Tag Archives: War in Ukraine

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

In 2019, Russia regained its status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This event caused many fears and sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of observers and analysts. The team of the Free Russia Foundation reviewed the development of this challenging situation.

Continue reading The Overview of Relationships of Council of Europe and Russia

Throughout history, the church in Russia has been subordinated to the state, serving as an effective tool to advance the state’s agenda domestically and globally. This phenomenon held true, and perhaps even reached its apogee, during the Soviet era. 

The church, after a brief post-revolution resistance, had accepted the power of the Bolsheviks, and circa 1943, began to take an active role in promoting the interests of the USSR in foreign policy. The circumstances and the essence of such activities became public with the declassification of the KGB archives in the early 1990s.

In his September 16, 1949 note addressed to Molotov, Karpov, the Chairman of the Council on the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) at the time, wrote that the government can effectively use the networks and capabilities of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad to solve political problems facing the Soviet leadership. In the same letter, Karpov lamented that due to red tape the Patriarchate frequently couldn’t receive cash in time to implement political campaigns and proposed simplifying the process of disbursement of funds from the Council of Ministers of the USSR to the Church.

Karpov also delineated his official plans to “in the course of 1946 arrange a number of business trips”:

  1. To Istanbul to meet with Patriarch Maxim (he is being “blocked” by the British and the Turks, however, he could be with us).
  2. To the Middle East in order to deliver financial aid—$40,000 for Jerusalem, $50,000 for Constantinople.” (The government would have given this money to the Moscow Patriarchate (MP) which would then hand them out as “fraternal assistance” by the Russian Church.)

Facts of recruitment and cooperation at the highest levels at the ROC MP with the Soviet intelligence agencies such as the Ministry of State Security, NKVD,  KGB have been established by such declassified documents. One of them contains a plan to establish a regional ROC MP Cathedral. This plan, approved by Merkulov, the Head of the Soviet State Security Committee stipulated embedding of Ministry of State Security employees with the governing body of that Cathedral—its Council. The documents detailing the mechanism for implanting agents with the church suggest that all of the top patriarchs of the Russian Church of that time were also active Soviet intelligence officers.

A vast tranche of damning information on collaboration was unearthed by the Commission of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation set up to investigate causes and circumstances  of the 1991 coup attempt. The Commission published a report containing information from declassified KGB archives, including the infamous 4th Archive of the KGB’s 5th Division. It also released individual profiles of informants and agents employed by the State Security Ministry. Their precise identities, including names and religious titles, were then very easy to establish by cross-referencing church chronicle materials, such as records of foreign travel, meetings, hosting of delegations. The report identified several patriarchs disguised under code names of Drozdov, Svyatoslav, Adamant (Metropolitan Alexey, Metropolitan Nicodemus Rotov, Archbishop of Kaluga Clement respectively):

“The Commission would like to draw the attention of the ROC leadership to the unconstitutional use of church institutions through clergy recruitment and embedding of KGB agents by the Communist Party Central Committee and the KGB.”

It is precisely in this manner, through the Department of External Church Relations, special agents under the nicknames of Svyatoslav, Adamant, Mikhailov, Topaz, Nesterovich, Kuznetsov, Ognev, Yesaulenko traveled internationally and carried out tasks assigned by the KGB. The assignments descriptions underscore that the operations of this division were tightly coordinated by the state, overtime transforming  it into a covert unit of KGB agents in the midst of worshippers.

Agents infiltrated and operated inside international religious organizations where the Russian Orthodox Church held memberships, such as the World Council of Churches, the Christian Peace Conference, the Conference of European Churches, the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee. KGB Director Yuri Andropov reported to Central Committee of the Communist Party that his agency was keeping the relations of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Vatican under control.

Since the collapse of the USSR, the Russian Church has been playing “ahead of the curve” by not only carrying out the state’s explicit directives, but also by attempting to intuit the intent of the Russian leadership and initiating political projects in line with its direction.

Between 2000-2008, Russia grew fixated on the newly independent former Soviet Republics, first and foremost among them being Ukraine. What has been  offered to Ukraine, in essence, amounts to the restoration of the Soviet Union – political subjugation in exchange for access to cheap energy and other economic benefits and trade preferences. This has become the new concept of statehood for Russia, and along certain directions, it has even demonstrated progress (i.e. the Russo-Belorussian Union). Simultaneously, there was a definite spike in the activity of the church in the arena of international affairs; and starting with 2010, when they came directly under the purview of the new Patriarch, such activities have undergone a significant shift from the course charted earlier. “Patriarch Kirill has been appointed the head of the Ministry for the Reintegration of Ukraine back into Russia” is a popular joke that nevertheless is not far from reality.

Throughout its entire existence, the Moscow Patriarchate  has served as a façade for intelligence operations— providing cover for spies and a platform for information gathering. Without a single exception, all of the employees of the Patriarchate sent to work abroad from the USSR had received special training and were assigned tasks to gather information and conduct covert intelligence work in the West. This work was generously funded by the Soviet State. Sadly, even the last decade of the XX century, the short period that promised Russians democracy and freedom didn’t fundamentally change that reality.  It’s fair to point out that during 1990s universal recruitment of clergy traveling abroad was not strictly enforced. Nonetheless, due to the fact that all of the key church figures were originally cultivated by Soviet special services, such liberalization was of no lasting consequence. All freedoms that sprung up inside the institution of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 90s, were swiftly rolled back in the first decade of XXI century.

The ROC MP recent move toward escalation of conflict with the Ecumenical Patriarchate over Ukraine’s bid for autocephaly establishes continuity in its policy.  By sabotaging Patriarch Bartholomew’s plans, the ROC MP attempted to establish an alternative center of power. Such developments were taking place against the backdrop of deteriorating relationships between Russia and Turkey, and therefore were fully consistent with the official position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. By the time Russia and Turkey resolved to mend their ties, however, the hostile discourse pushed by the church had become a runaway train, heralding a major schism in the interchurch relations whose first public manifestations are becoming apparent today.

Without doubt, the Russian Orthodox Church can change its course and adopt an independent position, pursuing its own interests on the international arena. However, for this scenario to be realized, significant changes must take place throughout the entire structure and functions of the church in contemporary Russia. It would require, for example, a fundamental change of Russian laws. New laws must be adopted on the freedom of consciousness (with detailed clauses governing interactions of the state with religious organizations and explicitly prohibiting government agencies and organizations from using church structures to advance political agendas internationally). Provisions should be introduced setting up firm controls inside the church itself that would preclude church’s involvement in political projects and initiatives. Legislation should curb state financing of the church, and limit federal budget expenditures on religious initiatives, while also making such activities transparent and subject to public oversight and scrutiny.

In other words, change can be realized by establishing effective oversight of budgetary spending on the church and by strict enforcement of compliance with regulations explicitly banning intelligence agencies from using the church clergy in operative, intelligence and agency capacity. Such moves would, first and foremost, benefit the church itself. For example, having the ability to articulate and conduct an independent foreign policy, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church would be able to strike compromises and resolve numerous conflicts that have been plaguing it for decades (similar to that over the autocephaly bid by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.)

Today, having been forced into a position of a voiceless executor of state policies and decisions, the church does not possess any instruments or leverage for discussions, agreements, negotiations. Most international conflicts, after all, with interchurch relations not being an exception, are resolved through compromises, accords, articulation of acceptable outcomes for all parties involved. Today, the church is unable to make such offers, or use diplomacy. Carrying out the state mandate, the church is forced to reject all possible paths to compromise, affirm its exclusive and absolute righteousness (despite realizing the bankruptcy of such a position), and stall all substantial discussions along such directions. In contrast, during a very brief period when the state control over the church was loosened in Russia in the early 1990s, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, in just half a year, managed to solve a long-standing crisis in relationship with the Constantinople Patriarchate regarding the status of the Orthodox Church in Estonia.  This illustrates how, under a different set of circumstances, the church can, in mere months, with its “hands free”, solve some of the most challenging and sensitive problems in church relations. This is why such changes are so needed and so critical for the Orthodox Church in Russia.

But even under the best-case scenario with such changes fully implemented, the church would likely become consumed for many years by efforts to sort out its internal political agenda, overcome inconsistencies and solve issued that have accumulated over the years. And only then, in the future far beyond our horizon of analysis, the church can embark on independent foreign policy, which will undoubtedly, benefit all of its members.

This text is also available in Russian.

At Free Russia Foundation, we have identified the trend where various religious institutions, and especially the Russian Orthodox Church, have become a more prominent instrument of the Putin Regime domestically and globally. To examine this trend, we have initiated a research series focused on the role of religion in Russian politics. In this piece, you will find a reflection of what the gift of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church means to Russia and Ukraine written by Igor Knyazev, bishop at the Karelskaya Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The passionate turmoil surrounding the gift of Tomos of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church does not subside calmly. Dozens and hundreds of experts discuss the intricacies of the intrigue of the church clerical administrators as well as the casuistry of the canon law. Behind the backdrop of all of this discussion, one cannot see the life and aspirations of the ordinary folks – those believers and parishioners, in whose name, and on whose behalf all of the loud statements are being made, and for whose rights the hierarchs and the politicians are fighting.

However, the most important things in this conflict of interests, after all these are the interests, feelings, situations of these very ordinary folks  – the believers, in this convoluted and intricate process of inter-church clerical struggle. While attempting to sort this situation out, I have discovered a great deal of new things for myself, took a look at it as though it was happening through the eyes of some ordinary believer. Over, and above it all, my personal experience has also played a significant part in my interest in this topic – I have departed from the Orthodox Church, as a result of my personal conflict between the faith and my personal point of view and beliefs. Many years ago, back in 1998, I was making a very difficult decision for myself: to stay within the fold of the church, which was proclaiming the slogans that are harming democracy for the people of Russia, the inadmissibility of a liberal political system, the harmfulness of the human rights and freedoms? Shall I stay and not give a flying fig about my point of view, after I would have decided that the faith is more precious to me? Or shall I depart the fold of the church?

To leave the church, to which I came as a young boy in 1977, the church that at that time was persecuted, trampled by each and every single one, the church nobody cared about, and the church that now has itself became a persecutor, after some twenty plus years. I have opted for the departure. I decided that my convictions and points of view, the values, the ideals are just as important as the faith was. I have become a Lutheran and even rose up to the episcopal rank. Nonetheless, all of what I have lived through then, twenty years ago is just as vividly alive in my soul and in my memories. Everything that I have gone through, every feeling I have experienced, as it seems to me, did help me to understand what the believers of the Ukrainian church are feeling in the present situation, and to mull it over in my mind for a while, reflecting on what it can result in for them.

Competitive environment

Before we transgress, or as it would be more accurate to say descend down to the level of individual understanding and the attitude of a person who is a believer to what is going on, let us briefly denote the state of the religious world in Ukraine with the dotted line, as well as those factors that are affecting the behavior of one of the main participants in the confrontation – the ROC MP.

As of today, the religious space of Ukraine includes five major church institutions: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek – Catholic Church, and the structures of the Roman Catholic Church as well. One can hypothetically make another addition, and administer in another subject number six, namely a large Protestant community, which does not have a single unified center, nevertheless, it is visible in the religious domain of Ukraine, and it has some serious influence on what is happening in the country. All of these church clerical institutions have a regional distribution factor, and they are not evenly represented across the whole territory of the country (traditionally, the East of the country has the majority of parishioners of the UOC-MP, in the center of the country there are parishioners of the UOC-MP  located, and the UOC – KP is approximately equally divided, in the West the parishes of the UOC-MP are smaller, moreover the Greek Catholics have a strong influence over there, etc.).

This situation creates quite a market similar to (hypothetically) the competitive environment, where there is not a single one – part present that would have a firm and overwhelming monopoly. No one can dominate solo, without having to unite with the others, no one can suppress his opponents simply on his own. In other words, all of the subjects are forced to take into account the strengths and the influence the other players and have to build their activities while keeping an eye on the potential opposition, represented by their competitors. Of course, this is very good for a religious situation in which the course of real competition for the believers makes the church work as efficiently and as actively as it is only possible in its preaching work, its social projects, and precludes the churches from such phenomena as the presence of the unchallenged power of hierarchs, despotism, and a high volume of church corruption.

It is also necessary to point out the fact that the general religious devoutness of the Ukrainian population runs very high, (it is also much superior to that level of the Russian population) that was present in here even during the Soviet period, and which also has experienced a strong influx of the believers, who are leading a church-going and strictly observant life according to the church portamentos after the collapse of the communist system. The presence of the priests representing all of the faiths and all the jurisdictions at the Ukrainian Maidan serves as an example of this equilibrium and a competitive religious environment.

That is why, for instance, the phenomena of the church clerical life that have no relevance for the believers in Russia, due to the lack of any available leverages of influence on the situation, and since they have always been traditionally perceived by them as “the games played up at the top, where the bosses will sort it out between each other, and so on and so forth,” in Ukraine have fundamental and important meanings for the believers, and they are taking place with their active participation ( because believers can influence the situations, right up to the point where they can “vote with their feet” ). A great deal of influence on the activation of these processes and the attitude of believers to the church was played by the Ukrainian Maidans, as well as by the full-fledged avid political life, where yet again due to the existing political competition in place, the citizens are taking an active part in it. This activation has come into being in the course and during the process of making a choice of the future  pathway for the future national development, the path “towards the West,” or “towards the East,” the passage to Europe into democracy and market economy, or the choice towards the Russian authoritarian model of the state and its state – monopolistic model of economy.

This choice has consisted of both – the choice proper and the orientation of the church clerical models. Therefore, one has to say that the political and religious landscape of Ukraine is a very mobile space environment, where the processes of movement, consolidation, and the confrontation of several large entities at  the same very time sans dead, frozen forms (as it is for example, in Russia) are constantly going on.

It is also important  to note that in Russia if for instance all of the decisions of its political and public administration have been transferred to the federal level (to be more exact, all power is concentrated in the hands of one person – the President), and the decision on the replacement of the light bulbs in the entrance lobby, as well as the declaration of a war are the prerogatives of the federal government, then in Ukraine with its competitive environment a significant part of the public and political decisions is being made within the institutions of either direct, or participatory democracy. This explains the fact that Ukrainians perceive the questions of the church structure as the issues, which have a direct connection to each and every one of them and thus require their personal participation in the quest for the solutions.

The fight surrounding the provision of Tomos has been going on for a long-term, and the fact that the outcome of this confrontation would determine the fate of the ROC MP, in its turn, gives an especially so fierce tone to the Church clerical – administrative confrontation created in Ukraine. The final outcome of this struggle will seriously first and foremost have an effect on the position of the Russian Orthodox Church within Russia proper, its relevance and the need for it among the Russian authorities. After all, if the outcome of this struggle is bad for Russia, then the pass way to the most unpredictable processes in the religious space will be opened within it. And the very fact that there are various scenarios in existence for the potential outcome of this struggle, the variety is undermining its position of a clerical monopoly within Russia, and seriously reduces its authority and influence in the external relations of the church. Since the very foundation, it relies upon as well as the main condition for its present existence in Russia is in its position of a monopoly, which is backed up and provided by the state. Therefore, in this case, the ROC MP is not just fighting not for Ukraine per se, but as a matter of fact, it is fighting for its own future in Russia.

The conflict between the faith and the convictions

Now, switching from the overview of the situation, let us try to comprehend what do the believers, the parishioners, and the church hierarchy representatives are feeling? Let us make an effort to sort out what creates the conflict between the faith and the convictions and what are the consequences for the man?

It is obvious that the result of such a conflict is a serious personal and social subdivision for an individual within himself as well as within the social medium in which he exists.

The first boundary of this subdivision is located inside the person himself, hypothetically, it could be drawn as follows: I believe in God and I love my church, but it stands on the opposite side of the war that came to my country, it blesses those who are fighting against me, it proclaims the slogans of nationalistic and imperial hegemony against the neighboring state. I can make attempts to hide behind words or statements about the fact that: “The Church is above this, that the Lord does not have anything to do with it,” etc., however, I do realize that it will not help me. And as a matter of fact, God does not have anything to do with it, nonetheless, the church is not only a spiritual incremental part, but it is a materialistic terrestrial institution, which is guided in its decisions by both – political and national interests. Thus, I must either agree with the position of my church that my country, the citizen and the patriot of which I am is not  a real wholesome country, but it is rather some sort of political ersatz that has no right to exist, and therefore I either have to leave the fold of the church or to influence it in such a fashion that it would change its position. As a rule, there are a lot of caring people in the church among its regular and active parishioners, to whom all of these questions are not at all just some shallow phrases, these are the people, who are looking for answers, they are emphatic and not indifferent, these are the ones who create the entire atmosphere in the church. And it is because of their involvement in the church life and due to their active position on the issue that it becomes the conflict between the faith and personal convictions, and it is extremely difficult for them.

The second line of separation is happening already in the close inner circle of the believer, namely it is occurring primarily within his family, his relatives, and close friends. In there, the conflict of generations sets in to play its own role (the youth is being more radical and is not inclined to make any compromise, it does not accept the viewpoints of the elders, which consist of the following – “one has to endure sufferings, and perhaps only afterward make some kind of decisions.” Young people cannot withstand waiting, and they are not used to the anticipation, they make their choice today and that is why the conflict between the parents and their children on the issue of “their” and the “occupational” churches becomes a dividing borderline between the different generations of the same family, among the families, who had opted for different political choices (and, in this case, the church choice as well).

The third boundary line is in the subdivision running among the residents of different regions of the country (West vs. East), between various political groups (hypothetically the subdivision between the “pro – Russian,” and the “patriotic” citizens).

All of these three boundaries of subdivisions run within the society, creating multiple points of tension, interfering, and frequently tearing down and blocking the process of a civil formation of a nation.

Will these subdivisions be overcome, and, if so to what extent if any, will the Ambassador of Tomos get the autocephaly? In what way can this confrontation result for an ordinary believer? Let us make an effort to figure this out by examining two completely opposite versions of the development of events, which in my personal viewpoint, contain a significantly different probability.

“The Kremlin’s arguments”

Thus, let us examine the first version, which is being written a great deal about in Russia, or to be more correct, that one written about from the “pro-Kremlin” positions  – namely, the gifting of Tomos leads to a sharp political stimulation of activity among the population, the struggle for the temples commences, clashes and physical confrontation among the parties begin,  and a large-scale civic conflict flares up in the country. How very likely is this scenario to happen? I think that this probability is close to a zero point. There are several reasons for that. The first and the major one is the fact that for more than a quarter of a century Ukraine has existed in the conditions of its independence and sovereignty. This is the time frame sufficient enough for its citizens to have perceived themselves as one nation and to have learned how to resolve the internal contradictions without inflicting harm upon their country. By the way, the fiasco of the ideas of the “Russian world” and the failure of expectations for a mass exodus of the subjects of Ukraine from its federal union in the years of 2014 – 2015 are the most vivid confirmations of this theory. As of today, Ukraine is a nation in which the people who comprise it consider Ukraine to be their own country, treat it with responsibly, and they do not allow internal contradictions to rise up to the level of the national confrontation, and to threaten the sovereignty and the integrity of their country.

That is why there is no “devotion” and “love” to one patriarchy or the other in a place that could cause a deep crisis or a split within the nation. The expectations that in the wake of the euphoria stemming from the victory in getting the gift of Tomos the radical political sentiments will prevail, and that there will be the agenda with the theme of fighting with representatives of the ROC MP thrown in the midst of it. It also lives on only in the Russian – speaking propaganda space proper. No one sees any reason to do this inside Ukraine, and nobody witnesses such threats. In addition, the fact that the unification and the mutual integration of all the churches will continue to go on for a long period of time also serves as an insurance against such a potential development of the events. This a very complicated process and it will take years. All of this time will become the time of looking for compromises on the issues of distribution of administrative posts within the clergy and the distribution of the property. And, competitive political and clerical environment constitutes a sufficient enough insurance against any manifestations of any kind of dictatorial aspirations, or against the absolutization of clerical authority.

Compromise 

Let us take into our consideration the second version, which, in my point of view seems to be the most plausible scenario for the future development of the events: the gift of Tomos would become the initiation of the process of building up a single unified Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church. Throughout the duration of this process, within some 3 – 4 years some mutual integration and unification of the clerical structures will take place, and, a compromise will be reached on the figure of the church’s leader (and possibly, given the chances he has Patriarch Filaret will become the Head of the Local Orthodox Church of Ukraine, so the factual figure of the next key leader will become relevant).

The hierarchs of the UOC – MP in Ukraine do realize that the possibility of their influencing the situation and implementing their goals and interests in real life for them will be opened only through the venue of their participation in the process. In other words, if you wish to have another figure in the place of the Patriarch, then in order for this to be a possibility for you, at the very least you would need to become a part of this church. That is why a significant portion of them will transfer rather quickly and on good terms into the structures of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

At the very same time, most probably some part of the UOC – MP will refuse to become a part of the unified Orthodox Church and will continue to exist in the structural form of the metropolitan area of the Russian Orthodox Church on the territory of Ukraine with its parishes, mainly in the East of the country. It is unlikely that this will become a significant enough factor for the aggravation of the situation and for any civil confrontation. And, on top of it all, having taken into consideration the political choice of Ukraine, as well as its confident way chosen towards the West, this clerical metropolis would not be able to exercise any kind of influence over the Ukrainian processes in the future. One can also make an assumption with a high degree of a certain probability that the changes in the legislation that will follow the acquisition of Tomos might strip the structure of the UOC – MP (ROC MP) in Ukraine of its traditional name. During such periods of transition, as a rule, the legal constructions cancel out the emergencies of two various religious entities with the same shared name, or a duplicated one. That is why, it most likely that the status of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Church” will be assimilated by a new unified Ukrainian church, and the structures of the Moscow Patriarchate, which have retained their presence on the territory of Ukraine, would receive the name of a “Metropolitan Church in Ukraine, etc.”. To a certain degree, the stabilizing factor in these processes would be the substantial presence of the Catholics, the Greek Catholics, as well as a large Protestant community in place.

While making conclusions, we can state that it is most likely that the end of the struggle for autocephaly will become the beginning of a new civil and religious state creation for Ukraine. The integration and unification of  the clerical structures would eliminate the divides among the communities, and, it would also provide an individual with an opportunity of being both: a religious believer, a faithful son of his Church, as well as a patriot, without raising a conflict in his inner self and within his social circle.

This will serve as a factor bringing the society closer together and consolidating it in order to increase the level of matureness of the civic nation. Putting an end to this struggle will affect favorably the content of the work of the clerical institutions, and their agenda as well.

The church would need to create a new content for its work after the victory, and of course during the state of euphoria, that would follow next (in this instance, a very brief one)  by moving from the fight for choosing the pathway to the ordinary church services, which are having to do with the social and soul guardianship care work. In other words, the most important beginnings are yet to come after the victory, and the main thing will commence – the work that the Church is called upon. And, it is this work that opens up a completely new space for the competition over the believers. The joy of victory will subside quickly, and it would be necessary to provide the answers to the society having to do with the issues of bad, or in general, non – existent social guarantees, the fight against corruption and the theft, for the social justice. The dragged – out struggle blocks the factual relevance of all these issues, but after the victory is achieved and after obtaining of Tomos, a short triumph will be invisible against the backdrop of the church’s submerging into the daily agenda of its clerical services in the country, which is pegged by a bunch of economic and social problems. At the end of the day, the completion of this process along with the creation of a single unified Ukrainian Local Orthodox Church would have the most positive and salutiferous effect, first and foremost, upon the lives of the ordinary religious believers, parishioners and the members of the communities, who thus far as of today still do belong to different jurisdictions.

How Democratic Societies Can Fight and Win Against Authoritarian Hybrid Onslaught.

Putin’s Russia is waging populace-centric hybrid warfare against democratic societies. As such, effective counter-measures to this type of warfare must prominently involve civilian population highly versed in civil resistance strategies and tactics. Key attributes of successful civil resistance that, in the past, made societies resilient and mobilized against authoritarian regimes are now indispensable for design and effective deployment of defensive and offensive strategies against the Kremlin’s efforts to bring down democracies.

Informed by the dynamics of civil resistance and practice of nonviolent movements and campaigns national non-military strategies to counter the Russian hybrid onslaught must comprise of both defensive and offensive strategies, including:

  • societal mobilization against disinformation to counter lies and identify truth;
  • unified and mobilized grassroots groups;
  • building infrastructure for civil engagement;
  • educating population on civil resistance actions;
  • reaching out and extending solidarity to the society of the aggressor state;
  • utilizing domestic and international state and intergovernmental structures to establish and enhance readiness in civil resistance policy, planning and deployment;
  • bringing many more nonviolent actors and actions to bear on the attacking regime.

Developing and deploying these strategies are seen as an important step 
in countering both domestic and externally-driven authoritarian onslaughts
 on democratic societies. The study concludes with general and specific recommendations to different international, state, media and civic actors on the actions to integrate and augment civil resistance capabilities and practices. It finally lists a number of benchmarks that can be used to measure the level of national preparedness, readiness and capacity development to effectively deploy civil resistance defensive and offensive strategies against hybrid threats and attacks.

The times are changing and so is Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Back in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin was inebriated with the unexpected astounding success of his Crimean operation and gutless response of the West. He had never expected that his action in Ukraine, which was intended to keep this country in the Moscow’s orbit of corrupt regimes, would trigger such a great wave of nationalistic exaltation in Russia which would turn him into a semi-mythical figure, a hero who came to restore Russian national might and glory.  Even the liberal opposition and imprisoned leftist leaders unanimously joined the ecstatic crowd praising the Putin’s action.  Never in the long history of his reign, Putin could feel so close to claiming the title of Russian Messiah.

However, with the Ukrainian gamble, the Russian President has opened a can of worms.  The nationalistic paranoia lifted the lid and any hint of stepping back in front of a foreign enemy would provoke a charge of high treason and accusations of being a fake Messiah.

Meanwhile, after such a promising beginning dubbed the “Russian Spring,” a chain of misfortunes and failures followed.  The majority of ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine remained loyal to their country and rejected Putin’s siren songs of the “Russian World.”  As a result, the ambitious project of “Novorossiya,” which implied the territorial grab of a half of Ukraine all the way from Kharkiv to Odessa, shrunk to a puny sliver of land in the east of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. No less misfortunate was Putin’s venture in Syria, which was supposed to distract national attention from the failure in Ukraine.  After declaring three times victory and withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, Mr. Putin had to face the music of the Deir ez-Zor debacle, were more than three hundred of Russian fighters were killed in February by the U.S. artillery and aircraft (by the way, if confirmed this number exceeds all the Soviet losses in clashes with Americans during the entire Cold war.)  Finally, the hated Anglo-Saxons began to threaten Kremlin with a seizure of multiple assets in the West, which belong to Putin’s close friends and relatives:  only in the U.S., these assets’ combined value exceeds $1 trillion. Closeness to Putin becomes toxic for Russian elites.  Their bitter disappointment with Putin echoes with the deep discontent of Russian nationalists, who volunteered in great numbers to fight in Ukraine and now feel betrayed.  Their spokesman, Russian fascist philosopher Alexander Dugin ceased praising Putin and reversed his position on the President.

Russia-watchers have noticed, that whenever Putin feels he is in trouble, he tends to disappear for a long time.  This happened when Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed, and the pattern was repeated after the Deir ez-Zor disaster when Putin “got cold” and was absent for two weeks (officially, he got sick for the first time in 18 years of his presidency.)

He came back with a new agenda for the rest of his presidency for life.  Until recently, the Putin we knew was trying hard to reach a deal with the West, a sort of a new version of Yalta.  After being kicked out from G-8, Putin’s active meddling in Syria, North Korea and elsewhere had only one message to the Western leaders: you need Russia (and me personally) to tackle  these problems, bring me back to the club of world leaders as an equal partner and recognize my absolute dominance over the zone of my exclusive interests ( at least in Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space)  It seems that now he has abandoned this futile hope and moved to the “Russia as a sieged fortress” scenario.

Now he wants a confrontation with the West, from this day on he is willing to crank up the level of risk and is much more dangerous than he used to be.  This agenda will help him to unite the «elites» around himself and keep the power for life.

But what resources besides unique Russian spirituality can he use to confront the NATO alliance, which is many times stronger than Russia economically, militarily, and technologically?

Actually, Putin has a Wunderwaffe, and he has displayed it in a number of interviews earlier this month.  Of course, we are not talking about ridiculous videos he showed in his address to the Federal Assembly.  Putin’s wonder weapon is his nuclear blackmail, his willingness and readiness to strike first, his complete disregard of the value of human lives, both Western and Russian ones, which he has repeatedly shown before.

Lately, he has incessantly and with gusto repeated with graphic detail depiction of him personally launching a nuclear attack against the West.

His blatantly defiant poisoning of a fugitive Russian spy with a chemical weapon was the first step in his special operation to prolong his presidential term through the rest of his life.  He has deliberately left plenty of evidence to state urbi et orbi: I, Vladimir the Terrible, did it!

By doing this Putin killed two birds with one stone: the level of confrontation with the West went sky-high, while the world starts to believe that he really is a monster ready to use the weapons of mass destruction.

To whom and why did Russian President Vladimir Putin address in his impressively aggressive Federal Assembly speech delivered on March 1st? As usual, the pundits disagree. Domestic policy experts say it was clearly a pre-electoral address, designed to communicate to voters the image of Russia as a strong superpower ahead of the March 18th presidential election. Foreign policy experts argue that Putin’s address was to get the attention of the United States and, more broadly, the West, as relations between Moscow and Washington deteriorate.

It is possible, however, that Putin had both in mind. First, his message clearly targets a domestic audience. Putin built his entire presidential campaign in this electoral round — if one can speak of it at all — around the slogan “Strong president, strong Russia.” Moreover, Putin’s emphasis on defense and a military buildup as evident from his pre-electoral trips, such as his visit to the Ufa Engine Industrial Association, which assembles long-range bombers as well as motors for military helicopters. These appearances underscore Putin’s effort to restore Russia’s superpower status and shape foreign policy during his upcoming fourth term as president. So, it only makes sense that the Federal Address — intentionally postponed from December to March, closer to the election itself — contained elements of aggressive anti-Western rhetoric and muscle-flexing. The election’s symbolic meaning is further driven home by holding it on March 18th, the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rather than on March 11th, as required by law.

It is not surprising that Putin’s domestic agenda fuels his aggressive foreign policy. Political analysts have long stated that in 2014, the Kremlin had to mobilize unprecedented resources to generate public support for the Ukraine conflict to levels seen during the 2008 Georgia war. In 2014, most state TV channels switched to almost nonstop 24-hour coverage designed to make Russians believe they were under siege.  Having to resort to extreme propaganda to get Russians to rally around their flag suggests that support for the regime’s policies is running out. That means the Kremlin will have to spend more and more resources to maintain the same levels of approval — and Putin’s Federal Assembly address is proof of that.

Second, constant references to Western betrayal and video footage of Russia’s updated weaponry is a response to Russia’s recent foreign policy failures and scandals. These include the U.S. attack on Russian mercenaries in Syria, the embarrassing doping scandal that nullified Russia’s achievements in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and continued throughout this year’s winter games in PyeongChang. Moreover, Moscow has failed to stop the West from renewing existing anti-Kremlin sanctions or passing new ones, further driving the discontent of Russian elites. The Kremlin sees all this as a demonstration of anti-Russia plots by the West. Note that some pro-Kremlin commentators have even tried to portray the recent Argentine cocaine scandal as a U.S. conspiracy against Russia. In many ways, Putin’s aggressive anti-Western rhetoric looked like a delayed response to those foreign policy failures, rather like fist-waving after losing a fight. This is not the first time the Kremlin resorts to aggressive, threatening rhetoric in retaliation for what it sees as a Western plot against Russia; in 2014, Moscow portrayed its war with Ukraine as revenge for the U.S. attempts to implement a color revolution in that country. Similarly, the recent Gazprom decision to terminate gas contracts with Ukraine also came as retaliation to its loss of an arbitrage dispute to Naftogaz.

An important but often forgotten foreign constituency of interest to the Kremlin is a set of nations — including China, Iran, India, and Vietnam — that Russia sees as allies in building up a coalition to challenge “U.S. global hegemony.” Those countries also typically buy Russian arms — and could have been potential targets of the weapons Putin advertised in his speech.

Lastly, by portraying Russia as a rogue state the Kremlin aims to split the international system into two camps of soft- and hardliners, by fostering a divide in Western unity. The idea is that the soft-liners, scared by the threats and the aggressive rhetoric, are more likely to negotiate with Russia and lift the sanctions.

In short, Putin’s address appears to have targeted several groups, yet the Kremlin’s overall goal remains the same: to retain power for as long as possible and, apparently, at almost any price.

This article first appeared at the CEPA site.

Gorgeous fall colors in Washington, DC. The perfect season for tourists. Including businesspeople. This fall, a new and growing class of tourists is roaming the DC streets: Russian billionaires.

All of these Russian billionaires can easily recite the now-famous Section 241 of “An Act to Counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea.” In unison, these tourists confide that they certainly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea from the very start. And then they ever so delicately inquire, um, to whom (and where) they can offer a very substantial reward to make sure their names stay out of the US Treasury’s report to the Congress on assets of “senior political figures, oligarchs and parastatal entities in the Russian Federation, as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime.”

The Act adopted by the US Congress almost unanimously and signed by President Trump, kicking and screaming, on August 2, 2017, is a machine already operating, and it is now unstoppable. It is set to freeze around $1 Trillion ($1,000,000,000,000 per National Bureau of Economic Research valuation) of criminal “Russian assets.” The report is due on February 2, 2018. Under the Congress’ watchful eye, the US Treasury is hard at work putting it together, including compiling a comprehensive list of the owners and beneficiaries of these Trillion Russian Dollars in America, as well as “identifying indices of corruption with respect to those individuals.” Trying to halt or somehow interfere with this process in today’s US political climate would be suicide for any American politician, including Trump.

Political Washington is a city of leaks, and unofficial lists of corrupt individuals are no secret. The August 2, 2017 Act essentially criminalizes the entire Russian leadership that uses the United States to hoard the treasures it looted in Russia. The list truly reads like a “Who is Who” of Russian Kleptocracy, and includes Russia’s top officials (after all, how can you steal a whole Trillion without the assistance and involvement of top brass)?

A conscientious American police officer who confiscates a stolen wallet from a criminal certainly has to return the wallet to its rightful owner. In our case, the rightful owners are the Russian state and the Russian people. But what do you do if the criminal (the Russian leadership) is the rightful owner’s plenipotentiary representative? It is a legal conundrum to be sure, but I see a way out.

Step one: The US Congress publishes the detailed report it receives from the US Treasury regarding the Russian Trillion’s owners and beneficiaries – this way the report will become accessible to the Russian public and the world.

Step two: The US government announces that it’s ready to transmit, without delay, all the frozen assets to the Russian Federation on just one basic precautionary condition: The RF must adopt a law committing itself to full lifetime lustration of all the officials who embezzled these funds.

Many readers will certainly recall that, initially, the EU and US sanctions were introduced in order to stop Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. These readers will thus insist that returning the Prodigal Trillion to Russia should be postponed until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored. But for now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to send some of these funds to the victim of this aggression as pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

These arguments make sense, but such an approach seems wrong to me, both politically and psychologically.

Embezzling from Russia and Aggression against Ukraine are two distinctly different crimes, although they were committed by essentially the same individuals (through no coincidence, but through a distinct pattern of behavior).

Here is what yours truly said about this  on the fatal day of March 1st, 2014:

The criminal venture of the Kremlin Kleptocrats who see the February 2014 crime-fighting revolution in Ukraine as a threat to their lifetime power, can be stopped if EU countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the US adopt a very simple measure: Heeding their own laws, these nations’ governments can identify and freeze Russian Federation’s highest officials and their business partners’ assets held at Western financial institutions.

Those guilty of unleashing the war on Ukraine will be publicly exposed as criminals who launder the colossal funds obtained through robbing the Russian people and other ethnicities residing in the RF.

To many, including those living in Russia, this measure will reveal the true motives of the Kremlin’s adamant refusal to accept the Ukrainian revolution that overthrew the power of the Kremlin Kleptocracy’s clone – the Yanukovich crew.

“We can’t foresee how our word will echo through the ages…” My word finally did echo three and a half years later in the clear language of Section 241. I will, therefore, allow myself to make a couple more modest recommendations.

The stolen goods must be returned to the owner with no preliminary political conditions. Just one technical condition has to be set in stone: making sure the money doesn’t go back to the gangsters who stole it.

New Russian leadership, now free from the white-collar criminals who turned out to be war criminals as well, will be able to (on its own, without outside financial or political pressure) resolve the existential issue of Russia’s relationship with Ukraine, including serious brotherly financial support for Ukraine in overcoming the consequences of Putin’s aggression. Especially now that funds will be available for this noble mission. And a great many people (including most of those living in Crimea) will recall with absolute sincerity that they were definitely against the annexation of Crimea from the get-go.

US-Russian relations will radically change as well. Russian citizens will certainly appreciate the US justice’s decisive role in returning to Russia the immense assets stolen from Russia – the assets that were the product of several generations’ labor, deprivations, suffering, and heroism.

Zapad 2017 seems to be all the buzz this week in Washington, DC and many European capitals. To get the basics straight on this Russian military exercise and separate facts from the hype, the Free Russia Foundation sat down with Michael Kofman, the Senior Research Scientist at CNA and Fellow at the Wilson Center. Mr. Kofman, 35, served as a Russia military analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense for over 7 years, managed military to military programs, and participated in a number of U.S.-Russian military initiatives. He speaks Russian, understands Ukrainian, and his work involves frequent travel to the region.

Is Zapad-2017 different from previous exercises in this series?

Zapad 2017 is quite similar to other strategic exercises Russia has held, and will probably not differ markedly from the general scenario of Zapad 2013. The exercise itself, scheduled for September 14-20, will be similar to previous iterations in its duration and the two phases involved. The first phase simulates diversionary groups infiltrating Belarus from Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in order to install a color revolution or destabilize the regime. In the second phase, the crisis becomes a more traditional conventional conflict with Russian forces training to respond to a coalition of NATO countries supported by the United States.

Although the exercise is only a week long, it is really the capstone to several months of snap readiness checks, drills, and other exercises conducted across Russia. Such drills will continue after Zapad’s conclusion, perhaps well into October and November. Hence Zapad is not one exercise but a series of numerous drills across Russia that are more representative of state mobilization against an existential threat rather than just the armed forces training for a geographically limited scenario.

Is the number of forces involved much higher than previously?

The number of actual forces involved is difficult to predict, and much depends on how you count. Base estimates indicate 65,000-70,000 troops involved in the Baltic and Nordic region. Those numbers include the 40,000 or so forces already based there such as 11th Army Corps Kaliningrad, 6th Combined Arms Army around St. Petersburg, or 76th VDV Airborne Division in Pskov. Beyond that, it is hard to say how many other units will be involved across Russia’s five military districts, and we should assume another

20,000 national guardsmen deployed across cities to train in suppressing protest movements. The total number of participants may prove quite conservative, but on the other hand, it may well exceed the numbers seen in previous exercises.

What’s the involvement of units from Chechnya?

More than likely little to none, with the exception of internal policing duties and training for suppression of protest movements or ‘diversionary groups.’

Why is this exercise conducted in Belarus?

Zapad, starting with the 1999 exercise, has traditionally been conducted jointly with Belarus since its principal focus is deterring an attack from NATO and defending Russia’s interests in maintaining the so-called Union State with Minsk.

Belarus is integral to Russia’s strategy of extended defense, maintaining buffer states between it and military or economic blocs. It is also a vital logistical corridor to Kaliningrad in any hypothetical fight with NATO.

Will Russia use this exercise to stage forces for invasion?

That’s highly unlikely, but large-scale exercises are always a time for prudent vigilance. The real period of danger is after the exercise not during, but more than likely all Russian forces involved will return promptly to their garrisons.

Should Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or other neighbors be concerned about this exercise?

Concerned yes, alarmed no. Demonstrations of capability are always disconcerting because even if you know the adversary’s intent, it can change quite quickly. Hence understanding capability matters, and Russia certainly has the capability to be the first with the most on its borders, perhaps achieving overmatch in the initial phases of conflict. The exercise is actually an opportunity to better understand Russia’s capabilities and capacity to deploy forces to the region, offering lessons on the evolution of its military power and general purpose forces.

Will Russia demonstrate new capabilities or concepts of operations as part of this exercise?

Doubtfully new concepts, but rather test-drive and further refine existing doctrine, tactics, and operations. New capabilities will include electronic warfare, perhaps practice firing new generations of weapon systems, and testing out a host of command and control or communications equipment. The most consequential, and least exciting, is logistics, how large formations of Russian ground forces actually get into the theater and deploy across Belarus. This is both a test of logistical capability – in terms of bridging, engineering and the like – and transport capacity.

How should NATO respond to Zapad?

Maintain high readiness during the exercise, vigilance, and avoid sounding panicky or hysterical. The response thus far has been measured, but Russia has proven incredibly successful in the information domain, getting Western leaders to cry wolf with worrying statements. The best response is to not give away Russia coercive power freely. It’s important to avoid coming off as the world’s most powerful and most panicky alliance.

The “presidential election” in Russia on March 18, 2018, is not going to resolve the issue of who is going to rule Russia. This is because this question is already being addressed.  It is not being done by one hundred million voters, but by the approximately one hundred members of the Russian kleptocracy’s expanded Politburo.

To be sure, Putin’s last name is on the short list compiled by influential government officials-come-businessmen. However, for the first time during the seventeen years of his rule, he is facing some complications.

The “elite” has developed a doubt in his ability to effectively perform over the next six years the function that is the most important one for this gang – interaction with the eternally hated and adored West. The failure of Putin’s neo-imperial exploits has become the greatest foreign policy defeat of the regime and lowered the Kremlin’s relations with its Western partners, who control the foreign assets of Russia’s rulers, to the worst possible condition.

An existential threat to the most valuable facet of life for the Russian rulers has emerged – not just to their holdings in the West, but to their whole life style in the West – their children’s education, medical services, vacations, well-being of wives and concubines, long happy life, organ transplants,  and their political and biological immortality can finally be assured with the billions robbed in Russia. All of this has been thrown into doubt by a single man, who through his adventurous braggadocio has ruined the business-based mutually advantageous relations of the Russian “elite” with the West.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron tormented Putin by putting him in his place and showed him how the leaders of the West will talk to the Kremlin from now on. Putin appeared weak, and as a result of the surprise, lost. It was clear that psychologically and physically he was diminished, which has only intensified the growing concerns of his entourage.

On July 7th in Hamburg, Putin went through what was possibly the most important casting session of his life. Not in front of the G20, of course, but in front of his own palace dwellers’ audience.  Putin desperately needed some kind of “victory”. It was important for him to show that he is involved in resolving critical world issues. Our dear Trump did not fail his friend Vladimir. He gave Putin his first “victory” back in Washington, where members of the cabinet discussed the format of the pending meeting – full format bilateral negotiations or an unexpected talk in the hallway next to a john.  The majority of the Secretaries gravitated towards the hallway option. Trump insisted on a 45-minute long negotiation with the participation of the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister.

In reality, the meeting actually lasted for more than two hours. Trump started it with a meek admission. He said that to get acquainted with the global scale “fixer” Putin is a great honor for him, a modest provincial realtor. Apparently, an even greater honor for Trump was the creation of a joint counter- cyber terrorism commission together with the organizer of the hacking attacks on the USA. He called the results of the Big Two Summit with his daring ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism “tremendous”.

On that day, insane foreign policy talk shows on the Russian government’s TV channels broadcasted round-the-clock and flatteringly relished all the physiological details of the triumph of our dominant male. Propagandist talking head Vladimir Soloviev displayed a photo-shopped picture “Supplicants and Putin”.

Our faithful servant felt that he had managed to seize his fortune and had created the required impression for his colleagues, who were beginning to doubt him. Straight from Hamburg, he dashed to the Valaam Monastery to kiss an artifact that servile priests had supplied to him, which in the language of his PR people meant – our great chief has arrived at a fateful decision to ”run for office” again.However, this triumph of Putin’s would last only a few days. Once back in Washington, Trump ran into very harsh criticism of his behavior in the Putin meeting and faced new accusations of collusion with the Kremlin during the election campaign. “Why, oh why does Trump love Russia so much?” – is how Farid Zakaria titled his unprecedentedly hard-hitting column in the “Washington Post.” Its ending reflects the mood which is dominant in the American capital and which does not bode well for Trump:

“It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader.  Perhaps he has bought into the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.” 

While Mueller is trying to unscramble this puzzle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced on July 12th that a bill containing harsh sanctions against the Kremlin, which was adopted by the Senate on a vote of 97 to 2, will be presented to the House without any changes. Trump’s administration insisted on amendments in vain.  On July 25th, it was adopted by the House with a crushing majority of 417 to 3 (with additional language on North Korea). On the next day, leaders of both chambers agreed to send to the President’s desk the final text in a matter of days. The Senate did it on July 27th by a vote of 98 to 2. If Trump refuses to sign it would be for Trump a political suicide.

The domestic political victory for Putin that Trump granted him for undetermined reasons in Hamburg has turned-out to be a pyrrhic one. The simple fact that the President of the United States is not the Capo di tutt’i capi of criminal society, as is the case traditionally in Russia, and that even if his loyalty to Moscow could be achieved one way or another, it would still not be possible for Moscow to direct the American political system. This is something that does not fit into the minds in the Kremlin.

On the contrary, any step that Trump takes in Putin’s direction causes exactly the opposite reaction in Washington and immediately translates into absolutely concrete legislative actions.

Trump turned out not to be one of Putin’s assets, but a millstone around Putin’s neck. Putin is also now a millstone around Trump’s neck. This has been the actual result of the large scale special operation “Trump is ours.” The conclusion, which was arrived at on July 7th by the Kleptocracy expanded Politburo – that the Boss is still handling it – once again turned out to be premature.

As an article in the Washington Post reveals, the measures against Putin’s Russia that were discussed within the Obama administration once the scale of the Kremlin’s involvement in the US election campaign became clear. None of the sanctions, aside from the confiscation of the two vacation complexes, were implemented. However, the list is very interesting. It impacts the most sensitive pressure points of the Russia “elite.” The list includes, specifically, publication of information on and freezing of all the accounts of the Russian domestic kleptocracy, starting with that of Putin, and visa bans. Obama didn’t dare to introduce these harsh measures. Today they are key articles of unanimously adopted bipartisan legislation.

In retrospect, it is clear what a tremendous error the Kremlin made in betting on Trump.  In fact, the possibility of Mrs. Clinton’s becoming president did not carry any kind of threat to the denizens of Kremlin. Today’s fierce anti-Putin position of the Democrats is the result of the domestic political situation. In reality, it is more anti-Trump than anti-Putin. Democrats feel that Putin is the president’s most vulnerable spot and that’s where they hit him without mercy. If Mrs. Clinton had come to power, most likely some new little “resetting [perezagruzka]” would have taken place. Now, all the bridges between Putin’s people and the American establishment have been burned.

 

The demonization of the Russian president as a defender of tyrants and a threat to democracy prevents us from seeing that behind Vladimir Putin’s back, another Leviathan has risen.

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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

Free Russia Foundation is proud to present our new report “The Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression” authored by Ilya Yashin.

Continue reading The Kremlin’s Hybrid Aggression

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial last Thursday arguing that the recent escalation of conflict on the border of Russian-occupied Crimea is “a pretext…to pull out of peace talks,” and that these events are the latest indication of Western (particularly the Obama Administration’s) weakness in the face of Russian aggression.

Continue reading Russia’s Crimea Escalations Require a Deeper Look

In 2015, Crimea realized it did not become a special region for Russia. Now it is time to reflect on the changes in peninsula’s economy, tourism, human rights situation and its relations with mainland Ukraine.

Continue reading Farewell to sacredness. What 2015 brought to Crimea

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.

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