Tag Archives: Natalia Arno

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

Tuesday, September 17
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. EDT
(Light refreshments served at 10:00 a.m.)

National Endowment for Democracy
1025 F Street NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004


Welcome and Opening Remarks:

Daniel O’Maley, Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist, Center for International Media Assistance


Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation
Ron Deibert, Director, The Citizen Lab
David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Valentin Weber, University of Oxford and OTF Information Controls Fellow


Laura Cunningham, Principal Director, Open Technology Fund

The rapid proliferation of censorship and surveillance technology around the world is threatening human rights. These technologies are no longer limited to countries who have the resources and technical capabilities to build them from scratch. Authoritarian governments across the globe are acquiring state of the art repression technology at an alarming rate. These technologies are then used to target journalists and human rights defenders, stifle free speech, and undermine democracy.

Authored by OTF Information Controls Fellow Valentin Weber, a new research report to be released at the event tracks the export of Chinese and Russian censorship and surveillance technology around the world, providing fresh insight into the importance of telecommunications infrastructure to modern authoritarianism.

This report adds to a growing body of research that demonstrates how widespread this technology has become and that the sources range from Western companies to those closely affiliated with the Chinese and Russian governments. The panel will explore the alarming rate with which this sophisticated technology has been employed to silence dissent, the widespread harms this proliferation has caused, and what can be done to counter it.

Speaker Bios:

Natalia Arno is the president and founder of Free Russia Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan US-based nongovernmental organization that informs US policy makers on events in Russia in real time and supports the formulation of an effective and sustainable US policy on Russia. In 2004, Natalia joined the International Republican Institute, a US nonprofit nonpartisan organization advancing democracy worldwide. She worked there for ten years, six of which were as Russia Country Director. In December 2009, Natalia represented Russia in the World Summit of World Leaders in Geneva, Switzerland. Forced to leave Russia as a result of her pro-democracy work, Natalia founded the Free Russia Foundation with a number of other pro-democracy exiled activists in 2014. The organization serves as a voice for those who cannot speak under the repression of the current Russian leadership.

Ron Deibert is professor of political science and director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. He was a co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative (2003-2014) and Information Warfare Monitor (2003-2012) projects. Mr. Deibert was one of the founders and (former) VP of global policy and outreach for Psiphon, one of the world’s leading digital censorship circumvention services. He has published numerous articles, chapters, and books on issues related technology, media, and world politics. He was one of the authors of the landmark Tracking Ghostnet (2009) and the Shadows in the Cloud (2010) reports, which documented two separate major global cyber espionage networks, and the Great Cannon report, which documented a new offensive “cyber weapon” co-located with China’s Great Firewall. He is the author of Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (2013).

David Kaye is a clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. His 2019 book, Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet (Columbia Global Reports), explores the ways in which companies, governments and activists struggle to define the rules for online expression. Mr. Kaye’s most recent report to the UN Human Rights Council addressed the challenge of regulating the private surveillance industry.

Valentin Weber is a DPhil Candidate in Cyber Security at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, University of Oxford. Mr. Weber is interested in how the cyber domain is changing conflicts and state strategies. His current research focuses on the integration of cyber and grand strategy, as well as on the role of information controls in state strategies. He previously worked for the International Security Department at Chatham House.

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 occupiesOne 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.

This article was originally published on https://blogactiv.eu/

To governments and legislators of democratic countries, to democracy promotion and human rights organizations, to all democracy-minded people, journalists, and public opinion leaders.

Is the world listening?  Does the name Oleg Sentsov cross the consciousness of global leaders every morning they wake up?  It should. There is a very urgent task for all of us right now – to save Oleg Sentsov from death in a remote Siberian prison.

Oleg Sentsov, who was arrested and jailed for merely opposing Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 while making a documentary, has been on a hunger strike since May 14. Not a hunger strike to compel a brutal regime to free him, but the selfless act of demanding the release of 64 other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russian jail cells.

Sentsov is a manifestation of our conscience. And Putin’s repressive machine is methodically killing our conscience at the moment. To save Sentsov is to save the others.  Will the world challenge Vladimir Putin, the petty dictator less and less bound by a moral compass, or will Sentsov be another name we celebrate posthumously like a Soviet dissident Anatoly Marchenko?

Since Sentsov began his hunger strike on May 14, many of us have been counting the days of it: Day 1, Day 23, Day 57, Day 107 today… But his health has become so dire that now the countdown goes to minutes, not days.

So, all leaders of the free world, all governments, all legislators, all democracy agencies and human rights organizations, all media outlets, all democracy-minded people worldwide should come together and put Sentsov life as priority Number One, above all other things on their agendas, until he’s released. We will all regret we didn’t do enough to save him if he dies.

It’s Sentsov’s deliberate decision to end his unfreedom with death in order to force the release the other Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin. It seems like Putin has made his deliberate decision, too — to let Sentsov die as a signal to the world that his regime is unshakable and can care less about a human life.

It appears the Sentsov case is too personal for Putin, some sort of vendetta with those who oppose to him; or perhaps Putin doesn’t have a say here because the Sentsov case was initiated by the FSB and is under its close supervision. Maybe the allegedly all-powerful dictator doesn’t dare to interfere in FSB’s business.

Like Marchenko, Sentsov is determined to give meaning to his own death. Are we ready to lose him though? What else can be more valuable for us, democracy-minded people, than a person’s life?!

So many people in the world have requested, begged, and demanded the Kremlin set Sentsov free. The Kremlin is mercilessly deaf to all statements and pleas to free Sentsov. The international community does a lot in trying to save Sentsov, but it’s still not enough. Are our voices to release Sentsov too scattered and not convincing enough? Are we sending raindrops instead of unifying into the tsunami against the Kremlin?

Last Friday, Vladimir Kara-Murza, twice poisoned in Russia himself, held the second ceremony of opening a new Boris Nemtsov square in memory of his friend, a slain Russian opposition leader. The first unveiling of Nemtsov Plaza took part in Washington, DC and last week it happened in Vilnius. Do we really want to have a reason to push governments of Western countries to start opening Sentsov plazas? Do we want to start advocating for a Sentsov sanction list? Shouldn’t we prefer to have Sentsov alive?!

Let’s all unite our efforts and act right now and act every moment. I urge the U.S and other democracies to try all methods with the Kremlin — both carrots and sticks, but with all means to save Sentsov. Threaten to impose more sanctions, but NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Or promise not to impose some. It can all be re-evaluated later. If Putin wants to exchange him for somebody – start discussing it NOW when Sentsov is still alive. Nothing is more important and urgent right now than Sentsov’s life.  I hope I’ll meet him one day to thank him for his fortitude.

The year of 2017, the third year of operation for the Free Russia Foundation, proved to be a very eventful year. Over the course of this year,  we worked hard and achieved quite a lot.  We continued to assist pro-democracy forces in Russia and to inform Western audiences on Russia-related matters.

We continued our think tank activities and published three more reports on Russia-related subjects, conducted a series of presentations of our papers in Europe and the U.S, Ukraine, and Russia and organized dozens of briefings for Western decision and policy makers.

In January, we translated the report by Ilya Yashin “Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” about the entire arsenal of military, disinformation and other methods Putin’s Russia uses in Ukraine. To attract more attention to the problem and convince the West to continue its assistance to Ukraine, FRF’s President Natalia Arno wrote an op-ed for the Hill saying that “If the world blinks Putin will seize the rest of Ukraine”. The report was presented by FRF at the U.S. Congress, European Parliament, British and German parliaments.

In May, together with the Atlantic Council, we published the report “Kremlin’s Gas Games in Europe” by our research expert Ilya Zaslavsky. We jointly launched this report at the U.S. Senate with Senator Jeanne Shaheen as a keynote speaker. Then we had a European tour with the report presenting at the European Parliament, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and leading European think tanks including London’s Chatham House and Berlin’s Council on Foreign Relations, DGAP. More on that could be found here.

After that European trip, it became clear to us that we need to follow up with a new report exposing Gazprom’s corruption and political implications of its Nord Stream 2 project to EU security and democracy. Our report “Corruption Pipeline” was published in and FRF made new European tours to Visegrad and Scandinavian countries. More on that could be found here.

Throughout the year we continued to serve as an informal “Embassy” for Russian pro-democracy activists, journalists, representatives of civil society organizations and expert community in the U.S., for whom we arranged meetings with various American or international organizations, think tanks, media outlets or put together panels on urgent topics.

Thus, in March we hosted a prominent environmentalist Evgenia Chirikova. Together with the Atlantic Council, we conducted a panel on recent emigration from Russia “Putin’s Exodus: the new Russian brain drain”. Other panelists included Sergey Erofeev, a sociologist, and Mikhail Kokorich, an entrepreneur. With Evgenia Chirikova we had many briefings on the rise of grassroots activity in Russia at the U.S. Congress, Department of State and other DC organizations.

In May we assisted Meduza, a leading Russian-speaking independent media outlet and Memorial Human Rights Center with panels, briefings, and meetings. Together with Meduza and Foreign Policy Initiative, we held the panel at the U.S. Congress “The Struggle for Free Speech in Russia” moderated by Jamie Kirchik, Brookings.

In July, we arranged a speech of Vladimir Ashurkov from Alexey Navalny’s team at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.  In August, we hosted Konstantin Rubakhin, an anti-corruption activist and Maria Epifanova, a journalist for Novaya Gazeta-Baltics.

In September, we hosted Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Boris Nemtsov Family.  In partnership with Institute of Modern Russia and National Endowment for Democracy, we held the panel at the U.S. Senate discussing prospects for Russian pro-democracy movement And with the Atlantic Council and IMR we conducted the panel on Boris Nemtsov’s case and its political and legal implications.  During a three-day visit of Vadim Prokhorov to DC, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia and Natalia Arno, FRF’s President, briefed a number of U.S. Senators and Congressmen on the situation in Russia, Nemtsov’s case and discussed the perspectives of Nemtsov Plaza in Washington, DC. The hearings on Nemtsov Plaza were held in December at DC city council and attended by Zhanna Nemtsova, President of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom among others. FRF submitted its written testimony in support of Nemtsov Plaza to DC Council as well.

This year we held a very big event – in April, we opened our Free Russia House in Kiev.  Since that time, our Kyiv office was busy with regular panels, conferences, trainings and screenings of documentaries with over 1,000 people attending our events. Throughout the year our Kyiv stage featured such speakers as the former Prime Minister of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius, Ambassador John Herbst, prominent journalists David Satter, Matvey Ganapolsky, Evgeny Kiselev, an exiled Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, political analysts Alexander Morozov, Taras Berezovets, the Director of the Kennan Institute Kyiv Office Ekaterina Smagliy, Ondřej Kundra, a leading Czech investigative journalist, Tamila Tasheva, the Chair of the Board of the Crimea SOS and many many others.

We continued our humanitarian and legal aid to Russian refugees and emigrants assisting more than 300 people only in Ukraine, where at the Free Russia House we have opened public legal and psychological assistance consulting offices.

We started another big program this year – assistance to human rights defenders who had to flee from Russia in recent years. Through long-term fellowships and internships, we keep them engaged into Russia-related issues and help them continue their investigations or research. It’s a new initiative and we will keep our partners and supporters informed of it.

We keep fighting for the release of Ukrainian hostages still kept in Russian prisons. We are proud to contribute to the release of two leaders of Crimean Tatars – Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiigoz. We are concerned Roman Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist, and many other Ukrainians are still imprisoned and we will keep fighting for their freedom. In March and October, we hosted Mark Feygin and assisted with his advocacy efforts at the U.S. Congress and among human rights organizations. Their cases were discussed at the UN sessions, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Lantos Commission and other structures. We provided all the necessary information to the Ukraine Caucus of the U.S. Congress to issue its statement on Roman Sushchenko.

Together with Open Russia, we kept organizing Campaign Schools for activists from various Russian regions. In April, we studied French political and election system and observed the first round of the French presidential elections. In May-June, we analyzed the EU institutions in Brussels. And in September, we studied the German election system and observed its parliamentary elections.

There is much more we’ve done this year, but we realize there is even much more to do in the upcoming 2018 and years ahead until we have a truly free and democratic Russia. Russia we are proud of.  Russia for its people. Russia, a reliable partner on the international arena.

Let us thank all our partners, colleagues, and supporters for working together this year. Let us wish you success and happiness in 2018. We are looking forward to the new year – the year we will be a step closer to a free Russia!

The poem and song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” became a rallying cry for social injustice in America in the 1970s. It weaved its way through many cultural eras around the world and found its way to the streets of Russia on Sunday, March 26.

Continue reading Why Sunday’s Massive Protests Will Change Russia

This will be a crucial year for Ukraine’s delicately balanced democracy and sovereignty. A real danger is in the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin will scan the new world order and think the time is right to complete his takeover of Ukraine.

Continue reading If the world blinks, Putin will seize the rest of Ukraine

It’s a tradition to sum up the results of a year before the New Year celebration. For us, at Free Russia Foundation, it’s been a very eventful and challenging year – the startup year for our organization.

Continue reading The year we started our journey for a Free Russia

She was supposed to be a symbol of a Ukrainian war criminal according to the Kremlin’s plan. Instead, she has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s aggression and for its European choice.


Freedom of Speech is undoubtedly a universal value. There is the First Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights adopted back in 1789. In Russia, Article 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees this freedom, though this and many other rights are not respected in today’s Russian reality.