The total number of Jehovah’s Witnesses currently being prosecuted for their faith in Russia has reached 206.
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.
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’).
Free Russia Foundation supports a protest letter to CFR over a tainted donation from a Kremlin-connected oligarch Len Blavatnik
On March 27, 2019, in Magas, Ingushetia, clashes occurred between participants of a protest rally and The National Guard (RosGvardiya) and police officers after they tried to disperse the rally. 10 police and RosGvardiya officers reportedly received various injuries. The Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on the use of violence against law enforcement officers.
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.
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
On September 16, 2019, the “Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM)” will take place in Warsaw. Continue reading Coalition For Sovereign Elections Calls on the OSCE to Highlight ‘Creeping Annexation’ of Georgia on the Upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
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
FRF was reportedly one of 30 organizations subjected to phishing attacks on the highly-encrypted ProtonMail servers and remains under a barrage of Kremlin propaganda amid massive protests in Moscow. Continue reading FRF has seen increased targeting by sophisticated cyber and legislative attacks by the Kremlin in recent months
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
The political crisis in Moscow is unraveling at a dizzying speed, and it is doing so along the worst possible scenario. Continue reading The Bolotnaya Square Case 2.0: Top Ten Takeaways
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
Pro-democracy Russians appeal to the world leaders and international community to condemn Kremlin’s repressions and the recent attack on civil liberties. Continue reading #MoscowElectionCrisis – Appeal to the World Leaders
The Free Russia Foundation team and the Board of Directors are grieving together with our friend and Vice President Vladimir Kara-Murza and his family on the loss of his father, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a very talented Russian journalist. Continue reading FRF Mourns Loss of Vladimir Kara-Murza, Sr.
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
Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice President of the Free Russia Foundation, stated during his presentation at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council that in the past four years, the number of political prisoners in Russia has increased by six times. Continue reading Vladimir Kara-Murza: In four years, the number of political prisoners in Russia has risen by six times
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.
In response to the designation of the Free Russia Foundation as an “undesirable organization” by the Russian Ministry of Justice on June 28, Freedom House issued the following statement: Continue reading Freedom House’s Statement: Government Designates Free Russia Foundation as an “Undesirable” Organization
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.
The Free Russia Foundation is a non-profit pro-democracy organization striving for a free Russia. We seek and support positive changes in our home country. We are ‘desirable’ among those who value democracy and human rights and, for that, we know we are in good company with 15 other honorable organizations. Continue reading Free Russia Foundation’s statement
“What is the cost of lies?” asks Valery Legasov, the Soviet nuclear physicist at the heart of the hit HBO series ‘Chernobyl’. “It’s not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.” That warning is both remarkably familiar and disturbingly apt in an age dominated by fake news and alternative facts, especially because the famed Soviet obfuscation machine has found new life under Vladimir Putin’s watch in contemporary Russia, write Natalia Arno and Vladimir Kara-Murza.
Dutch prosecutors have announced charges against four pro Kremlin separatist commanders for shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, which resulted in the death of the plane’s 298 passengers. Rather than offer an apology to the families of the 298 people who died in the crash, the Kremlin propaganda machine has opted for obfuscation and disinformation, blaming the Ukrainian government — which didn’t control the territory from where the missile was fired — and the C.I.A., saying Putin’s plane was the intended target of the American intelligence agency. These lies may not have fooled anyone in the Netherlands, but given the near-total state monopoly on the media in Russia, many people there seemed to have taken the Kremlin’s story at face value.
On Friday, June 28th, a group of policymakers, prominent journalists, international legal scholars and free speech advocates will come together in The Hague for a public conference designed to find effective responses to the Putin regime’s unprecedented assault on truth and free public debate. Far from being redundant, the question of whether propaganda is protected speech is central to the policy debate over Kremlin disinformation. The key irony is that illiberal regimes like Putin’s are able to exploit the very freedoms they deny their own citizens to wage information warfare in the West. Free speech is an essential liberty and also a gaping vulnerability. How can we reconcile the two?
Free speech: Essential, yet not absolute
First, it is important to note the divergent approaches Russia and many Western democracies have taken to controlling the flow of information. While Western democracies seem to have only just recently begun to grapple with the policy implications of massive foreign disinformation campaigns and the perceived collapse of truth, reason and facts in public debate, Russians have spent the better part of a century living in a ‘post-truth’ world.
A current example can be found in the Chernobyl series. Rather than tell people living near Chernobyl that the plant was spreading radioactive contaminants into the air, Soviet leaders instead urged children to go outside for May Day festivities and didn’t evacuate the nearest town of Pripyat for 36 hours. Nor did then-leader Mikhail Gorbachev warn neighboring countries that a dangerous cloud of poisonous gas was headed their way, out of fear of looking weak to domestic adversaries. Putin and his coterie of oligarchs fit within this long, insidious tradition of post-truth politics.
As our friend, the late Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, described the regime’s propaganda in one of his final interviews: “[Putin] programmed my countrymen to hate strangers. He persuaded them that we need to rebuild the former Soviet order, and that the position of Russia in the world depends entirely on how much the world is afraid of us… they operate in accordance with the simple principles of Joseph Goebbels. Play on the emotions; the bigger the lie, the better; lies should be repeated many times. This propaganda is directed to the simple men; there is no room for any questions, nuances. Unfortunately, it works.”
In the West, democracies have clung to the capitalist model of a ‘free marketplace of ideas.’ As US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously argued in a 1919 dissent: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Vladimir Putin, however, believes in a healthy dose of state intervention to sway perceptions of reality his way. State-run NTV is dutifully producing its own series on Chernobyl, with CIA agents responsible for the meltdown of the reactor while heroic apparatchiks fight to save lives rather than running to avoid exposure to radiation. The Kremlin’s view of what happened at Chernobyl will be artfully produced and pit “good” Soviets against “evil” Americans. It will likely be one the most trumpeted TV shows in Russia this year.
Protecting the public pursuit of truth
Faced with the real-world consequences of Putin’s propaganda, Western societies are coming to understand that free speech may be an essential liberty, but it has never been absolute. Words that could create a clear and present danger for societies have routinely been prohibited. Just as falsely crying “fire” in a crowded theatre would seldom be considered protected speech because of the dangers such a lie can provoke, several European countries have already taken action against speech that incites ethnic, racial or religious hatred. Much of the Kremlin’s disinformation fits into those categories.
So how can we adapt our understanding of protected speech in light of the disinformation threats we currently face? How can an ideological opponent compete with Putin’s army of trolls, none of which are operating in good faith? A marketplace of ideas can only function where competition is protected. The key policy challenge facing today’s political leaders is how to safeguard a free marketplace of ideas against a sort of ‘information dumping’ where foreign disinformation campaigns inhibit a free and fair exchange of ideas in the public sphere. On 28 June, we hope to find ways to meet that challenge.
Natalia Arno is the President of the Free Russia Foundation in Washington, DC. Vladimir Kara-Murza is a prominent Russian democracy activist and author and chair of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom.
This article was originally published on EU Reporter
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.
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
Dear friends and colleagues,
Our new groundbreaking report “MISRULE OF LAW: HOW THE KREMLIN USES WESTERN INSTITUTIONS TO UNDERMINE THE WEST” has been published online today: https://www.4freerussia.org/misrule-of-law/ Continue reading “Misrule of Law” report and the Kremlin attacks
The Free Russia Foundation has assembled a team of experienced writers, researchers, and journalists affiliated with different organizations, to document some of the most compelling cases of Russian meddling. However, these events are only a sample; the Putin regime is busy throughout the world, undermining the integrity of Western judicial and policymaking institutions.
This report, a tour d’horizon of Russian active measures and subversion campaigns throughout North America and Europe, demonstrates that Vladimir Putin’s attempts to infiltrate Western institutions are relentless and that there is one constant to his two decade-long engagement: he triumphs where we invite him to, and most of all where we happily act as his complacent enablers.
This is a story of how the West consistently fails to get its own house in order. The very institutions created after World War II to keep transparent markets and liberal democracies from corrosion and collapse are now playgrounds for Kremlin agents seeking to enrich themselves and further that corrosion and collapse along. More than anything, the pathologies of our own societies are on ample display in these pages as the principal reason why so many oligarchs, intelligence operatives and bribe-offering banks and energy companies have been able to thrive outside of Russia.
The Putin regime’s persistence has paid off quite well in its geo-political battle of wills with the West, whereby Russia’s military actions since 2014 have been met with lukewarm international sanctions that have failed to shift their course.
What we hope this report demonstrates is the need for Western governments to take a stronger stand and vigorously defend their values and institutions. While this may not have the same impact as ending a bloody war, refusal to give in to the Kremlin’s advances for new laws to protect its business and financial interests; putting up barriers in response to Russia’s abuse of international law enforcement entities or enforcing existing laws so that oligarchs can’t hide behind newly-created NGOs can begin to push back against Russia’s current lawless actions.
If an individual nation defends its criminal and civil court system or combats corrupt practices within its own government, this will provide much-needed resistance against the Kremlin’s aims and objectives.If, collectively, several nations decide to join forces in this effort, ample pressure will be placed on Russia’s leadership to make it play by the rules more often and respect our institutions rather than try to manipulate them.
In the pages of this report, you’ll read about these, and many more:
– a U.S. federal money-laundering case was sabotaged by a Moscow attorney turned Congressional lobbyist, who obstructed justice, set up a dubious charity in Delaware to dismantle a landmark American human rights act— all before trying to influence a U.S. presidential race;
– Russian mobsters in Spain, despite a mountain of incriminating evidence compiled over the course of a decade, all went free by, among other things, enlisting Spanish jurists to spread a malevolent defamation campaign against one of his country’s most committed counterterrorism and organized crime magistrates;
– the Kremlin directed effort to pass laws in the Belgian and French parliaments that would effectively nullify the Yukos shareholder court decisions and render them unenforceable against the Russian Federation;
– the eccentric president of a NATO and EU member-state sided against his own government in favor of a hostile foreign one, to which he’s been financially and politically connected for years.
The chart below visually summarizes some of the cases, countries, branches of power, institutions and entities in the West impacted by Russian interference:
The report’s contributing authors:
Ms. Arno is the founder and president of Free Russia Foundation, a non-partisan non-profit think tank headquartered in Washington, DC with affiliate offices in Kyiv Ukraine and Tbilisi Georgia. Prior to creating Free Russia Foundation, Ms. Arno worked for the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute where she was the Russia country director from 2008 until 2014.
Mr. Barnett is founder and CEO of Istok Associates, a London-based intelligence and investigation consultancy focused on Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East & North Africa. Previously, he was a journalist in the same regions for 13 years and wrote for the Telegraph, the Spectator and Janes publications. He covered the war in Iraq, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, the eastern expansion of NATO and the EU in the 2000s and Balkan organized crime.
Ms. Filipova’s primary research at the Center for the Study of Democracy is related to Russian domestic and foreign policy as well the Kremlin’s media, political and economic influence in Central and Eastern Europe. She holds an MPhil and DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. She has been a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the Polish Institute of International Affairs, and Chatham House, among others.
Mr. Gatov is a media researcher, journalist, analyst and media investment expert.He is the former head of RIA Novosti MediaLab (2011 – 2013).
Mr. Janda is the Executive Director and member of the executive board of the European Values Think Tank headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic.
Mr. Lough is Managing Director of JBKL Advisory Ltd, a strategy consulting company, and an Associate Fellow with the Russia & Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. In a private capacity, he has been providing pro bono advice to the Bitkov family as part of the campaign for their freedom since 2015. He is the co-author of the Chatham House research paper ‘Are Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Reforms Working?’ (November 2018) https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/are-ukraines-anti-corruption-reforms-working
Mr. Shekhovtsov is an external Lecturer at the University of Vienna, Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, an expert at the European Platform for Democratic Elections, and General Editor of the “Explorations of the Far Right” book series at ibidem-Verlag. His main area of expertise is the European far right, relations between Russia and radical right-wing parties in the West, and illiberal tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe.
Ms. Snegovaya is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Expert on the sources of support for the populist parties in the Eastern Europe. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The New Republic, and columnist at Russia’s “Vedomosti” business daily.
Dr. Denis Sokolov
Dr. Sokolov is a research expert on the North Caucasus for Free Russia Foundation focusing on the informal economy of the region, land disputes, and institutional foundations of military conflicts. He is a senior research fellow at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) and research director at the Center for Social and Economic Research of Regions (RAMCOM).
Mr. Vladimirov is an energy security expert specializing in natural gas and renewables markets at the European policy think tank, Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD). His work at CSD focuses on analysis of the energy security and governance risks in Europe, political risk and international security. Before joining CSD, Mr. Vladimirov worked as an oil and gas consultant at the The Oil and Gas Year, where he worked in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. He holds a Master’s degree from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. He has written several academic publications, multiple policy reports and is the co-author of four recent books on Russian influence including the Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Central and Eastern Europe, Kremlin Playbook 2: The Enablers,The Russian Economic Grip on Central and Eastern Europe and A Closer Look at Russia and its Influence on the World.
Mr. Weiss is an American journalist and author of the New York TimesBestseller Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. He is a senior editor for The Daily Beast, a consulting executive editor at Coda Story, a columnist for Foreign Policyand a frequent national security analyst and contributor for CNN.
Mr. Zaslavskiyis Head of Research for the Free Russia Foundation (FRF) and Head of Underminers.info, a research project exposing kleptocrats from Eurasia in the West. Until December 2018 he was a member of the Advisory Council at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative for which he wrote a report on “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West”. Prior to joining FRF, he was Senior Visiting Fellow, Legatum Institute, and Bosch Fellow, Chatham House. He has written reports on Eurasian energy and kleptocracy for the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Martens Centre and other think tanks.
For Press enquiries, please contact: Natalia.Arno@4freerussia.org
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
The case of the Kremlin-connected oligarch Suleyman Kerimov is a testimony to the power of the Russian state when it is used to the benefit of its allies in western courts. In 2017-18 Kerimov faced serious allegations of money laundering and other wrongdoing in the French courts. After the introduction of political pressure from Moscow, however, the French legal system started to produce strange results that eventually led to the dismissal of all charges levied against the oligarch. Recently, however, a French judge placed Kerimov back under formal investigation on suspicion of compliance in aggravated tax fraud. The outcome of this new case will indicate the ability of the French legal system to act independently despite pressure from the Russian government.
Suleyman Kerimov, nicknamed the “Russian Gatsby”, is the 21st richest person in Russia with an estimated net worth of 5.4 billion euros, the majority owner in Russia’s biggest gold mining company, Polyus PJSC, and a senator in the Russian Federation Council for the region of Dagestan. Upon landing in Nice for a vacation trip in November 2017, he was arrested by the French police and questioned for two days over alleged tax evasion and money laundering in connection with the purchase of real estate on the French Riviera.
The court in Nice charged him with tax fraud, set bail at 5 million euros, and forced Kerimov to give his passport away and to not leave France. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation sent a note to the French authorities, stating that Kerimov should have immunity from prosecution, by virtue of his diplomatic passport (link). According to the French, however, Kerimov did not use it when he flew to Nice. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that Kerimov’s immunity does not apply to actions not connected to his functions (link).
Two weeks later, prosecutors asked for Kerimov to be placed in custody or for his bail to be increased to 50 million euros. The court in Aix-en-Provence then set the bail to 40 million euros, put restrictions on those, with whom he may communicate, but still allowed him to stay out of custody (link).
In 2018, under provisions of a law passed by congress in 2017, the US treasury department announced sanctions against Russian oligarchs (including Kerimov), companies, and senior government members in retaliation against Moscow’s meddling in 2016 US presidential elections (link). Two months later, Kerimov won in a ruling at a court in the Aix-en-Provence that removed the charges set against him and allowed him the right to leave France. According to Kerimov’s defense team, they persuaded the court that the allegations did not qualify as money laundering, only as tax fraud (link). The prosecutor stated, however, that he is surprised by the ruling and indicated that he will consider an appeal to the highest French court (link).
Due mostly to a lack of understanding about why Kerimov was cleared of charges and based on the statements by the prosecutor’ office, it would appear that the judicial process may have been influenced by diplomatic relations between France and the Russian Federation. About a month before the final ruling, French President Emmanuel Macron visited the Russian President in Moscow (link). There is no substantial evidence for these claims and so far there has been no new information about the potential decision of the prosecutor’s office to appeal. After the acquittal, the Russian Federation Council met Kerimov with an enthusiastic ovation (link).
In March 2019, however, the French judge placed Kerimov back under formal investigation on suspicion of compliance in aggravated tax fraud, evidently after the prosecutor in the southern city of Nice took some additional steps in the court (link). The judge’s move to place Kerimov under formal investigation means that he becomes a formal suspect, but such investigations can be dropped without going to trial (link). Kerimov’s defense team already said that the oligarch considers the new investigation harassment. It can thus be reasonably expected that the story of dropped charges may repeat itself the second time around.
It should also be noted that Kerimov already had had highly controversial involvement in incidences of corruption. In 2012, a report by London’s The Henry Jackson Society, titled “The Shuvalov Affair,” described two major 2004 investments by Russia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov that yielded unusually high returns (link). One was a $49.5 million loan made to Alisher Usmanov to help buy a stake in Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus, the other a $17.7 million bet on Gazprom stock via Suleiman Kerimov’s Nafta Moskva.
Many experts continue to see this as a clear-cut form of bribing and money laundering between the oligarch and Putin’s top official. Shuvalov has repeatedly denied that there was anything improper or illegal about his business activities and his relationships with billionaires like Kerimov and Usmanov (link). Despite harsh libel laws, however, neither of the figures involved sued the authors of the report, preferring instead to let the news cycle die and its revelations simply be forgotten.
In April 2016, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) wrote about the Panama Papers and how they revealed Sergei Roldugin, the Russian cellist and businessman, as the secret caretaker of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s enormous wealth. OCCRP reported that Roldugin had received large sums of money from Suleiman Kerimov, using opaque financial mechanisms including offshore accounts. In two complex deals with Kerimov companies, Roldugin effectively received the rights to receive 4 billion rubles (US$ 59 million) and US$ 200 million respectively for a payment of just US$ 2 (link).
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
The stance of the Czech people toward Russia is characterized by ambivalent and complicated attitudes rooted in the history of the 20th century. On the one hand, the invasion of Czechoslovakia carried out by the Soviet Union and its allies to crush the liberalizing trends in the country’s politics remains one of the major national traumas for the Czechs and determines negative views of and distrust toward Russia as an heir to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, many people are still nostalgic about the socialist times (which is manifested, in particular, in the popularity of the largely unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia that until very recently was the third largest party in the country) and this nostalgia about socialism is often translated to the legitimacy of pro Russian views. However, the significance of this legitimacy should not be exaggerated: the majority of the Czech people are (still) very skeptical about Russia. 1 Continue reading Russian-connected Advisor Maintains Influence Over Czech President
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
Strategies to Defend Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law in the West
Hosted by Free Russia Foundation, Human Rights First and Henry Jackson Foundation
June 13, 2019
The U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, Room SVC 215
9:30 am to 2:00 pm
Please join us for a public discussion of the Kremlin’s attacks on legal institutions and processes in the West, and consideration of effective counter strategies that can be adopted by government agencies, social media platforms and the civil society. Featuring Sen. Whitehouse, Rep. Keating, Rep. Kinzinger, Rep. Rooney, Daniel Kimmage, Principal Deputy Coordinator, Global Engagement Center, Department of State, current and former military and intelligence officials, and social media companies’ representatives.
At the conference, Free Russia Foundation will release its groundbreaking report detailing Russian attempts to influence Western judicial outcomes and the Kremlin’s active measures campaigns against Western policymaking institutions. Report’s authors Ilya Zaslavskiy, Head of Research, Free Russia Foundation (Russia, US), Jakub Janda, Director, European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic), Martin Vladimirov, Analyst, Center for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria), John Lough, Associate Fellow, Chatham House (UK) and Neil Barnett, Founder, Istok Associates (UK) will discuss the results of their investigations in a Q&A session with the audience.
Space limited. RSVP required. Government-issued IDs/drivers license/passports required to enter the venue. With questions email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moderated by Todd Rosenblum, National Security Outcomes
9:30 am – Welcome and Opening Remarks
9:40 – 10:15 am – Keynote Addresses
Daniel Kimmage, Principal Deputy Coordinator, Global Engagement Center, Department of State
10:15 – 11:15 am – Panel One: Attacks on Legal Institutions and Processes in the West
Melissa Hooper, HRF
Ilya Zaslavskiy, FRF
John Lough, Chatham House
Ed Lemon, Wilson Center and Daniel Morgan Graduate School
Neil Barnett, Istok Associates
11:15 – 11:25 am – Coffee Break
11:25 – 12:25 pm – Panel Two: Russian Active Measures and Manipulation of Western Policy
Jeremy Lamoreaux, Brigham Young University – Idaho
Martin Vladimirov, Center for the study of Democracy
Jakub Janda, European Values Think Tank
Clay Fuller, AEI
Anna Borshchevskaya, Senior Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
12:25 – 12:35 pm – Coffee Break
12:35 – 1:35 pm – Panel Three: Effective Counter Strategies and Lessons Learned
Andrew Gully, Jigsaw, Head of R&D
Roman Pyatkov, Headquarters Air Force, Checkmate at the Pentagon
Krista Taubert, Head of World News and Current Affairs, Yle (Finland)
Bryan Bender, Defense Editor, Politico
Chris Marsh, Joint Special Operations University
1:35 pm – Closing Remarks
David Kramer, FRF Board Chair
Miriam Lanskoy, NED
About Free Russia Foundation
Free Russia Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization working to:
Advance the vision of a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Russia governed by the rule of law by educating the next generation of Russian leaders committed to these ideals;
Strengthen civil society in Russia and defend human rights activists persecuted by the Russian government; and
Support formulation of an effective and sustainable Russia policy in the United States and Europe by educating policy makers and informing public debate.
Read more at www.4freerussia.org
About Human Rights First
Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges the United States to live up to its ideals.
Read more at www.humanrightsfirst.org
About The Henry M. Jackson Foundation
The Henry M. Jackson Foundation fosters effective leadership on key issues of national and global importance, particularly: Climate change, energy, and natural resources Human rights International affairs education Public service.
Read more at www.hmjackson.org
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.
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
Victory Day – May 9 – is the most politicized date in the post-Soviet calendar. The most widely observed military commemoration in the world today, it is much more than a military parade on Red Square, featuring an astonishing variety of both official and grassroots events across the former Soviet Union and beyond. It is also an occasion for strident debates about the present-day political implications of World War II memory as well as Russia’s role in neighbouring countries and the world at large. Continue reading Victory Day in 2055: Four Scenarios
As protests rage across Russia in response to a Kremlin-backed law to erect a digital Iron Curtain, authorities are preparing a “cyber-defence test” to shut down the Russian Internet – a step that may result in isolating the country from the rest of the online world.
At risk: Russia’s fundamental freedom of speech. As one human rights activist told international journalists, “The [Russian] government is battling freedom…, I can tell you this as somebody who spent a month in jail for a tweet.”
For those of us born in Russia who seek a regime that respects human rights, the Putin regime’s aggression abroad has its parallel in repression at home. Last month, Russian civil society activist Anastasia Shevchenko faced a parent’s worst nightmare: her special-needs teenage daughter had been hospitalized and was near death. But Shevchenko – under house arrest for the absurd charge of collaborating with an “undesirable” foreign organization – was prevented by the local Russian court from visiting her dying daughter until just hours before the girl passed away.
What were the charges against Shevchenko? Organizing debates, coordinating educational lectures for voters, and participating in pro-democracy meetings. Though these activities are internationally guaranteed rights — and protected by the Russian Constitution itself — Shevchenko could face six years in a Russian jail.
This type of senselessly cruel treatment from Russian authorities against human rights defenders and activists in Russia is increasingly common. Just two months ago, 77-year-old Lev Ponomarev, a veteran rights defender, served 16 days in prison for the crime of sharing a Facebook blog. Despite strong international condemnation over his arbitrary detention, the judge who convicted him showed no leniency, refusing to let him attend the funeral of his friend and activist Ludmila Alexeyeva.
In fact, human rights are under assault in Russia in nearly every way, as President Putin and his allies have used their power to pass repressive laws that ensnare citizens of Russia and other areas it occupies. One of the Kremlin’s preferred methods of repression is to detain political opponents and activists on spurious criminal charges. We are jailed for exercising our fundamental rights, for peaceful protest, for texting our friends, and for holding dissenting political opinions. This is part of a larger campaign by the authorities to crush civil society and stifle dissent in my home country.
Six years ago last December, I fell victim to this brutal campaign. I was given 48 hours to leave Russia, or spend twenty years in jail for state treason for my work for an American democracy-promotion organization. Now my son cannot see his father and friends and I do not know when I will be able to watch the sunset again over Lake Baikal, near my birthplace. But I continue to fight tirelessly for this day to come – and for the day when Russia will no longer have political prisoners.
While my organization, Free Russia Foundation, and other rights groups in Russia and abroad have worked on behalf of these victims to bring rights violations to the public’s attention and help them through legal action, there are limits to what our advocacy can achieve. We ourselves often become targets – imprisoned, exiled, or even murdered.
Discrete actions by the broader international community alone will not be enough to make a fundamental change in Russia. There is a need for a common and coordinated advocacy strategy among civil society organizations around the world in order to make the Kremlin heed our calls to release political prisoners.
A dozen rights groups across Russia, Europe, and North America have now joined together as a Coalition to say “enough.” From Moscow, Kyiv and Tallinn to Berlin, Ottawa, and Washington, D.C., the newly-launched “Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners” will organize collectively to call out abuses of authority and push for the release of the Kremlin’s political prisoners. At a time in which attacks on civil society are at an all-time high, our goal is to join together across borders to stand up for the future of Russia’s people.
The Coalition is hitting the ground running. According to the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, Russian authorities currently hold 233 political prisoners, with targeted groups including rights defenders, such as Shevchenko and Oyub Titiev, who headed the Memorial branch in Chechnya when he was arrested last year; Ukrainian hostages held by the Kremlin, including Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film-maker imprisoned because he opposed Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea; and Alexey Pichugin, who – after being framed for several murders and attempted murders and having served more than 15 years in prison on a life sentence – has become Russia’s longest-serving political prisoner.
As Russia seeks increasingly to cut itself off from the world, one of the Coalition’s primary tasks will be to shed light on the stories of these and other prisoners with targeted media campaigns. For the sake of all political prisoners held by the Kremlin, we will stand as one – and we urge other civil society organizations to join our efforts and governments worldwide to support our cause.
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.
Highlights of the Free Russia Foundation achievements in 2018.
Continue reading Free Russia Foundation 2018: a year in review
The annual Oslo Freedom Forum, which has taken place since 2009, was held in New York for the second time on Monday, September 17.
Free Russia Foundation and the Atlantic Council organized this week an event with Marina Litvinenko – the widow of slain former intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko – and family friend Alexander Goldfarb, to discuss their defamation lawsuit against Russian TV channels in the U.S. The panel discussion, held on Tuesday, September 11, also considered Russia’s use of the disinformation to discredit accusations over the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.
On July 12, 2018, NPR’s 1A Program covering NATO’s 2018 Summit in Brussels featured Frances G. Burwell identified as Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council (at 2:49 of the podcast).
On Thursday, June 14, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion with Russian opposition leaders to explore U.S.-Russia relations in Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president.
On Monday, June 4, the Kennan’s Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel to introduce “The Last Address” project – a civic initiative to commemorate the victims of repressions in the Soviet Union which originated in Russia and is gradually spreading to other countries. The panelists talked about the origins, success, and challenges of the initiative.
On Friday, May 18, Free Russia Foundation and Atlantic Council organized an expert panel to discuss the politics and economics of Vladimir Putin’s fourth term as president. Experts expect further economic stagnation, with no structural economic reforms in sight, and discussed the growing gap between the Russian government and citizens.
Free Russia Foundation recently hosted in Washington a delegation of pro-democracy municipal officials and activists from Russia. The delegates, representing various local government and political movements in Russia, participated in a series of panel discussions focusing on the recent success of the Russian opposition at the local level – and hopes for changing the political landscape and building bridges with the West.
The Congress of Russian Americans, a group claiming to represent five million Russian-speaking Americans, recently wrote to US President Donald Trump deploring the state of Russian-American relations, denouncing the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats from the United States, and denying Russia’s involvement in the recent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. It also alleges that Russian speakers face “serious discrimination” in America.
Continue reading Russian Americans Say Keep It Up, President Trump
This week, experts gathered at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think-tank, to discuss Russia’s recent presidential elections and Vladimir Putin’s next term. The experts largely expect relations between Russia and the West to deteriorate, while also calling into question Putin’s popularity at home.
The Trump administration imposed new sanctions on seven of Russia’s richest men and 17 top government officials on Friday in the latest effort to punish President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggression.
You probably haven’t heard of Kemerovo. It’s understandable if you haven’t, it isn’t exactly Paris or London.
In the wake of the presidential elections in Russia, experts in Washington came together this week at the Atlantic Council and the Kennan Institute to discuss what the future may hold. While observers largely expect further stagnation, confrontation with the West and increasing authoritarianism, some believe Russia’s civil society may take people by surprise.
U.S. and European experts weighed the political and business implications of Nord Stream 2 at an Atlantic Council event in Washington on Monday, March 12.
The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, has presented a report outlining ways to counter disinformation.
On Tuesday, March 6, the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, organized a panel discussion on the state of the Russian economy. Panelists discussed sanctions, a perceived brain drain and the absence of meaningful reforms in President Putin’s recent annual address.
The Boris Nemtsov Plaza was unveiled during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 27. A part of Wisconsin Avenue from Edmunds street to Davis street, directly in front of the Russian Embassy, has officially been renamed in honor of the prominent Russian opposition leader who was shot dead in 2015.
Last Thursday (Feb. 1), the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, held a panel discussion on The Direction of Russian Politics and the Putin Factor as a part of its series on domestic Russian affairs.
Experts gathered at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, have expressed disappointment in the U.S. government’s “Kremlin report” which was released earlier this week, calling it “puzzling and inexplicable”.
On Monday night, Jan. 29, the U.S. Treasury Department publicly released its much-anticipated “Kremlin report,” which singles out members of the Russian political and business elite with close ties to Vladimir Putin’s government.
In the last few months, we at Free Russia Foundation have made consistent efforts: to expose Kremlin’s corruption and subversive plans surrounding Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and to educate about agents of post-Soviet corruption in the West.
On December 25, the Central Election Commission of Russia (CEC) has announced the decision to disqualify Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from his presidential bid.
On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Council of the District of Columbia held a public hearing on renaming a street in front of the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue to Boris Nemtsov Plaza, a gesture to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was shot dead in Moscow in February 2015.
The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, has proposed a set of criteria as the U.S. government compiles a list of corrupt Russian individuals and businesses with ties to the Kremlin.
RT, formerly known as “Russia Today”, a Russian state-funded website and television channel that operates as a disinformation outlet for the Kremlin, will register with U.S. authorities as a foreign agent, its editor said Thursday.
One of last week’s key stories was another major instance of political activity unrelated to business on the part of the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft.
Free Russia Foundation calls to Russian authorities for immediate overturn of their decision to deport asylum seeker Khudoberdi Nurmatov, better known under his journalist alias Ali Feruz, to Uzbekistan.
Ali Feruz, whose expulsion Moscow’s Basmanny district court ordered on August 1, 2017, is a civil activist and a journalist with one of Russia’s leading independent investigative newspapers, Novaya Gazeta. He covers such issues as hate crimes, migrant workers’ rights, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Ali Feruz escaped from Uzbekistan in 2009 after he was detained and tortured by officers from the Uzbekistani National Security Service who were seeking to force him to be their secret informer.
He has repeatedly tried to claim asylum in Russia and had recently appealed the Russian immigration authorities’ refusal to grant him refugee status. In a late night court hearing yesterday, the judge found him in violation of “the rules of entry or stay in the Russian Federation by a foreign citizen” and ordered his deportation.
“In spite of overwhelming evidence of the risks of torture and other human rights violations that Ali Feruz would face in Uzbekistan, the judge still ruled that he should be deported. This utterly erroneous decision contravenes the absolute prohibition of torture and must be immediately overturned.”
President Donald Trump signed into law Wednesday morning legislation that levies new sanctions against Russia and restricts Trump’s own ability to ease sanctions in place against Kremlin.
The legislation is aimed at penalizing Kremlin for interference and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad. The law also imposes new financial sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
Last week, the House overwhelmingly backed the bill, 419-3, and the Senate rapidly followed, 98-2. Those margins guaranteed that Congress would be able to beat back any veto attempt
The White House announced the signing shortly after 11 a.m. ET, saying the bill includes “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” that “purport to displace the President’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds.”
This was followed by the statement of Senator John McCain, who said: “The concerns expressed in the President’s signing statement are hardly surprising, though misplaced. The Framers of our Constitution made the Congress and the President coequal branches of government. This bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice.
“While the American people surely hope for better relations with Russia, what this legislation truly represents is their insistence that Vladimir Putin and his regime must pay a real price for attacking our democracy, violating human rights, occupying Crimea, and destabilizing Ukraine. On this critical issue of national security policy, it was the Congress that acted in the spirit of national unity to carry out the will of the American people. And that is why it is critical that the President comply with the letter and spirit of this legislation and fully implement all of its provisions. Going forward, I hope the President will be as vocal about Russia’s aggressive behavior as he was about his concerns with this legislation.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, have announced the briefing on “Kleptocrats of the Kremlin: ties between business and power in Russia”.
Eighteen years after he first took power, Vladimir Putin rules a Russia increasingly characterized by censorship, political repression, and human rights violations. A central feature of Putin’s authoritarian regime is sprawling corruption. This corruption undermines the legitimacy of public institutions domestically and internationally via an opaque network of interlocutors who enable assets to be stolen from the Russian people and hidden abroad.
While the president is the primary beneficiary, the Kremlin’s brand of kleptocracy depends on a loyal group of cronies, who acquire untold wealth by ensuring that state institutions follow Kremlin directives and that private businesses play along or stay out of the way.
The briefing will examine the dynamics of Putin’s closest circle in order to establish who most strengthens and benefits from his rule. Additionally, briefers will analyze how these cronies advance Putin’s geopolitical goals and interests.
The following panelists are scheduled to speak:
Brian Whitmore, Senior Russia Analyst,
Radio Free Europe
Ilya Zaslavskiy, Research Expert,
Free Russia Foundation
Dr. Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow,
Marius Laurinavicius, Senior Analyst,
Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis
Ambassador Daniel Fried, Distinguished Fellow,
One year ago, on June 10, 2016, in Washington, DC Free Russia Foundation in cooperation with the Henry Jackson Foundation and Movements.org conducted a conference “Ensuring a Future for Democratic Civil Society in Russia” on connecting technologies and activism.
Please join the Atlantic Council and the Free Russia Foundation for the launch of a new policy paper, The Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe: Implications for Policy Makers.
In The Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe, Mr. Zaslavskiy presents policy recommendations for US and European policy makers as the European Union negotiates Gazprom’s latest pipeline project, Nord Stream 2. Examining previous Gazprom pipeline projects, the author argues that while Gazprom presents itself as an independent competitive firm, it has a consistent track record of acting as an arm of the Kremlin’s foreign and economic policy. Nord Stream 2, Mr. Zaslavskiy concludes, will present a major challenge to European law and EU principles and jeopardize the security interests of the United States and its European allies.
The event will feature a keynote address by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen and a panel of experts that will discuss Nord Stream 2, Russia’s energy policies, as well as share policy recommendations for the US and Europe.
The Hon. Jeanne Shaheen
US Senator for New Hampshire
A conversation with:
Mr. Edward Chow
Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Mr. Bud Coote
Senior Fellow, Global Energy Center
Mr. Ilya Zaslavskiy
“The Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe: Implications for Policy Makers”
Ms. Emily Meredith
Deputy Bureau Chief
We hope you can join us for this timely discussion.
The Free Russia Foundation is the patron for the project that declares itself an alternative cultural and political embassy for Russian civil society in Ukraine.
Please join the Atlantic Council and Free Russia Foundation for an expert panel to discuss the key causes driving the new wave of Russian emigration and its implications.
Russian political activist Ildar Dadin has been released from prison, days after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction.
Please join us to commemorate Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician and an outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
2 years ago, on February 27, 2015, Boris Nemtsov was assassinated as he walked across a bridge just yards from the Kremlin. Five men, all ethnic Chechens with apparent connections to Chehen governor Ramzan Kadyrov, were arrested and charged with Boris Nemtsov contract killing. However, Kadyrov and his closest peers related to the killers were not questioned by investigators. All CCTV cameras around Kremlin that could have caught the murder were dysfunctional, according to the government officials. Kadyrov called the triggerman Zaur Dadaev a “true patriot of Russia” and said “everybody knows” that Ruslan Geremeyev was not involved in the murder. Ruslan Geremeyev, who has deep connections to Kadyrov’s inner circle, spent time at the Moscow apartment where the assassins stayed during the weeks before the killing and drove together with Dadaev to a Moscow airport and boarded a flight to Chechnya the day after the murder.
Putin’s regime is responsible for covering up and hiding the connections between Ramzan Kadyrov and the killers of Boris Nemtsov. It cannot be tolerated, as well as the Russian government’s growing intolerance of all forms of dissent and independent expression.
1 PM – 3 PM
In front of Embassy of Russia in Washington, D.C.
2650 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20007
You can also find out more about this event and other commemorative events around North America on Facebook:
San Francisco: https://www.facebook.com/events/267585533670670/
We have learned this morning that our colleague and friend Vladimir Kara-Murza is in a Moscow hospital in critical condition with absolutely similar symptoms he faced in 2015. Continue reading Statement on Critical Condition of Vladimir Kara-Murza
When communicating with Czechs we often hear that Karlovy Vary is a Russian city, and that the population is nearly 90% Russian. The locals have been calling this city “Ivanovka” for a long time, so The Municipal Scanner project decided to investigate how true this nickname is.
The Magnitsky Act Initiative and Free Russia Foundation call for a resolution on Ildar Dadin, a Russian political prisoner.
On December 5, Members of Parliament from all of Britain’s main political parties have joined forces to introduce Magnitsky asset-freezing legislation in the UK as part of the Criminal Finances Bill.
Russian prosecutors in Kirov’s Leninsky Court opposed a motion to drop the embezzlement case against opposition blogger Alexei Navalny on Monday, the Moscow Times reports.
Free Russia is organizing a study tour for Russian activists.
Please join the Atlantic Council and the Free Russia Foundation, for a discussion with Ilya Yashin.
Ilya Yashin is a Russian opposition leader and author of The Criminal Russia Party, a new report that examines corruption in Russia’s leading political party, United Russia.
In his latest in-depth report, The Criminal Russia Party , Russian activist and liberal politician Ilya Yashin examines the nexus between Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political party, United Russia, and organized crime. Yashin’s report demonstrates that the way to fortune and unbridled power in Russia is to curry favor with Putin’s United Russia party. High-level political appointments inevitably lead to access to wealth through criminal and kleptocratic networks. Laying out numerous examples, Yashin shows how United Russia has become a political club of thieves, mafia bosses, and even thugs accused of murder. When their crimes can no longer be tolerated by the regime, many political criminals end up in jail – only to be replaced by a new group of crime bosses friendly to United Russia. Yet, even as United Russia’s political elite has been accused of committing crimes in Europe and the United States and taking advantage of the Western political and financial systems, they are still afforded diplomatic cover and protection. Western policymakers must act to close the loopholes that allow Russian political criminals access and protection.
A New Report by Ilya Yashin
A conversation with:
Mr. Ilya Yashin
People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS)
Introduced and Moderated by:
Dr. Alina Polyakova
Deputy Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center
We hope you will join us for this timely and important discussion. RSVP here.
This event is open to press and on the record.