnered many votes, forced the Yeltsin team to search for any allies for themselves who were prepared not to allow a victory of the CPRF and in exchange for that, forgive them any abuses.

Thus, emerged the phenomenon of “electoral reservoirs,” that is, regions guaranteed to show a high turn-out at all elections with high indicators for the party of power and its candidates. Essentially, a number of local leaders simply changed their loyalty for financial bonuses and impunity. This is exactly what defined the nature of interrelations between the federal center and the regions. Therefore, when Putin took the line of restricting the real powers of local bodies of government, the elites of the regions were already rather isolated from the citizens and did not have high authority among them which would have enabled them to rely on the support of voters in opposition to the Kremlin’s policy – if they even had such a wish at all.

Nevertheless, under Yeltsin, political life in the regions was preserved – among other reasons because the Kremlin played on the contradictions of the local elites, in each case wishing to find a counterweight to an ambitious governor through the head of a regional center or in some other way. Taking into account that Yeltsin’s ratings were extremely low all through the second half of the 1990s, the Kremlin was forced to reconcile itself to a certain level of political freedom in the regions, in the wealthiest of which quite interesting political systems had been formed and operated relatively successfully. For example, in Sverdlovsk Region there was a bicameral regional parliament where the upper house was elected every two years through elections in the districts, and the lower house by party lists; in fact the main fight was usually among the regional parties, whereas the federal party did not have significant influence. But all of this was possible because Sverdlovsk Region was relatively wealthy, which enabled numerous regional industrial groups to exist, which were interested in political representation among other things.

This is why we must not forget that Alexei Kudrin’s tax reform finally put to death the prospects for political life in the regions, the result of which led to the total financial dependency of the regions on the center and made struggling for power in their regions pointless; if the center distributes cash and everything comes from the center, then it is quite logical that a person appointed from the center is at the head of the region.

The local elites accepted the rules of the game and instead of resistance to the changing viceroys, tried to cooperate with each new governor because any other strategy is fraught with serious problems and losses.

Local Elites

We cannot overlook the quality of the local elites as well; in the absolute majority of cases, already by the mid-1990s, power in the regions had wound up in the hands of the Soviet nomenklatura. On the one hand, it preferred the administrative-command methods of leadership and leaned toward the necessity of taking part in honest and competitive elections, but that is why it was prepared to obtain powers from the leadership and not the public. On the other hand, it turned out to be involved in corrupt schemes which enabled the federal government to control any local leader by the kompromat [compromising material] compiled on him. In many cases, it was these people who kept power in their hands all through the 1990s and 2000s, until the Putin administration gradually, but methodically, got rid of them.

The situation in Sverdlovsk Region was illustrative, where Arkady Chernetsky, mayor of the regional center, remained in his post from 1992-2010, but Eduard Rossel, governor of Sverdlovsk Region, had in one way or another headed the region from 1991-2009 (with a break from 1993-1995). Both of them came out of the Soviet nomenklatura, and despite the undoubted political talents and readiness for participation in competitive politics, both were drawn to authoritarian methods and were not ashamed of using manipulative techniques in the elections.

All the years they were in their posts, these politicians and their teams waged an unceasing war, but in the end both of them gave up their power, not by losing elections, but by subordinating themselves to order. Now both of these rivals represent Sverdlovsk Region in the Federation Council without any real weight in regional politics.

It is noteworthy that even after the departure of Chernetsky from the post of head of Ekaterinburg, his team resisted pressure from the regional government for several years, which created a certain space of political struggle and even enabled the non-system politician Evgeny Royzman to win the elections to head of Ekaterinburg (by that time, this position had already become symbolic). But this resistance had purely economic reasons and in no way presupposed criticism of the federal government and its policy. On the eve of the 2018 presidential elections, the city team finally capitulated, and with that, politics in the region ended. In May 2018, Evgeny Royzman was forced to give up his powers as head of Ekaterinburg prematurely, and the city charter no longer stipulated new direct elections. Despite the specific nature of the situation in Ekaterinburg and Sverdlovsk Region, in the end even there, the Kremlin achieved its aims – as in all other regions of Russia, rich and poor, national republics and ordinary regions and territories.

What Is to Be Done?

What can and should be done, so that democracy is returned to Russia and cannot be so simply overthrown? As was said at the very outset, without changes at the federal level, we should not expect a flourishing of politics in the regions. But it is important not to repeat the mistakes of the past and not create the prerequisites so that democracy and federalism in Russia could be overthrown some time again.

First, it is necessary to have the constitutional transfer of the maximum number of political, legal, and financial powers to the level of local self-government. Even the regional level of government must be not be as influential as the municipalities. Essentially, the regional administrations must be involved only in the creation and maintenance of the general infrastructure and coordination of the efforts of local communities. It is much harder to take control of thousands of municipalities with great powers, elected by direct elections, than several dozen regional governments. This is exactly why the municipalities must become the foundation of democracy and the guarantor of the separation of powers in Russia, or otherwise everything will rapidly return to the current state of affairs.

Secondly, the restrictions on the creation of regional parties must be removed. Taking into account the dimensions of Russia, it is more logical to prohibit federal parties as such, motivating regional parties to form blocs at the federal level around common program lines and interests. Federal politics must be made in the regions and municipalities and not the opposite.

Third, the incorporation of a parliamentary system of governance at all levels of government – from the federal to the municipal – seems correct, that is, in both the regions and in the major cities, executive power must be in the hands of the head of government elected by the parliament. This will enable the destruction of the prerequisites for a revanche of Putinism several years after the departure of Vladimir Putin from politics, because it will destroy even the theoretical possibility of subordinating one level of government to another through personal agreements or blackmail. On the whole, all of Russia’s history teaches us that any opportunity to concentrate power in the hands of one person rather quickly leads to authoritarianism and a lack of change in government – and not only at the level of the head of state.

Fourth, any attempts to return Russia to the path of democracy and federalism are unthinkable without lustration not only at the federal but also at the regional and even municipal level. The main reason why the democratic endeavors of the 1990s were so easily overthrown was the fact that in the early 1990s, real power in Russia was left in the hands of descendants of the Soviet nomenklatura. Taking into account by whom and how the regional and municipal bodies of governments were formed in recent years, keeping these people in politics will inevitably lead to a revanche in a very short time. There are quite enough new people for politics at all levels in Russia, but for them to get involved and not lose at the very first elections to the re-painted Putin nomenklatura, the latter must be lawfully excluded from the process. Otherwise, everything will come full circle in this new, reimagined future.

Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Maxim Smyshlyaev, a resident of the city of Rostov-on-Don of left persuasions. At the time of his arrest, he worked at a McDonald’s outlet and studied extramurally at the Institute of History and International Relations of the Southern Federal University. He was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in a strict-regime penal colony under Part 3 of Article 205.1 (‘Complicity in the preparation of a terrorist act’) of the Russian Criminal Code for having allegedly aided Artur Panov, a minor holding the citizenship of Ukraine, in the preparation of a terrorist act that did not take place. Smyshlyaev has been held in custody since April 22, 2016. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognizes Maxim Smyshlyaev as political prisoner. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Maxim Smyshlyaev

The Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized a Russian citizen Vladimir Domnin as a political prisoner. He was accused of having fought in Donbass region on Ukrainian side. We believe that Vladimir was in the war zone for a short time, but did not directly participate in war actions and does not pose danger to the society. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Vladimir Domnin

77-year-old scientist sentenced to 7 years in a strict regime prison colony for passing software to China. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Vladimir Lapygin

In early March 2020, OPEC has failed to reach a deal with Russia who refused to reduce its oil production in response to the plummeting demand due to the global coronavirus epidemic. “We are confident that Russia will resume its cooperation,” said OPEC’s Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo to a Russian news agency Interfax. According to the latest forecast by the International Energy Agency, 2020 will see a significant drop in global demand for oil, for the first time since 2009.

During the March 6, 2020 negotiations, OPEC members proposed to not only extend the current quota on oil productions through the end of the year, but also suggested to further reduce daily outputs by 1.5 mln barrels. Russia, however, was willing to extend the current quotes only through the end of the second quarter of 2020, and refused to further reduce production (a measure that is seen by OPEC as necessary for sustaining the current level of global oil process).

OPEC+ has sought to stabilize global oil prices since 2017. The OPEC failure to reach a deal means that, starting with April 1, 2020, there will be no limitations on oil production. Following Russia’s rejection of a new deal limiting oil production, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to increase output in April. The reaction of global markets to the prospect of a new energy price war was instantaneous: within a few seconds from the morning opening on March 9, 2020, Brent oil prices fell 30%, its biggest drop since 1991. Russian national currency – ruble – was immediately affected – its exchange with euro exceeded the 86 to 1, and with the US dollar – 75 to 1 rate.

“At this point there are no factors that would limit the drop in oil prices. Under an optimistic scenario, they may stabilize at $30 per barrel, after which the markets may start recovery,” believes Nikolai Ivanov from the Energy and Finance Institute (Moscow, Russia). However, according to a recent Goldman Sachs projection cited by the CNN, due to perturbations on the global oil market the price can go down as low as $20 per barrel.

The deficit in the Russian federal budget that would result from the drop in oil prices can be compensated by the National Wealth Fund, announced the Russian Ministry of Finance statement on its website (as quoted by a Russian news agency RIA News). The Ministry projects that even under a pessimistic scenario with prices at $25 per barrel, the Fund will last for six years.

In his statement to a Russian news agency TASS, Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said that the prospect of oil production increase in April will be determined by ROSNEFT’s plans. Following the failure to reach a deal with OPEC, Russian State Corporation ROSNEFT (currently under sanctions by the US and EU) began planning to increase its oil output, according to Bloomberg reports citing insider sources.

“I doubt that Russian officials, who are now in the midst of a constitutional reform and government restructuring, meant to intentionally harm the Russian economy and weaken the national currency,” says Nikolai Ivanov. Ivanov believes that Russia was forced to break off its negotiations with OPEC. “On the one hand what happened was a manifestation of domestic political intrigues in Saudi Arabia; on the other hand, one can detect the U.S. influence,” said the expert. “The US Secretary of Energy Mike Pompeo flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia right before the OPEC break down. The young and very capable Crown Prince bin Salman had just averted a coup in his country and arrested several key government figures. He had conducted an IPO round for Saudi Aramco and no longer had any motivation to sustain oil prices.” For Russia, on the other hand, new production quotas would mean a reduction of half a million of barrels per day. “Unlike Saudi Arabia, Russia, due to its geological characteristics cannot quickly reduce the production of oil and then ramp back up,” believes Nikolai Ivanov. “For Russia, with its high share of “old” oil deposits, which actually already require intensification of extraction rates, it is impossible to increase production after a forced decrease.”

“This decision could have only been made by Vladimir Putin personally,” asserts Mikhail Korchemkin, Director of the East European Gas Analysis consultancy. He recalls Gazprom’s unfortunate experience from the 2009 crisis. As gas prices in Europe plummeted, the Russian President decided to keep the contract prices high despite a shrinking market share. “I would imagine, today, Putin is applying this past experience to the oil market. In 2009, he learned that a reduction in exports leads to a loss,” suggests Korchemkin. “However, shortly thereafter Gazprom came to its senses, lowered prices, increased its market share,” recalls Korchemkin. Aleksandr Baunov from the Moscow Carnegie Center agrees with this assessment. Baunov believes that a shrinking market and its restructuring are the two major factors. “The rest is just an afterthought: the prices first started dropping, and then the government recalled that it was bad for the shale industry,” he suggested. Korchemkin also notes that the US shale oil production has lived through two major price shocks of 2009 and 2015, each deeper than the current one so far.

“Russian leadership still does not understand the US shale mining industry,” – says Ivanov. The expert is confident that this sector cannot be shut down by external shakeups. “Production volume can be varied. Profits are realized even under modest volumes of extraction,” he explains. According to Ivanov, the US may even decide to increase output despite lower global prices as certain costs can go down through such periods. “The United States has such a diversity of producers – at the major, medium and smaller size levels. They can diversify their investments. The advantage of shale production is that it’s very dynamic, and one can adjust approach to oil extraction based on demands of the market,” concludes the expert.

According to Robert Tummel, a portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors, currently the impact of coronavirus on global oil demand is uncertain. Estimates for 2020 for global oil demand reduction range from 600,000 to 1.3 mln barrels per a day. “Global oil supply could increase by 500,000 to 1 mln barrels per a day, based on how much Saudi Arabia increases production. And that will result in an oversupply on global oil market between 1.1 and 2.3 mln barrels per a day,” predicts Tummel. According to his estimates, the market is going to oversupplied by 1% to 2%. “We think that the US oil producers are most likely to accelerate the capital discipline, and they’d already began doing one to two years ago. The US production is likely decline if low oil prices persist,” says Robert Tummel.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has recognized four residents of Kaliningrad charged in the case of the Baltic Avant-garde of the Russian Resistance (BARS) as political prisoners. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of BARS

On March 5, 2020, a Russian-controlled court in Ukraine’s Crimea sentenced Sergei Filatov, a Jehovah’s Witness from Dzhankoy, a town in the north of occupied Crimea, to six year in prison for organizing activities of an extremist organization, which, according to an investigation, consisted of “holding meetings, religious speeches, as well as promoting religious ideas.” Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Sergei Filatov

On May 5, 2018, New York became a parade ground for two diasporas commemorating a distinct source of ethnic pride. Cinco de Mayo commanded the larger following that day, if only because of the kitsch bacchanalia every bar and restaurant in the five boroughs makes of a holiday meant to mark the Mexican army’s defeat of French empire. But the smaller gathering was distinguished by an unusual spectacle: an aircraft emblazoned with an enormous orange-and-black ribbon overflying the Statue of Liberty. Down below, some two thousand Russian-Americans, some in World War II-era uniforms, solemnly marched downtown along the Hudson, many of them carrying photos of relatives who’d fought Nazism decades earlier. It was four days before Victory Day, the official Russian state holiday celebrating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Hitler.

The marchers in Manhattan were doing their part early to honor the Immortal Regiment, the name bestowed by Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Administration in 2012 on deceased Russian veterans who are said to live forever so long as their heirs remember them. Yet this mass act of necromantic remembrance had an unmistakable political overtone.

The Immortal Regiment parade was organized by a pro-Kremlin youth group ensconced in St. Nicholas Church, the headquarters of Russian Orthodoxy in New York. Ever since Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the orange-and-black Ribbon of St. George that buzzed Lady Liberty has become an omnipresent symbol of revanchist and nationalist Russian sentiment.

For the Kremlin, this civic gathering, similar versions of which were held across the United States, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, “represented a significant projection of power to America,” according to Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, authors of The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad.  It also represented a little-noticed high point for one of  Putin’s long-held foreign policies, one that is really an extension of domestic policy: the de facto enlistment of all ethnic Russians, wherever they are born or reside, as citizens of the Russian Federation, whether they like it or not. “Russia’s ‘compatriots’ policy reflects Putin’s past as a KGB intelligence officer,”  Soldatov, a Moscow-based expert on the Russian security services, explained to me, citing a KGB manual on this very subject published by The Daily Beast in 2018. “He was trained to see every ethnic Russian living either inside or outside the Soviet Union as one of two things: an asset to be recruited or a threat to be eliminated.”

There are plenty of tales of eliminations — or attempted eliminations — in Soldatov’s book. The Compatriots opens with a reconstruction of the poisoning of my colleague Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of Putin. Kara-Murza nearly died by poisoning not once, but twice, while traveling through Russia. The substance that nearly killed him has never been publicly identified. I say “publicly” because the U.S. government apparently has reached a conclusion as to the toxin used.  Soldatov and Borogan quote an unnamed FBI agent who, in December 2017, informed Kara-Murza that the Bureau was preparing to hand the chiefs of the three main Russian intelligence services a report suggesting “that there was an attempted murder of a Russian citizen on Russian territory for political reasons.”

The chiefs arrived in Washington, D.C. a month later, a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, to meet with their American counterparts. Soldatov and Borogan are skeptical the report was ever even brought up, much less passed along. The timing might not have been judged to be quite right, what with a new U.S. administration headed by a president whose avowed wish was to “get along” with Russia. But the timing could hardly have been better, either.

In February 2018, Sergei Skripal, a defector from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, would be found unconscious, along with his daughter, on a park bench in Salisbury, England, both victims of a near-lethal poisoning by the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok. Two operatives from the GRU, the apparatus Skripal once served, would later be identified as the culprits and sanctioned by the European Union, as a host of Western democracies responded to this act of state terrorism by expelling more spies stationed in Russian embassies than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

So much for the eliminations. As to the “recruitments,” Soldatov and Borogan wisely follow the money, the messaging, and the ties to the Russian security services.

In July 2018, Soldatov drove up the driveway to a sprawling mansion in the Rublyovka suburb of Moscow. He was there to interview Alexander Lebedev, the former KGB officer turned oligarch and media magnate who had just returned from celebrating his wedding anniversary — in occupied Crimea.

Lebedev is a colorful figure, even by Russian oligarch standards. He was arrested, interrogated, and ultimately convicted by Russian authorities in 2011 after knocking out a fellow guest on a live television broadcast. Sentenced to 130 hours of community service, the billionaire ex-KGB man and bon vivant was exhibited on Russian state media sweeping the Moscow streets. It was a housebreaking, write Soldatov and Borogan; a signal from the top that ”you might be a former high-ranking KGB officer and an oligarch with newspapers from Moscow to London, but don’t forget you are totally at the mercy of the Kremlin.”

Yet for all this official turbulence, Lebedev hasn’t exactly gone rogue. He has routinely chastised Western governments for instituting sanctions on Russia for its invasion and destabilization of Ukraine. In conversation with Soldatov, he also dismissed the idea of a viable Russian opposition to Putin, of which Lebedev nonetheless considers himself a part, and derided Kara-Murza’s poisonings as an unproven conspiracy theory. Then he allowed this remark about how his various news holdings navigate an overweening Russian state: “Where it’s needed they criticize Russia, and where it’s needed, say, on Syria, we support the Russian position.”

Two of these holdings are in fact prominent British newspapers, The Evening Standard, a free daily now edited by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne; and The Independent, a left-of-center tabloid with a notoriously eccentric comment section, particularly when it comes to the Middle East.

Lebedev and his socialite son and business partner, Evgeny, have lately come under scrutiny in the UK for two reasons. The first is their well-photographed coziness to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attends parties hosted by the Lebedevs at home and abroad, including one lavish affair in London the day after his blow-out election victory last month. The second is the existence of a 50-page British intelligence dossier on Russian interference in the British political system, a report Downing Street has refused to de-classify, as Johnson waves off allegations that oligarchs such as Alexander Lebedev might be wielding undue influence over his government.

Closer to these shores, Soldatov and Borogan train their investigative attention on the American-born billionaire Boris Jordan, the scion of an exiled aristocratic dynasty responsible for financing and supporting the pro-czarist White Army during the Russian Civil War. Today, Jordan is gemutlich with the powers that be in Moscow and has done very well for himself in New York. He is currently the chairman of Curaleaf, the world’s largest legal marijuana seller, as well as the patron of the eponymous Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia at New York University. In recent public appearances, he, too, has railed against sanctions on Russian officials and institutions over Ukraine.

Like a number of ethnic Russians born and raised in the West, Jordan moved to his ancestral home after the collapse of the Soviet Union to reap the benefits of a fledging democracy and market economy. He amassed a fortune through savvy investments and excellent contacts. Renaissance Capital, the investment bank Jordan cofounded, enlisted two Russian foreign intelligence officers for executive positions. One of them, Yuri Sagaidak, had been expelled from London in the late 1980s for attempting to recruit a member of the British parliament.

Jordan was later tapped by Putin as CEO of the popular NTV television channel upon its hostile takeover by the state. NTV’s crime was reporting honestly and critically on the Kremlin, and Jordan dutifully oversaw its transformation into a pro-government mouthpiece. One of the casualties of that transformation was Kara-Murza’s father, a veteran reporter who died earlier this year.

Although Jordan at one point fell out of favor with the Kremlin, he is back in its good graces now owing to his successful stateside facilitation of the reconciliation of the two churches of Russian Orthodoxy. The “White Church” was established by émigrés, such as Jordan’s father, who fled Lenin’s regime after the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. It came to represent more than a mere spiritual alternative to the grim totalitarianism constructed by the new rulers of the metropole, but also a way-station for the preservation of Russian culture, literature, and art.

The “Red Church,” meanwhile, emerged under communist rule in Moscow and gained in significance after Josef Stalin, himself a drop-out from the priesthood, realized how an ancient faith could be instrumentalized to advance a secular nationalism. The White Church had always been hostile to whoever was in charge back home, whereas the Red Church had consistently been little more than the black cowl of the Russian government. Indeed, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Church even counted more than a few former KGB officers in its ranks, including its current head, Patriarch Kirill.

“Jordan helped Putin achieve his most ambitious goal in dealing with the Russians abroad,” Soldatov told me. “He brought under Moscow’s control the Russian Orthodox Church in exile, the one seen by many as a symbol of the spiritual Russia uncorrupted by KGB control. He secured it by investing his money and his personal prestige as a Russian aristocrat.”

That investment, too, has paid off for Jordan, as those Immortal Regiment marches across America in 2018 demonstrated. As for the corruption of KGB control, that the wealthy American heir of a storied White Russian family would do the bidding of Russia’s first KGB-czar might be counted yet another satisfying realization of Putin’s compatriots policy.

“You don’t drag me into criticizing Putin!” Jordan told the authors of this timely and important new book.

Photo credit: UNIAN.

Prague will rename the square in front of the Russian embassy in honor of the Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. The ceremonial renaming will take place on February 27, the same day when the Russian opposition leader was assassinated five years ago. Continue reading Prague to Rename Square By Russian Embassy in Honor of Boris Nemtsov

Olexander Shumkov, a Ukrainian citizen from the city of Kherson who was serving in the Ukrainian armed forces at the time of his kidnapping, was kidnapped at the border between Ukraine and Russia in August 2017. After that he was relocated to Russia and charged with committing a crime under Article 282.2, Section 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (taking part in activities of an extremist organization) on the grounds that, allegedly, he is a member of Right Sector, an organization banned in Russia. On December 4, 2018 Olexander Shumkov was convicted to 4 years of prison by a judge Victor Ruhmakov of Sevsky regional court in Branskaya oblast. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Olexander Shumkov

The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Eduard Nizamov, who was accused of heading the Russian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, as a political prisoner. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Eduard Nizamov

By Andrei Soldatov

In the third year of Perestroika, in 1988, the intelligence branch of the KGB was deep in a crisis – the headquarters in Yasenevo woods a few miles southwest of Moscow found the officers at KGB rezidenturas in Western countries increasingly reluctant to approach foreigners. They effectively turned off the aggressive recruiting mode the Soviet intelligence was once so famous.

In the United States, Soviet intelligence scored some spectacular successes in penetration, namely Aldrich Ames at CIA and Robert Hannssen at FBI, but the recruited Americans were the walk-ins – i.e. they themselves initiated the contact with Soviet spies, they were not approached by the Russians.

The Soviet Union was losing the Cold War and that certainly contributed to the confusion in KGB intelligence stations all over the world, but most importantly, the officers themselves didn’t want to risk their postings in the West. Being kicked out of a Western country if caught red-handed was not a particularly attractive idea at time when all kinds of shortages back home were already palpable.

Finally, the big shots at Yasenevo came up with a solution. It was a bold and witty idea, and the translated Analytical overview was part of it. Yasenevo suggested to exploit the natural advantages the KGB still enjoyed back home.

In addition to its espionage abroad, the KGB was always busy collecting “intelligence from the territory,” a euphemism for recruiting foreign nationals in the Soviet Union, with an eye to subsequently running them as agents in their home countries. This system worked because the Soviet Union, as a police state, had an opportunity to watch literally every foreign national in the country. Each regional KGB department had what was called a First Section in charge of recruiting foreigners.

This activity was coordinated by the Directorate RT (Razvedka s Territorii: intelligence from territory) of the First Chief Directorate in Yasenevo.

The problem was that no so many foreigners wanted to come the Soviet Union. Now that was changing, thanks to Gorbachev, who was busy opening up the country.

But the Soviet Union was still a totalitarian state, meaning that there was no media, a trade union, or a nascent private enterprise (not to mention a government agency) in position to say no to the KGB if approached and asked to plant a spy in the organization under disguise.

These spies planted by the KGB were known as DR officers, Destvuyushego Rezerva: of the active reserve. The term had a long history; it was used since the 1920s.

The KGB’s “Tradecraft in Intelligence Work from Cover Organizations on Soviet Territory,” an analytical overview presented here for the first time in both its original Russian and in English translation, suggested boosting the activities of the Directorate RT as a way to compensate the passivity of hibernated intelligence stations abroad.

Tradecraft in Intelligence Work on Soviet Territory from Cover Organizations (ENG)

Конспирация в разведывательной работе (RUS)

The beauty of the report was that it suggested combining two things, already at KGB disposal – the capabilities of planting KGB spies in almost any Soviet organization; and the activities of the Directorate RT in approaching foreigners now coming in big numbers to the Soviet Union.

The Directorate RT was thus encouraged to plant more spies in Soviet organizations with an eye to recruiting foreigners in the Soviet Union.

The report even suggested to send officers of the Directorate RT abroad to run its assets, and not to handle them to the intelligence stations in respective countries, probably acknowledging the reluctance of the intelligence stations to taking risks.

The Soviet regime was facing its collapse, but the KGB intelligence branch once again proved its resourcefulness and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Andrei Soldatov, The coathor of “The Compatriots: The Brutal and Chaotic History of Russia’s Exiles, Émigrés, and Agents Abroad”

Vladimir Milov explains why Russian president started constitutional reforms well before 2024 elections.

On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin did a rather unusual thing. Three years before the formal end of his presidential term, without any obvious motivating circumstances (the situation in the country is complicated, but it is no worse and no better than in recent months), he simultaneously announced the unprecedented restructuring of the power mechanism, and the resignation of the Medvedev government, which, it would seem, has already received an informal status of an eternal supplement to Putin’s presidency. It is important to understand what really happened and why.

First, let’s talk about the announced constitutional changes and the reform of the country’s governance system. We have to acknowledge the failure of theories that predicted power transit, the emergence of some influential successor, or exotic options of transferring power through integration with Belarus (which did not imply that Putin’s dominance would be unconditionally preserved, since Alexander Lukashenko is very popular in Russia, maybe even more than Putin himself). Those who were right (including the author of this article) envisaged that Putin wouldn’t leave, as current control over political institutions allows for any type of constitutional redrawing. The latter is the most probable move to preserve Putin’s actual power. This is the easiest and safest way for the Russian leader, compared to options such as appointing a successor or integrating with Lukashenko. As we can see, this scenario was actually applied.

Putin has every reason not to trust any successor candidates. The current situation is different from 2008 when he transferred formal leverage at the peak of economic success and his popularity. First, Putin understands better than others that the Russian establishment is tired of him, do not trust him, is aware of his negative role as the main deterrent to Russia’s advancement and will try to dump this legacy at the earliest opportunity. Our state officials, for all their negative role in Russia’s present situation, however, have not signed to sit forever in a swamp and would appreciate some kind of movement towards progress. Secondly, Russia can’t get out of the crisis paradigm, and the future is threatened with new risks and shocks. No one is waiting for a quiet progressive development – in this situation, letting go of the reins and experimenting with successors is definitely not typical for Putin. He would prefer to implement control personally, as he used to. And, thirdly, there are no signs of Putin’s desire to give up power, no matter what political scientists and commentators say – these are fantasies and groundless speculations.

A mistake made by commentators in the analysis of Putin’s proposed constitutional changes is an attempt to give them a concrete shape through their own interpretations. In fact, there is nothing definite there. The design voiced by Putin simply says: “I want to have room for maneuver, and I will decide everything myself.” The State Council is to be created with no clear power; the State Duma is to be endowed with expanded authority to influence the formation of the government. But Wednesday’s message to the Federal Assembly does not clarify how exactly this system will look.

One thing is clear: Putin wants to create a new system of checks and balances in order to prevent the loss of his own influence. He sends a clear signal: “I will form this system myself, and I will still think how. And this system will be approved by a completely controlled group of film directors and figure skating champions – in the way I say when I decide.”

The key difference between the system proposed by Putin and the current one is that this system eliminates the “president-prime minister” dichotomy. In Russia, many mistakenly look at the Prime Minister as the person responsible for the “national economy.” This is not the case: the head of government is a constitutional post, it is an analogue to the vice president who automatically assumes the presidency if something happens to the first person (for example, he was forgotten at the cottage in Foros without any connection with the outside world). It is not surprising that in such a design the prime minister is a natural reason of nightmares for the power-hungry president: if someone wants to initiate a palace coup, then he will first try to gain over the prime minister, and then the national leader catches a light form of flu – and here he is, the new acting president. That is why Putin has been holding the absolutely unprofessional Medvedev for so many years. He did not care about Medvedev’s professional qualities, the main thing was that in 2008-2012 he passed a loyalty test, unlike anyone else from Putin’s circle.

Constitutional changes, instead of this simple dichotomy, create a more complex system with more players and more opportunities for behind-the-scenes management. You are no longer dependent on the particular candidate for the prime minister. It is worth underlining once again that nothing has been decided yet, the specific configuration will be discussed, but Putin’s statement is obvious: “I am creating a new system of checks and balances in order to stay in power, I will determine this system and control it.” This is what we now know for sure. All the rest is still unknown, and there’s no sense to discuss them. It remains to be seen.

The next question: why now? It is clear that the adoption of amendments to the Constitution takes time. Yet there is another three years until the end of Putin’s term, and he is used to keeping all secrets behind seven seals until the last moment. His secrecy has its own logic: when you designate your decision too early, you expose it for criticism, and people get tired quickly from specific configurations. When you throw out a new construction three months before the election (as with Putin-2000, Medvedev-2008 or Putin’s return-2011), your rivals are taken by surprise, and Putin’s political strategists, on the contrary, have every chance to take temporary advantage and secure the desired result, while voters still believe you and the scheme is not “rotten.”

A certain answer to this question can be detected by the sudden change of prime minister (which, as many sources in the executive branch confirm, even the members of the government themselves did not suspect). Now there is no point in changing Medvedev – the elections to the State Duma are still a long way off. Given the short memory of voters, the effect of this decision will quickly disappear and will not live up to the Duma’s election campaign. There is no disastrous economic situation either. It is bad, but no worse and no better than it was yesterday or will be tomorrow. A change in the cabinet would make sense if Putin had appointed a decisive prime minister for new reforms, who would change the situation, but the new candidate for the post of head of the cabinet, Mikhail Mishustin, is certainly not the one (more on that below).

What is the meaning of such a decisive action on several fronts at once and so early? By way of exclusion, we come to the only possible explanation—Putin panicked when he saw some new “closed” sociological data, which showed how bad his situation was. And then he decided to hastily give out all the preparations he had: to dismiss Medvedev and promise a new package of social measures for 450 billion rubles, and also to announce constitutional amendments in advance so that if people don’t like them, there was time to cancel them under the pretext that unreasonable artists and ice skaters gave the wrong advice. Frankly, I see no other rational explanation for the fountain of radical measures announced three years before the 2024 election. There is not a trace left of the calm, prudent and expectant Putin of past years; He throws all his cards onto the table at once.

The information background of the previous weeks created by the Kremlin political strategists in preparation for the Duma elections also speaks in favor of the theory of panicking authorities. Everything looks frivolous and resembles real panic: from the decision to create a “party of tanks” (non-political parties of let’s say beer lovers in Russia have never worked) to the rumors about the creation of Shnurov’s and Dudy’s parties without the consent of Shnurov and Dudy themselves. We are waiting for the emissaries to Kim Kardashian with a generous multi-million dollar contract for obtaining Russian citizenship, real estate in Saransk, and proposals to lead the party in the State Duma-2021 elections. What else can you expect from panicking Kremlin technologists who feel that the country is slipping away from their hands and they have nothing but stale ideas from the 90s in their heads?

Paradoxically, another indirect piece of evidence of Putin’s panic is the candidacy of the new prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin. What is this man known for? Only one thing: as the head of the tax service, with his iron hand he put the dying economy through the wringer and still constantly boasted of the rapid increase in the tax burden on Russian entrepreneurs and citizens. This looked particularly outrageous in relation to self-employed people. Mishustin just a few weeks ago reported that they had managed to collect taxes of about 3 thousand rubles per person in 2019, presenting it as a huge achievement of the service entrusted to him.

Mikhail Mishustin has been working in the government since the late 90s and is well known in this area. He does not have any skills in terms of growth and development, he is a typical tax controller who really knows how to knock the last out of taxpayers in the form of a levy in favor of the state. This is his only strong professional quality. The fact that Putin nominated such a person for the post of prime minister gives us a clear understanding of the psychological state of the Russian leader. Putin feels insecure, anticipates economic difficulties and possible collapse of his own system. He wants to rely on a person who will provide him with cash in his accounts at any cost – including at the cost of further destruction of the Russian economy. Judging by his message to the Federal Assembly, Putin doesn’t care about the economy, because he still looks at the solution to the problem of low incomes of Russians exclusively through the prism of a fragmented distribution of “gifts” to certain groups of the population. Putin clearly isn’t interested in returning to the topic of full-fledged economic growth and development.

In this regard, Mishustin’s appointment looks like hiding under a fiscal “mommy,” who will protect Putin in difficult times. Сommentators argued over the possible candidates to replace Medvedev as prime minister. It could have been either the decisive statesman like Glazyev or Rogozin, who closes the borders, “invests in industry,” and the statist-chavezist economic model would flourish under him, as it has not blossomed anywhere in the world; or liberal Kudrin who would lure investors with sweet speeches and a reformist appearance without real denationalization of the economy. These were emotionally strong options that gave hope to different groups in society. What hope can be inspired by the appointment of the obedient robotic fiscal inspector, who became famous only for squeezing more from the economy into the treasury than it could give? No, this appointment is not about elections, growth or the future. This appointment is about Putin’s personal confidence that everything will not fail, although it is very likely. Mishustin’s appointment is an event from the field of psychology, but not economics or political technologies.

In any case, everything that happened on Wednesday is rather good news. Putin could come up with something that would really preserve the Russian dictatorship for decades, renew its image, and eliminate at least the most obvious contradictions. Instead, we have 1984, not in the Orwellian sense, but in the sense of the Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee, Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko, during whose term the last parliamentary elections in the USSR took place, where the CPSU received uncontested 99% of the vote. The key here is not “99%” and not “uncontested”, but “last”. Putin clearly does not understand this. Well, probably, he doesn’t need it – it’s time already. The historical era is coming to an end. The new prime fiscal inspector will finally finish it off. As Gleb Zheglov put it in the film ‘The meeting place cannot be changed‘ “Then so be it.”

This article was originally published in Russian on The Insider

Earlier this week new charges have been brought by Russian authorities against four leaders of the Ingush protest movement. A criminal case opened on December 27, 2019 implicated that eight activists and community organizers created and operated an extremist group against the republic’s authorities. In the near future, it’s expected that the others will be charged too.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Ingush Case

Translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

In his speech before the elite of the Russian ruling class earlier this week, Vladimir Putin announced a new constitutional reform, which, in essence, amounts to adopting a new fundamental law. The Kremlin is proposing a new “social contract” to the Russian people that will replace the “Crimean consensus” – new and restored social benefits in exchange for cementing within the Constitution the monopoly of the current ruling class over the country’s governance.

A new “social contract” is a necessity for Putin’s regime. When he first came to power, at the time of the second war in Chechnya and fairly regular and massive terrorist acts in Central Russia, including in Moscow, he proposed a similar deal to the Russian people – exchange of some political liberties for security. Having imposed “order”, Vladimir Putin continued to expand his powers at the expense of other governing institutions, destroying the constitutional order of Russia. Then a second contract was put forward – a promise of satiety and stability in exchange for the remnants of political liberties. This contract was a much tougher sell and resulted in mass protests of 2011-2012. And in 2014, the Kremlin came up with yet another offer: forfeit of even more liberties for the restored sense of Russian greatness through the war on Ukraine and forceful annexation of Crimea.

We have now entered the final stage in this process. The population, seriously impoverished as a result of the prolonged economic decline, which began even before Crimea and was aggravated by international sanctions, is offered an ambitious program of support for the poorest of its members in exchange for a new Constitution, which will enable Vladimir Putin to stay in power after 2024, when he can no longer, under current law, be re-elected another time to the post of the president of Russia.

Is This Really a New Constitution?

In his address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin said that his plan does not envision adoption of a new Constitution. A legal analysis of proposed amendments, however, suggest that it amounts to a fundamental change in Russia’s State system.

His first proposal is self-isolation of Russia from international law — an idea floated by the Russian ruling class for quite a while. This would enable Putin’s regime not to observe international obligations when they contradict Russian legislation. This is a reference to the abolition or amendment of Part 4 of Article 15 of the Constitution, which mentions the primacy of international obligations and agreements assumed by the Russian Federation over its domestic legislation. This change would allow Russia to selectively not comply with decisions of such organizations as the Council of Europe or the European Court of Human Rights and essentially make pointless Russia’s participation in these institutions under the new Constitution.

It should be noted that the article proposed for amendment is part of the so called “protected” part of the fundamental law. In order to rewrite it, it is necessary, under the Constitution, to convene a new Constitutional Assembly. At a minimum, a referendum must be held. Vladimir Putin was clear that he does not intend to do either. Instead, with a Presidential Decree, he has formed a “working group” (not stipulated under any current laws) whose task it is to amend the fundamental law. He has indicated, however, that Russian citizens are to approve his proposals by some kind of universal vote.

It is highly unlikely that proposals will be rejected, since the majority of the Russian population does not understand that it is Russia’s international obligations that most reliably protect many of their rights, including social rights, given the tendencies of the authoritarian regime. In time, most likely such understanding may develop, but it may happen too late —after the amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, the international community must actively seek to explain this now, while such discussions are underway in Russia. Another point to be explained is that such a ballot would have no legal force; and neither would the follow-on amendments introduced through parliament, as they clearly violate the Constitution.

Understandably, the Kremlin is apprehensive about convening a Constitutional assembly, since the laws governing this procedure have not been updated since 1993. There may be an uproar, and most importantly, a delay. On the other hand, a referendum requires a set of rather precise formulations, which would tie Putin’s hands for the real re-writing of the Constitution. Putin is clearly counting on securing a wholesale consent from the people, and not a detailed, article-by-article approval process. Moreover, a national referendum cannot be combined with Federal Parliamentary or Presidential Elections which is exactly what the Kremlin intends to do.

Putin’s decision to disregard overt requirements of the Constitution is nothing new. Since his very first days in power, he has been consistent in eroding Russian Constitutional government institutions and creating parallel institutions and procedures. Some of the early attacks included establishment of federal districts and the institution of presidential representatives, not prescribed in the Constitution. The Russian State today even features law-enforcement bodies that exist outside the Constitutional framework – such as Rosgvardiya (the National Guard). Rosgvariya is controlled by the Presidential Administration, whose powers are described by the fundamental law as “the president forms his administration”.

The Problem of 2024

In addition to rejecting the primacy of International Law, Putin has proposed to strip the remnants of the autonomy of judges at the highest courts. At the president’s demand, the docile executive authority of the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council (the president can even appoint some of the senators) will, under the new Constitution, dismiss judges from the Supreme and Constitutional Courts (“in connection with a loss of confidence” by the head of government.

Putin has also proposed to renounce compliance with the European Charter on Local Self-Governance, ratified by Russia; and to make municipalities part of government authority, absorbing them as structural sub-divisions of regional state administrations. One of the possible goals of this initiative is to exclude independent political candidates from running in and winning municipal elections.

Likewise, the proposed amendment of the Article on Presidential Elections (which introduces a 25-year limit on candidates and forbids candidates with residences in foreign countries) politically neutralizes powerful opposition figures currently in exile.

Putin has also proposed to remove from the text of the fundamental law the stipulation that prohibits the president from running for elections to this post more than twice “in a row”. Putin himself has already used this clause, having essentially served five terms (four as president and one as prime minister), but he wants to preclude his potential successors from taking advantage of it.

The plan will certainly result in a major re-distribution of powers. The State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russians parliament is now in the process of approving the candidate for prime minister nominated by the president. The Duma also forms the cabinet of ministers, with the exception for the so-called “presidential quota”: the heads of the law-enforcement agencies and
possibly the head of the Foreign Ministry. The new Constitution requires the Duma to do so in consultation with the Federal Assembly, and not appoint them without any discussions as now.

Finally, Putin’s proposal legitimizes a government agency (that already exists parallel to the Constitutional realm) – the State Council. Russia’s governors serve at the State Council and are appointed on a rotation basis. It is not clear what the new State Council would look like, how would it be staffed and by whom, and most importantly, what would be its powers. We can be certain, however, that Vladimir Putin has already thought through those details.

Judging from the people whom the president of Russia has appointed to the “working group” to amend the Constitution, the group is a mere formality. There are practically no lawyers among the members of the group; these are extras in a political show. The real draft for Constitutional reform, has most likely already been written by the presidential administration.

One can speculate on the various motives behind the constitutional amendments. It appears that Putin intends to leave the post but remain in power in some other role. He may choose to run the country from his position at the Security Council (to which he has transferred as his deputy the ex-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who had resigned after the publication of the address). Although it is more likely that he will head a reformed State Council which will likely be assigned some sort of extraordinary powers under the new Constitution. This is an attempt to formulate something like a system of checks and balances which would guarantee Putin, even in the event he leaves the post of the president, the possibility of running the country.

The international community has very few instruments to block this path of Russia’s self-isolation. Bringing the country into international alliances would not have any effect on the internal situation in Russia. Mobilization of the currently apolitical majority of the population dissatisfied over monopolization of power within the country is the biggest hope for stopping these encroachments. It is for this reason that Vladimir Putin, before rolling out his constitutional reform, has offered a long list of new social perks and benefits, including hot meals for school kids subsidized by the federal budget. He is clearly counting that as result, some positive meme like a “Putin breakfast” (or lunch) would be established. But for now, this is a direct trade where the right of the current ruling class to extend its tenture by at least a decade is bought with a hot meal.

Petr Parpulov was born in 1955. A resident of the city of Sochi. From the 1980s to his detention in 2014, he worked as an air traffic control officer at the airport in Sochi although he had already reached pensionable age. He was sentenced to 12 years in a strict-regime penal colony under Article 275 (‘High treason’) of the Russian Criminal Code for divulging unidentified classified information that was nonetheless published in the newspaper ‘Krasnaya Zvezda’ (‘Red Star’) and therefore available to the general public. Parpulov has been in custody since March 4, 2014. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Petr Parpulov

A criminal case of violence against government officials and the riots in Moscow, which allegedly occurred on July 27, 2019 during the largest “unsanctioned” protest rally, was opened on July 30. More than 20 people were accused during this investigation.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: Sergei Surovtsev

The Memorial Human Rights Center, in accordance with international guidelines, recognizes the antifascists Maksim Ivankin, Vasily Kuksov, Mikhail Kulkov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Ilya Shakursky, and Igor Shishkin as political prisoners. We demand their immediate release and that all charges against them for alleged involvement in a terrorist group be dropped.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of the Network in Penza

Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC) included a well-known Russian opposition activist Mark Galperin in the list of political prisoners for the second time. Previously, Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Galperin as a political prisoner in 2018 when he was under a house arrest on charges for extremism.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Mark Galperin

The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Vladislav Sinitsa, a Moscow-based blogger, known under the pseudonym Max Steklov, a political prisoner. On August 3, 2019, Vladislav was detained on charges of inciting hatred and hostility with the threat of violence. On September 3, a court sentenced the blogger to five years in a penal colony under paragraph A of Part 2 of Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Vladislav Sinitsa

Today, on December 6, courts in Moscow sentenced 7 activists and participants of the summer protests against the denial of opposition candidates to run in the Moscow City parliament’s election. A few dozens of people have been charged in mass-rioting or police assault in connection with the Moscow protests.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: New Sentences in The Moscow Case

We are presenting a summary of the most complete list of people prosecuted for their involvement in the Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami organization (hereinafter referred to as HT) in Russia and the annexed Crimea. Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami organization was recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization and banned on this basis.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: List of Prosecuted Muslims – Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami Members

Watch the full version of the “Misrule of Law: How the Kremlin Uses Western Institutions to Undermine the West” report presentation in Kyiv, Ukraine. Speaker: Michael Weiss, the Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation and co-author of the report.

The report is available by link: https://bit.ly/34uYJ9W

Michael Weiss: Misrule of Law: How the Kremlin Uses Western Institutions to Undermine the West

Watch the full version of the "Misrule of Law: How the Kremlin Uses Western Institutions to Undermine the West" report presentation in Kyiv, Ukraine. Speaker: Michael Weiss, the Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation and co-author of the report.The report is available by link: https://bit.ly/34uYJ9WСмотрите полное видео презентации доклада «ВЕРХОВЕНСТВО ПРАВА? Как Кремль использует западные институты для влияния на Запад» – широкомасштабного обзора организованных усилий Кремля и его инсайдеров с целью использования правовых систем и институтов в западных обществах против этих обществ и в своих интересах. Спикер – директор специальных расследований Фонда Свободная Россия, со-автор доклада.Доклад доступен только на английском языке: https://bit.ly/34uYJ9W

Posted by Дом Свободной России on Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Crimean Tatars are “a Muslim ethnic minority indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula.” They have been among the most vocal critics of the Russian occupation of Crimea, and as a result, the Russian authorities have “relentlessly persecuted” them.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Emir-Usein Kuku

NIEUWSPOORT INTERNATIONAL PRESS CENTRE

10 LANGE POTEN 2511 CL THE HAGUE

WEDNESDAY 11 DECEMBER

 09:00 – 14:00

Free admission but please register here

Enquiries: natalia.arno@4freerussia.org

This summer, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted by 118 to 62 to restore the full rights of the Russian Federation in Europe’s oldest pan-continental body dedicated to upholding human rights. They key argument from proponents was that membership in the Council serves the interests of Russian citizens, keeping them under the protection of the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and under the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. “Russia belongs in the Council of Europe – with all the rights and obligations that entails,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the driving-force behind Russia’s return, told journalists as the decision was taken.

Now that the rights have been restored, it is time to talk about the obligations. Across the spectrum of freedoms guaranteed by the Convention, the Russian government is falling far short of the standards expected of a Council of Europe member state. Elections on both national and local level lack genuine competition, as witnessed most recently in this year’s legislative polls in Moscow that saw the removal of major opposition candidates. Peaceful demonstrations are violently dispersed by police, with protesters beaten and arrested. The judicial system is used by the government to punish political opponents and members of undesirable religious groups: the Memorial Human Rights Centre counts at least 304 people who correspond to the Council of Europe’s criteria of political prisoners. Increasingly, murder is used as a tool of silencing dissent. Nearly five years after the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, the organizers and masterminds remain unidentified and unindicted, with the Russian government refusing all cooperation with international oversight procedures – including in the Council of Europe itself.

On 11th December, political leaders and human rights advocates from the Netherlands and Russia will meet at the Nieuwspoort International Press Centre in The Hague to discuss the risks and benefits of Russia’s return to the Council of Europe, and mechanisms that are available to keep the Russian government to account over the violations of its international commitments.

Agenda:

09:00  Registration and coffee

10:00  Panel One: Human rights, rule of law, democracy: is Russia meeting Council of Europe standards?

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian Opposition Politician, Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom

Sergei Davidis, Head of the Political Prisoner Support Programme, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Russia

Vadim Prokhorov, Lawyer for the Family of Boris Nemtsov, Former Member of the Russian Central Electoral Commission

Natalia Arno, Russian Democracy Activist, President of the Free Russia Foundation

11:00  Panel Two: Russia’s return to the Council of Europe: what benefits and risks?

Lize Glas, Assistant Professor of International and European Law, Radboud University, The Netherlands

Scott Martin, International Human Rights Lawyer, Global Rights Compliance, The Hague

12:00  Lunch break

13:00  How can Western governments and civil society respond?

Jan Marinus Wiersma, Senior Visiting Fellow, Clingendael Institute, Member of the European Parliament, 1994–2009

Harry Hummel, Senior Policy Advisor, Netherlands Helsinki Committee

Jelger Groeneveld, Secretary of the Department of International Cooperation, D66 Party, The Netherlands

14:00  Event concludes

Ivan Matsitsky is the spiritual leader of the Church of Scientology of St. Petersburg. He has been detained since June 2017, facing criminal charges relating to his involvement with Scientology.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Ivan Matsitsky

Memorial Human Rights Center (HRC), in accordance with the international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ has recognized Yuly Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov as political prisoners. We demand their immediate release and that the criminal charges against them for alleged involvement in a terrorist group be dropped.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Yuly Boyarshinov and Viktor Filinkov

The total number of Jehovah’s Witnesses currently being prosecuted for their faith in Russia has reached 206.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Today, we’d like to remind people who respect human rights once again about The Kremlin’s political prisoners. The very fact people are imprisoned in today’s Russia for their political and religious beliefs shouldn’t be tolerated by the world.

There is a bittersweet development we believe is important to write about today. Yesterday, Konstantin Kotov, 34, imprisoned under the “Moscow case,” married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Anna Pavlikova and Konstantin Kotov

Eduard Malyshevsky and Nikita Chirtsov were the last to be detained in the Moscow Case. They have been charged under Article 318, Section 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (‘Using force against a public official without endangering life or health’).

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Eduard Malyshevsky and Nikita Chirtsov

COALITION OF PRO-DEMOCRACY RUSSIANS

Activatica * Free Russia Foundation * Free Russia House Kyiv * Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer e.V. * Solidarus * Stowarzyszenie “Za Wolną Rosję”* Russie-Libertes * Herzen Foundation

invite you to a conference

PUTIN’S NORD STREAM 2 PIPELINE AND ITS REAL COSTS TO EUROPE

learn more at RethinkTheDeal.eu

OCTOBER 10, 2019

9:00 AM to 15:30 PM

THE WESTIN GRAND BERLIN

FRIEDRICHSTRASSE 158-164
10117 BERLIN

REGISTER HERE

The Nord Stream 2 project – that delivers no new gas to Europe, exploits political and strategic vulnerabilities, increases supply risks, destroys nature and drives members of the EU apart – is quickly advancing toward its completion.

Yet no public discussion of this important decision has been held where the German people can evaluate the basics of the Nord Stream 2 on its merits.

You’ve heard from the gas lobbyists, the gas companies and the Kremlin (the same Kremlin that has carried out yet another assassination on the EU soil). What you won’t hear from them are the environmental, security and financial risks of completing the pipeline. There is another side.

Please join us for this open forum where prominent European energy experts, environmental scientists, strategists and human rights defenders examine the true objectives and costs of the Nord Stream 2.

Free Admission. Registration is required.

With questions, email: natalyaa@4freerussia.org

AGENDA:

08:30 – 09:00 Registration and Breakfast

09:00 – 09:15 Opening Remarks

09:15 – 10:30 Panel I: Examining the Nord Stream 2 Deal on Its Merits

10:30 – 10:45 Coffee Break

10:45 – 12:00 Panel II: Environmental Impact of NS2

12:00 – 12:30 Buffet Lunch

12:30 – 13:45 Panel III: Economic Implications of NS2 for Germany and the EU

13:45 – 14:00 Coffee Break

14:00 – 15:15 Panel IV: NS2 as Politics by Other Means

15:15 – 15:30 Closing Remarks

15:30 Adjournment

Confirmed Speakers:

  • Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
  • Ralf Fuecks, Managing Director, Zentrum Liberale Moderne
  • Rebecca Harms, former Member of the European Parliament
  • Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow, ECFR
  • Ilya Zaslavskiy, Head of Research, Free Russia Foundation
  • Evgeniya Chirikova, Environmental activist, Activatica
  • Mikhail Korchemkin, East European Gas Analysis
  • Margarita Assenova, Associate Scholar, Center for European Policy Analysis; Director of Programs for the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Jamestown Foundation
  • Alan Riley, Senior Fellow, the Institute for Statecraft in London
  • Julian Röpcke, BILD
  • Marko Mihkelson, Deputy Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of Estonian Parliament
  • Svitlana Zalishchuk, former MP of Ukrainian Parliament
  • Olena Pavlenko, President of DiXi Group
  • Sijbren de Jong, SHAPE NATO
  • Boris Reitschuster, Journalist
  • Jens Høvsgaard, Danish author

COALITION OF PRO-DEMOCRACY RUSSIANS
Activatica * Free Russia Foundation * Free Russia House Kyiv * Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer e.V. * Solidarus * Stowarzyszenie Za Wolną Rosję* Herzen Foundation * Russie-Libertés

invite you to a conference

PUTIN’S NORD STREAM 2 PIPELINE AND ITS REAL COSTS TO EUROPE

learn more at RethinkTheDeal.eu

September 26, 2019

9:00 am to 3:30 pm

Hilton the Hague hotel

Zeestraat 35, 2518

The Hague, the Netherlands

REGISTER HERE

The Nord Stream 2 project – that delivers no new gas to Europe, exploits political and strategic vulnerabilities, increases supply risks, destroys nature and drives members of the EU apart – is quickly advancing toward its completion.

Yet no public discussion of this important decision has been held where the Dutch people can evaluate the basics of the Nord Stream 2 on its merits.

You’ve heard from the gas lobbyists, the gas companies and the Kremlin (the same Kremlin that still won’t tell the truth about MH 17). What you won’t hear from them are the environmental, security and financial risks of completing the pipeline. There is another side.

Please join us for this open forum where prominent European energy experts, environmental scientists, strategists and human rights defenders examine the true objectives and costs of the Nord Stream 2.

Free Admission. Registration is required. REGISTER HERE

With questions, email: natalyaa@4freerussia.org

AGENDA:

09:00 – 09:15 Opening remarks:

  • Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation
  • Richard Hoogland, D66 Board Member Department International Cooperation

09:15 – 10:30 Examining the Nord Stream 2 Deal on Its Merits

Moderator: Ilya Zaslavskiy, Head of Research, FRF

Speakers:

  • Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, D66 MP
  • Bram van Ojik, politician and diplomat of the GreenLeft party
  • Mikhail Krutikhin, Partner, RusEnergy consulting agency
  • Jan Frederik Braun, Strategic Energy Analyst, the Hague Center for Strategic Studies
  • Can Ögütcü, Lead analyst for energy security, NATO SHAPE

10:30 – 10:45 Coffee Break

10:45 – 12:00 Environmental Impact of NS2

Moderator: Jan Frederik Braun, Strategic Energy Analyst, the Hague Center for Strategic Studies

Speakers:

  • Evgeniya Chirikova, Environmental activist, Activatica
  • Scott Martin, Global Rights Compliance
  • Dmitry Berezhkov, former Vice President, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North
  • Stephan Singer, Senior Advisor Global Energy Policies, Climate Action Network International

12:00 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 13:45 Economic implications of NS2 for the Netherlands and the EU

Moderator: Roman Nitsovych, Research Director, DiXi Group

Speakers:

  • Mikhail Korchemkin, East European Gas Analysis
  • Prof. Alan Riley, Senior Fellow, the Institute for Statecraft in London
  • Borbála Takácsné Tóth, Senior Research Associate, Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research

13:45 – 14:00 Coffee break

14:00 – 15:15 NS2 as Kremlin Politics by Other Means

Moderator: Tony van der Togt, Associate Senior Research Fellow Clingendael

Speakers:

  • Rem Korteweg, Senior Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute
  • Svitlana Zalishchuk, former MP of Ukrainian Parliament
  • Jan Šír, Assistant Professor, Department of Russian and East European Studies, Charles University in Prague
  • Ilya Zaslavskiy, Head of Research, FRF

15:15 – 15:30 Closing remarks:

  • Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation

Memorial Human Rights Centre, in accordance with international guidelines defining the term ‘political prisoner,’ has declared Abdulmumin Gadzhiev a political prisoner. We demand his immediate release.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Abdulmumin Gadzhiev

On Thursday, September 12, 2019, a prosecutor asked the court to sentence Pavel Ustinov to six years in jail. According to investigators, the man was an active participant in an unauthorized rally in central Moscow on August 3, 2019. While under arrest, Ustinov resisted a National Guard officer causing the officer to suffer a dislocated shoulder. The defendant pleads not guilty. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Pavel Ustinov

Yulia Galyamina, a Municipal Deputy and unregistered candidate for the Moscow City Parliament, has been jailed for a third consecutive time this week on the same charge of “organizing an unsanctioned rally.” Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: #MoscowElectionCrisis The Case of Yulia Galyamina

On 8 September 2019 Russia’s largest cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg – will hold elections, respectively, for the City Duma and municipal councils. Continue reading Moscow and St. Petersburg Candidates Call on the OSCE to Monitor Regional Elections

Working group of the “Coalition for Sovereign Elections” calls International community to give strong immediate reaction on aggression of the Kremlin in Georgia. Continue reading Coalition for Sovereign Elections Calls International Community to Give Strong Immediate Reaction on Aggression of the Kremlin in Georgia

Over the last weekend, as the Kremlin continued its crackdown on recent protests calling for free elections in the city, police in Moscow arrested 1,001 demonstrators, according to independent monitoring group OVD-info. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: #MoscowElectionCrisis Continues

Fearful of independent voices even at local levels, Putin’s regime disqualified every single pro-democracy candidate from participating in the Moscow City Council elections. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: #MoscowElectionCrisis

On June 28, 2019, Free Russia Foundation hosted a conference Finding Practical and Principal Approaches to Countering the Kremlin’s Influence Campaigns While Upholding Sanctity of Free Speech at the Hague, Netherlands. Continue reading Is Propaganda Protected Free Speech?

Ten opposition-minded residents of Moscow and Moscow region have been charged with creating an extremist group, ‘New Greatness,’ (Novoe Velichie) in December 2017, allegedly for the purposes of the violent overthrow of the government and constitutional order of Russia (Article 282.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of New Greatness

On November 5, 2017, Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov attempted to hold a protest demanding the resignation of the regional government. In preparation, they had made two posters and about 30 flyers and purchased a megaphone. However, soon before they began protesting, they were arrested. They were subsequently charged with attempting to organize and participate in mass riots – punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment – and have been detained ever since. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Cases of Yan Sidorov and Vladislav Mordasov

Svyatoslav Bobyshev is a professor and scientist at the D. F. Ustinov Baltic State Technical University (Voenmekh). He was arrested in March 2010 and charged with treason (Criminal Code Article 275) for allegedly selling information about the Bulava missile system to China during an academic collaboration with a Chinese polytechnic institute.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Svyatoslav Bobyshev

Yuri Dmitriev was born on January 28th, 1956 and lives in the city of Petrozavodsk. He is a historian, investigator and researcher of the burial places of victims of political repression, the chairman of the Karelian branch of the Russian civil rights society “Memorial,” and a member of the Commission for Restoring the Rights of Rehabilitated Victims of Political Repressions under the Government of the Republic of Karelia.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Yuri Dmitriev

It’s been seven long months since a group of Ukrainian sailors was illegally captured by the Russian government.  The international campaign demanding their immediate release is growing, spreading to new countries. Even in Moscow, where group protests are prosecuted, series of “one-person picketing” has been taking place in front of the Presidential Administration demanding to release the sailors or exchange “all for all” (i.e. all Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia for Russian citizens held in Ukraine).

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has ruled that Russia must return to Ukraine the three military vessels and 24 sailors captured in the Kerch Straight. June 25, 2019 was the deadline for complying with this ruling. In accordance with the Law of the Sea Convention, all military vessels and their personnel have immunity, they cannot be brought before court, imprisoned, and are not subject to foreign jurisdictions. However, the Kremlin has demonstratively ignored the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention adopted in 1982, as well as the ruling of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Instead of a quick release of the Ukrainian sailors in the immediate aftermath of Kerch Straight incident, having held them in illegal captivity for seven months, now the Kremlin has started bringing criminal charges against them. Nikolay Polozov, one of the lawyers representing the Ukrainian sailors reports that the persecution has communicated an intention to formulate final charges by July 9.

Why is the Kremlin so brazen in escalating the Kerch Straight standoff? The answer is quite clear — with the objective to establish a full unilateral control over the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.

The Kremlin has blocked the renegotiation of fishing quotas for the Sea of Azov. The Russian FSB and the National Guard have been taking Ukrainian fishermen as prisoners. The Russian government, without any legal merit, pressures other countries for transit permits; demands that Russian maritime pilots are included in international court proceedings.

Russia’s ongoing military operation in Syria provides an additional context for these developments. Sevastopol plays a critical role in military resupply to the Mediterranean. This, in turn, is intensifying the process of militarization of the entire Crimean Peninsula.

At the same time, Russian military aircraft and maritime vessels are engaging in provocative military maneuvers far from the Russian border with an ever-increasing frequency, threatening sea lines of communication.  The two most recent episodes took place in early June 2019: Russian destroyer Admiral Vinogradov conducted a threatening maneuver against a vessel from the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Philippine Sea; and a Russian SU-35 jet conducted an intercept of a U.S. Navy aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea.

In their public statements, the Kremlin officials stress their readiness to cooperate with international institutions; express readiness to comply the legal norms and compel others to do the same. However, the situation with Ukrainian military sailors, ignoring of the laws of the sea and the ruling of the Hamburg court show that Moscow is acting in such as manner as if it were bent on uprooting the entire international order established after the World War II.

This double game is not compatible with the high status accorded to Russia through its permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council.

Against this backdrop, the fight over the release of Ukrainian sailors – are important de-escalation measures, and their outcome have profound ramifications for all of the G20 members states.

Ukraine is pressing not only for the release of its sailors, but also for giving the Kerch Straight the status of international waters. In Kiev’s view, this move will mitigate the risk of further clashes.

It is high time to call a UN Security Council session to adopt a special resolution compelling Russia to comply with the ruling of the International Court. It is also critical to consider introducing limitations against the seabed infrastructure of Russian pipelines, the ports of Azov, as well as against entities who facilitate certification of foreign vessels with their subsequent registration under the Russian Federation flag and offer services to foreign operators to establish lines of communications with the closed ports of Crimea in violation of sanctions.

Article 60 of the Vienna Convention of 1969 as well as Article 51 of the U.N. Charter establish the legal basis for Ukraine to suspend or completely withdraw from the 2003 Russo-Ukrainian Agreement, establish a 24-mile adjacent zone and claim the width of its territorial waters as well as continental shelf territories. If this takes place, the Azov Sea beyond the territorial waters will become international, and the Kerch Straight, in accordance to the Part 3 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea will acquire the status of a straight used for international communications.

If Moscow moves ahead with military proceedings against Ukrainian military sailors in direct violation of international norms, all European offices of Russian Maritime Register of Shipping and Russian River Register of Shipping must be shut down; and advisory must be issued to European vessel owners, operators and insurers to avoid cooperation with the Russian Registers for purposes of maritime activities.

We must not forget that Russia has illegally ceased Ukrainian vessels Petro Godovanets, Ukraine, Centaur, Sivash, Fyodor Uryupin and is now exploiting them  The UN International Maritime Organization (IMO)  should not ignore these demonstrative and gross violations of the international law by Russia. These pirate tactics are incompatible with Russia’s high status at the IMO Council. Ukraine, in its turn, should consider demanding stripping Russia of this status.

International organizations in charge of enforcing maritime laws must force Russia to release Ukrainian military sailors, stop its pirating activities vis-à-vis civilian vessels and prevent further Moscow’s advances aiming to close off the Sea of Azov.

This Article first appeared in Russian at the Дом Свободной России

On June 4, 2020, the Orenburg Region Administration’s Commission on Pardon Issues denied pardon to former Yukos staffer Alexey Pichugin, who has been in jail since 2003. Memorial Human Rights Center has acknowledged him as a political prisoner. Pichugin is serving life in prison, and this is his third pardon denial.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Alexey Pichugin

Vladimir Balukh is a Ukrainian farmer who was convicted of illegal possession of ammunition (Criminal Code Article 222(1)) and disrupting the activities of a detention center (Article 321(2)). In reality, he is being punished for his outspoken pro-Ukraine activism. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Vladimir Balukh

The case of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev is a story of impunity both in Russia and in the West. This oligarch, who was connected with the Kremlin and Russian security services, got away with inflicting a major environmental catastrophe, and instead of facing any consequences, received billions of dollars from another well-connected oligarch as well as the opportunity to live on a supposedly clean slate in the West. He evidently took his corrosive business practices to his new places of residence, including Monaco, which, according to multiple reports, led to the undermining of local police and the resignation of a justice minister. The oligarch continues to enjoy connections with the Kremlin and, when necessary, safety in Moscow. Through these connections, he has effectively avoided facing any consequences for his actions vis-à-vis local law enforcement. This ongoing case is a testimony to the erosion of legal institutions in a key European location.

Dmitry Rybolovlev, former owner of the Russian potash empire Uralkali, was implicated in a major environmental catastrophe in the Perm region. Author Oliver Bullough visited the site of one of the catastrophes at Rybolovlev’s potash plants in Berezniki and noted in his latest book Money Land that the oligarch’s negligence of proper safety procedures at his salt mines led to large swaths of the city literally falling into huge sinkholes that formed above the mines (Oliver Bullough, Money Land: Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule the World & How to Take It Back (Profile Books, 2018), pp. 219-220.)  Igor Sechin, then deputy head of presidential administration, reviewed the complicated case and, despite condemning evidence, absolved Rybolovlev of responsibility for any of the damages and allowed him to safely leave the country.

Rybolovlev’s companies did not fully provide even the modest compensation he initially agreed to in 2007-2009, but he did sell his stake in Uralkali to Suleyman Kerimov, another Kremlin-connected oligarch (see a separate case about him below), at a high price and depart safely for full time residence in Switzerland and Monaco (The main source in the West on all this has been this NYT article; key Russia source). With money taken out of Russia, Rybolovlev bought mind-bogglingly high-end properties in New York and around the world, expensive art, and football club in Monaco.

Since then, Rybolovlev has been trying to present himself as an independent businessman who cut his ties with Russia and the Kremlin, however, this effort has been a failure on multiple levels. First, the story of close connections between Rybolovlev and Sechin came up at a Congressional hearing last year. Secondly, Der Spiegel wrote in November 2018 that “rumors still circulate in Western intelligence circles today that Rybolovlev bought his way out from under the multibillion-dollar cloud hanging over him”. Thirdly, while Rybolovlev mostly lived in the West, a quick Google search shows that in 2016 he negotiated with Gennadiy Timchenko’s company Stroytransgaz regarding the lease for his property in central Moscow. This proves that Rybolovlev continues to have business relations with Kremlin insiders despite his claims that he permanently moved to the West for a new life.

For considerable time this claim has been taken at a face value by Rybolovlev’s interlocutors and counterparts in the West (especially those who engaged in various lucrative relations with him). In 2017, however, Prince Albert II of Monaco and a number of other high-ranking officials broke all contact with the billionaire. According to Journal du Dimanche, Rybolovlev, who invested 300 million euros in the development of his Monaco Football club, was declared persona non grata by the authorities. In September 2017, the Monaco Prosecutor’s Office initiated a lawsuit against Rybolovlev regarding the bribery of officials and high-ranking police officers. Rybolovlev and his immediate circle have allegedly put a lot of pressure on the investigative authorities and the police of Monaco. They attempted to send the detectives off course while they were investigating the case against the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, who had sold about 40 paintings by famous artists to the billionaire at unreasonably inflated prices”.

At the heart of the complicated Monaco case lie claims and counterclaims about Rybolovlev’s art collection and whether or not his former art dealer, Yves Bouvier, swindled the Russian oligarch. The focus of the scandal then turned towards Rybolovlev himself, who Bouvier claimed used his political clout to coordinate attacks against the art dealer by law enforcement officials.

Monaco’s Justice Minister, Philippe Narmino, had to step down from his position because of this case, facing questions from prosecutors after it was alleged in the press that he might have received gifts from Rybolovlev while the Russian launched fraud claims against Bouvier. Bouvier and his associates presented evidence that they were illegally recorded as part of Rybolovlev’s campaign to prove that he had been defrauded by Bouvier. The dealer himself was arrested by police officers of the Monegasque security “just as he was setting foot in Monaco … This led to accusations against the Russian billionaire of having taken advantage of his relations with senior Monegasque officials, including the Minister of Justice Philippe Narmino, to arrest and charge Bouvier.”

The art dealer was arrested in February 2015 on his way to Rybolovlev’s villa. His lawyer contended that Rybolovlev and his lawyer took part in arranging the arrest. Media outlets published some of the hundreds of SMS messages leaked from the phone of Rybolovlev’s lawyer, Tetiana Bersheda, which were turned over to the investigative judge in charge of the case”. In these messages, Bersheda warns the Monegasque police of the arrival of Yves Bouvier to the Principality.

The Minister of State, head of Monaco’s government, was very reluctant and evasive with regard to the investigations into this matter and even suggested abridging them.  Nevertheless, the authorities of Monaco and other countries have attempted hold the culprits accountable and some disciplinary measures were taken against the police officers involved in helping Rybolovlev. This help was allegedly provided in exchange for high-end tickets to Monaco FC and other lavish perks emanating from Rybolovlev’s circle.

On January 8th, 2019, the Monaco revision court rejected Rybolovlev’s appeal against the use of his lawyer’s mobile phone by the Monegasque justice, who continues to suspect the oligarch and his lawyer of trading in influence and corruption. Following this decision, Rybolovlev’s lawyers suggested that they might appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming breach of privacy and other misconduct on the part of the the investigators. This investigation is far from over and while it continues, the oligarch and his circle still enjoy a wide sphere of influence in the principality. On January 16th, Rybolovlev returned to Monaco with a plan to invest 55 million euros in sport infrastructure in the country, a feat that the Russian press took as “comeback” for the billionaire.

Whatever the outcome of this complicated investigation is, one thing is already clear. The Kremlin-backed conduct of the oligarch, who brought his business and legal practices from Russia to Monaco, led to the demise of a justice minister, but so far has had no real consequences either for him or his political and business interests in the West.

Photo by Pasquale Iovino

Anton Shekhovtsov on how and when the Kremlin interferes in elections in Europe. Continue reading The Invisible Hand: how and when the Kremlin interferes in elections in Europe

Igor Rudnikov is a prominent opposition politician in the Kaliningrad region and was the editor of Noviye Kolyosa, a now-closed independent newspaper renowned for its investigative journalism, particularly on government corruption. Rudnikov has been in custody since November 1, 2017, awaiting trial on extortion charges (Criminal Code Article 163(3)). Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Igor Rudnikov

This publication is the product of an initial effort undertaken by Free Russia Foundation in 2018 to stimulate public discussion of Russian scenarios, mitigate the likelihood of a bad surprise or missed opportunities, and support the country’s transition to a more positive future. Continue reading Russia scenarios 2030

Dennis Christensen is a Danish citizen and Jehovah’s Witness who was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on extremism charges (Criminal Code Article 282.2) in February 2019.  His case has come to represent the ongoing persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Dennis Christensen

CASE UPDATE: Yesterday, September 10, 2020, was 600 days since Anastasia Shevchenko, an activist with the Open Russia movement, was placed under a house arrest. Continue reading The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Anastasia Shevchenko

Top Russia experts in the U.S. and Europe understand that Putin’s regime has no center of planning. Everything operates on the basis of “personal bids.”

Russian forces deploy to Africa, not because of some strategic need (although there is, just like everywhere else), but because a certain individual has come to Putin, pitched a concrete vision (“project”), and has started the implementation of the project. That person, in turn, possesses the required cadres, he has the impetus and so he states an urgent need for such a project.

This is exactly how it worked out with Alexei Kudrin, current Chairman of the Accounts Chamber and former Minister of Finance. Without question, the lack of transparency of state corporations is a big problem in Russia. And leading up to elections, Kudrin had nagged Putin for a long time about the need to bring the state corporations affairs in order. So, Putin appointed him to the Accounts Chamber. (“Your idea, you execute. You have the resources already.”)

An infinite number of such projects is floated, but they don’t get the green light (by Putin) for a variety of reasons. Glazyev may have his eyes set on a siege of Kiev, for example, but he has already mangled the Novorossiya Project and the perception is that he is not up to the task. So none of the Ukraine-focused pitches get any traction currently.

Let’s take yet another example— development of the Far East. Many concept papers regarding that have been drafted, but Putin simply does not have a heavy-hitter who can be appointed to this task. That’s why the development of the Far East is not taking place.

Those who have been studying Russia for a while understand all of this. But moving to a slightly wider circle of Russia watchers, it becomes a challenge to explain this mode of operations. They are inclined to believe that “in the citadel,” or “in the dark corridors of the Kremlin,” some sort of a center exists that is dedicated to planning and directing all of these activities— elections interference, bullying of neighbors, executing premeditated provocations.

They believe all of these activities are organized according to some sort of a hierarchy, similarly to the way it is done in the West (i.e., until the Bundestag directs the German chief of intelligence to prepare a report, nothing is done). They don’t understand that in the Russian Federation, the process is the reverse— a “chief of intelligence” comes to Putin with a project pitch (for example, extort something, squash some large corporation, or ruin a bank). In 80% of such cases, a bank will be consumed, while in the other 20% it escapes with one leg bitten off, and then is very happy to be hopping around on just three legs. This makes Putin’s Russia not so much a classical top-down hierarchy, but a very pitch-oriented environment.

I get asked a lot why Sergey Kiriyenko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration, is not working on this thing or that, following some imaginary logic relating to the presumed operational dynamics of the political system. The answer is— he is working only on those things that he has pitched, namely, “Camp Sirius.” If Kiriyenko does not make any other specific project pitches (for which he and his circles then bear responsibility), then Putin does not give a damn.

Everyone is asking right now: Where are the signs of the Kremlin’s interference in the Ukrainian elections? Again, such a question is based on the faulty assumption that the Kremlin sets objectives, that it employs analysts, and that it oversees a political apparatus that articulates projects. None of those exist in reality. The Kremlin as it exists today is simply a building with gargoyles on its façade that chomp down on whatever they can reach (but of course, with the approval of Putin, that is, after a successful pitch). If none of these gargoyles pitched a project – e.g., “how to take a big meaty bite out of the Ukrainian elections” — then all they do is quietly, or not so quietly, bark at these specific elections.   Yes, such barking resonates in a depressing daily howl on the Russian federal TV channels. But that howl still does amount to “a project” until it has a responsible author. That is how it works in Russia today.

And this reality is just so difficult to explain to people, who think that if the Roskosmos Chief announces that he will fly to the Moon, then the Kremlin must have a “Moon Colonization Project.” No, they don’t. It’s just idle chitchat at this point.

Of course, the Russian media holds speculative discussions on an unlimited array of future contingency issues. Everything that a deranged imagination can envision: the return of the islands, annexation of Belarus, an alliance with China. But in reality, all that Russia has is an alliance with Venezuela. Why? Because it was a project personally pitched by Igor Sechin and he now has skin in this game.

The February 15, 2019 arrests of Baring Vostok Capital top managers on fraud charges sent shock waves through the ever-shrinking community of those still investing in Russia. The incident, however, is rather illustrative of the so-called “investment climate” of Putin’s Russia, and should not surprise anyone.

With its investment portfolio valued at over $3.7 bln, Baring Vostok is the largest private equity firm investing in Russia and the former Soviet States. It has operated in Russia since 1994, weathering through the rough period of the post-Soviet transition, and managing to stay out of trouble with the Russian government. In fact, a quick look at the Baring’s investment profile makes it apparent that the firm succeeded in what the Russian government had said repeatedly it wanted to do, but failed — namely, diversify the Russian economy and develop technologically advanced industries.

Baring has invested extensively in IT and telecom companies, as well as in the Russian retail sector and financial services. It took the plunge and became one of the first private investors in the leading Russian IT company Yandex. That’s the legacy the firm is obviously proud of, as its official website prominently features a quote from Yandex’s founder and CEO Arkadiy Volozh:

“Baring Vostok Fund and its professionals have become true partners and sound advisors, and we are counting on our relationship to continue for many more years.”

Despite Russia’s worsening economic downturn of recent years, Baring had stayed put as the last active venture investment fund in Russia.

German Gref, the CEO of a Russian state-owned bank Sberbank, when commenting on the arrest of Baring’s founder Michael Calvey, characterized him as “an honest and decent man who has done a lot to bring investments into Russia, to develop a high-tech economy.”

What grave transgression has led Baring to such a fall then? The answer is quite mundane.

Baring is currently in the midst of a corporate conflict over the control of a troubled bank Vostochny (ranked #32 in Russia by assets) with a man named Artyom Avetisyan. In recent years, Avetisyan has become Putin’s darling, and has been appointed as  Director of  the “New Business” initiative at the Agency of Strategic Initiatives, a nonprofit organization established by the Russian government to advance the Russian economy with the  ambitious goal of “taking leading positions in the world.”

Avetisyan seems to move in lofty circles. The Bell reports that he is a longtime friend and partner of Dmitry Patrushev, the Russian Agriculture Minister and the son of a former FSB chief and the current Secretary of the National Security Council Nikolay Patrushev.

Not so long ago, Forbes Russia has published an in-depth profile of Artyom Avetisyan, detailing his business partnerships with sons of former head of the Kremlin Administration Alexandr Voloshin; his dealings with the current deputy head of the Kremlin Administration Vladislav Surkov (who is also in charge of the Russian occupation of Eastern parts of Ukraine, and from 2000-2011 was the domestic policy czar infamous for his brutal crackdowns on the opposition); as well as his relationship with Oleg Gref, the son of a former Minister of Economy and currently the CEO of Sberbank German Gref.

The Baring arrests have been instigated by Avetisyan and his partners who had managed to enlist the support of the FSB, claiming that shares of International Financial Technology Group (IFTG) with which Baring had repaid the debt of one of its subsidiaries to bank Vostochny are “worthless.” Baring values these shares at 2.5 bln rubles (or $37.5 mln.), whereas the FSB has claimed in court that they are worth next to nothing. An independent Russian media outlet the Bell, however, reports that a formal KPMG audit suggests that IFTG’s assets roughly correspond to the value cited by Baring.

Disagreements over value of assets, like the one between the Baring and Avetisyan camps are quite common. They are commercial disputes that should be settled in arbitration courts in accordance with the civil law. However, in today’s Russia, civil law is virtually non-existent. Arbitration attorneys lament difficulties with finding work, as it is cheaper for businesses to bribe the police or the FSB and have them open a criminal case against competitors (the scenario that frequently ends with the victim quickly conceding to minimize the disruption to business operations), than to engage in an unpredictable and protracted due process. The Baring arrests scandal is an example of exactly this type of a scheme.

Avetisyan, instead of resolving a corporate dispute through a civil law process, prompted  the infamous siloviki (strongmen) to interfere and arrest the top management of Baring Vostok. Absurdly, the charges against Baring are not even within the official purview of state prosecutors. What’s even more absurd is the fact that the allegations of fraud are based on valuation — a subjective category established by expert assessments — and not on objective figures of losses, actual write-offs, etc.

Clearly, Avetisyan with his high-level political access and protection feels confident engaging in such games. They are commonplace in today’s Russia, and he is just one of thousands of functionaries of Putin’s regime seeking enrichment at any cost. But can Russia afford to bear their consequences for the investment climate? Forbes calls this development “fatal.”

As a member of Russian political opposition, I have no business defending Baring Vostok. For decades, they had worked well as loyal cogs in Putin’s machine. They  cynically validated with their participation the endless string of sham economic conferences organized by the Russian government. They came as special guests invited by officials, and nodded their heads while listening to hypocritical speeches about Russia’s “business climate.” They had known what was going on in the country, but preferred to stay silent, thinking that they would be the exception, and they would able to profit from investing in Putinomics, with someone else having to pay.

Baring arrests last week made it clear that there is no such thing as “someone else.” The foundation of Putin’s system is the predation of the siloviki and their alliances with thieving “businessmen” who advance their interests by using their affiliations with the FSB or police as “competitive advantage.”

According to Putin’s own business ombudsman, Boris Titov, in 2017 alone, over 268,000 new criminal cases were opened against entrepreneurs in Russia. This is a 20% increase from 2013. Only about 20% of “fraud” cases opened are heard in court, and when they do, most of them are dismissed due to demonstrated intention to extort or the failure to establish the element of criminal act.

The Russian opposition has long argued that economic disputes must be settled in accordance with the civil law, and law enforcement agencies must not be allowed to interfere in cases that can be settled through basic arbitration. Arrests of entrepreneurs on charges that involve commercial disputes are simply unacceptable.

The essence of the Baring Vostok case is not in the specifics of the dispute regarding Bank Vostochny, but in the pervasive abuse of power to advance commercial interests, which has become the hallmark of Putin’s regime, and has spread throughout the entirety of its hierarchy down to the proverbial Avetisyans. It delivers a sobering message to foreign investors who thought that they could remain safe, conduct their business and make their profit as long as they were careful to  stay out of politics and not cross the big guys like Gazprom or Rosneft.

Today, even a small guy like Artyom Avetisyan equipped with proper connections will use them to smoke their competition — and so they go up in flames, with the whiffs of Russia’s “business climate” along with it.

It’s time to face the reality — as long as Putin and his criminal system remain in power, fair and legally protected investment in Russia is simply not possible.

On the 7th of December, Vladimir Putin announced that he would run for a new presidential term in March 2018. So far, he has not presented a programme or agenda for his fourth presidential term, which is expected to last from 2018 until 2024, and it is very unlikely that he will do it in the nearest future. However, particular developments in Russia in December can give us a glimpse into what we can expect from Putin’s Russia 4.0.

When Putin announced his decision to run for the presidency again, Russian elite groups probably sighed with relief. Some Russia experts use the expression “The Kremlin has many towers” to refer to the fact that Putin’s regime is not a coherent whole, but a conglomerate of different elite groups – each with their own interests and agendas – that compete for resources and often seek to undermine their opponents from other elite groups. Putin, in this system, plays the role of a moderator of the competition and an ultimate arbiter of the conflicts between the elite groups.

This role makes Putin unique: he has built this system himself and for himself, which means that his potential departure from the referee’s tower, i.e. not running for, and winning, the presidency in March 2018, would dramatically destabilize the system and bring about its collapse. One may say that the elite groups need Putin’s presidency more than he does, but Putin needs it too, because he has not yet found a person who would succeed him and give him a security guarantee – similar to the guarantees that Putin granted to President Boris Yeltsin when he handed the reins of power over to Putin in 2000. Moreover, if Putin found such a person, no-one would be sure that he (or, very unlikely, she) could be accepted by the different elite groups as a moderator of their conflicts. Indeed, a person who can potentially succeed Putin can only come from one of the elite groups, but this would elevate that one group, afflict the others and, again, upset the balance of the entire system.

Yet even now one can observe that Putin’s system is already being destabilized. The troublemaker is Igor Sechin, the US-sanctioned CEO of the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, the leader of one of the most conservative elite groups and perhaps the closest associate of Putin – Sechin has also served under Putin in his various positions since 1994. In 2016, Sechin initiated – with the help from the Federal Security Service – an allegedly anti-corruption case against now former Minister for Economic Development of Russia Alexei Ulyukaev who, as Sechin stated, tried to extort a bribe from him. In December, Ulyukaev was sentenced to eight years in a prison colony. Having initiated the case against Ulyukaev, Sechin broke the unspoken rule of the competition between the Russian elite groups: to keep conflicts between them out of the public eye. Ulyukaev’s widely publicised case is, in fact, not about him: compared to Sechin, he is a minor figure. Rather, the case demonstrates that Sechin has made a very bold and insolent move to humiliate and damage the antagonistic elite group to which Ulyukaev belonged, namely the pragmatist and economically liberal circle around Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. And this means that Sechin’s ultraconservative elite group has gained the upper hand in Putin’s system and, thus, disrupted the balance within it.

There are other several indications that Putin’s system during his fourth term will become even more conservative and reactionary, but also even more anti-Western than it was before. Putin has been officially nominated a presidential candidate on the 26th of December at an exhibition titled “Russia – my history” organized by Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon. The latter is considered to be a spiritual advisor to Putin and is an unofficial leader of the monarchist and extreme conservative circle within the Russian Orthodox Church. The choice of place for the official nomination has a symbolic meaning too: many Russian historians argue that Tikhon’s exhibition, while full of factual mistakes, praises conservatism and authoritarianism, as well as showing that all attempts to democratize Russia are Western plots and naturally alien to the Russian people.

The Kremlin’s misuse and revision of history, the legitimization of openly authoritarian practices and increasing obsession with “Western conspiracy” has also manifested in a recent interview of Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the Federal Security Service – another powerful elite group within Putin’s system. In this interview, Bortnikov justified Stalin’s political mass repressions by the need to fight against “foreign agents”, and in Bortnikov’s opinion, the fight against the “fifth column” in Russia needs to continue, because “the destruction of Russia is still idée fixe for some” in the West.

The rise of the extreme conservative elite groups destabilizes Putin’s system, and this destabilization limits the flexibility of the regime – a flexibility that has so far been the main advantage of the system both domestically and internationally. Now, it seems, that Russia 4.0 will mobilize the society for the support of the regime around three ideas only: the country’s historical grandeur, its non-compatibility with democracy and Western conspiracy. Against the background of Russia’s continuous economic and social decline, this means that Putin’s regime will become even more oppressive at home and more aggressive in foreign relations.

This article first first appeared in German in Wiener Zeitung.

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