Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Technology: A means of strengthening democracy in Russia?

Jun 17 2016

On Friday, June 10th, experts in Washington discussed the possibility of strengthening civil society and democratic institutions, which are existent but weak in today’s Russia, through technological entrepreneurship.

 It wouldn’t be the first time Russia has used technology to further a political agenda. In the days of communism, the many advances in technology made by the Soviet Union were used by the Communist Party to promote their system of government as optimal as opposed to the democratic, capitalist West.

Technology is a well-known, well-respected, and popular field in Russia. Under the Soviet Union, engineering and the sciences were widely pursued because of state censorship limiting the humanities in education. And it paid off in tangible accomplishment as the Soviet Union put the first satellite, man, and woman in space. Even today Russia is at the forefront of technology as Pavel Durov invented Vkontakte, a social media website wildly popular in the CIS.

Could the history, nostalgia, and potential surrounding this field of study energize and mobilize the Russian people to demand the Kremlin to change policy?

To a certain extent, it already did. Up until 2012, when large protest marches were frequently happening in Russia’s biggest cities, internet freedom was considerably strong. While TV news was and still is mostly pro-Kremlin, the internet presented an alternative and mostly free outlet for anti-Putin Russians. Since 2012, however, free access to certain websites has been restricted, blacklists and even criminal investigations carried out due to anti-government social media posts.

Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist from Russia, explained that while the situation is bleak, it may not get too much worse. The methods used by Kremlin-linked authorities are losing their effectiveness as methods to circumvent these blocks are increasingly effective and popular. For instance, when a file-sharing site in Russia was shut down, the number of Russians using torrents skyrocketed and watered down the effects of the censorship considerably.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 4.00.24 PM

Greater methods of censorship have been considered by the Kremlin, even so much as extending it to operate like China’s “Great Firewall”, but the plans never went through.

So what can be done to energize anti-Putin Russians through technology?

Some methods already exist. Oleg Kozlovsky, the founder of the Vision of Tomorrow Foundation, praised Facebook as its ubiquity has been very effective in organizing protests without the Kremlin bothering to investigate. And the political will to ban Facebook and websites like it simply doesn’t exist right now, he explained. “It’d only get more people to use the circumvention tools,” tools which are widely available. Even dissidents who are harassed by pro-Kremlin thugs such as Aleksei Navalny are able to fight back.

Kozlovsky also lightened the mood when he told the audience about a time when Navalny’s website got attacked by Kremlin authorities. Navalny and his team decided to fire back and found a way. When a second Kremlin attack came on the website, users were redirected to a picture of a “pink cartoon pony”.

As it turns out social media is not the only relatively new invention that has become an outlet for the opposition, he went on to explain. Messaging apps on cellphones, such as FireChat, or Telegram, which was invented by Vkontakte creator Pavel Durov, have started to worry Kremlin authorities as well, according to Anton Merkurov.

Another great example is Movements.org – a crowdsourcing platform that connects dissidents in closed societies with individuals around the world with skills to help. This powerful combination provides those fighting for human rights in dictatorships with the expertise they need to strengthen their voice. For instance, the platform was actively used during #FreeSavchenko campaign.

Obstacles still exist. Russians across the country overwhelmingly depend on news from television, which is almost exclusively pro-Kremlin. If there is to be a shift against Putin’s United Russia party, it will only come about if there is outreach to Russians outside the big cities which are largely ignored by the pro-democracy movement. Russia is a country of 150 million people, but unfortunately most news developments within the pro-democracy opposition happen in two cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. There’s a lot more Russia out there.

Ilya Shumanov summed it up by saying that “There are two different Russias, essentially. There are those who are well-traveled and tech-savvy and aware of the world around them, and those who stick to the news on TV and do not leave the country, and are set in their ways.”

While Putin’s approval rating remains extremely high, Anton Merkurov was quick to point out that “Many Russians, especially older Russians, are very nervous about the future”. Previous conferences with members of the opposition such as Ilya Ponomarev, the exiled Duma deputy, reiterated these statements, as well as the lack of a plan that the Kremlin seems to have in regards to the sputtering economy.

In this circumstances, the technologies and the new ways of communications will definitely become a bridge to share the truth with a larger part of the population and the tool for empowerment of civil society activists to drive Russian society towards democratic change.

by Kyle Menyhert, 
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

 It wouldn’t be the first time Russia has used technology to further a political agenda. In the days of communism, the many advances in technology made by the Soviet Union were used by the Communist Party to promote their system of government as optimal as opposed to the democratic, capitalist West.

Technology is a well-known, well-respected, and popular field in Russia. Under the Soviet Union, engineering and the sciences were widely pursued because of state censorship limiting the humanities in education. And it paid off in tangible accomplishment as the Soviet Union put the first satellite, man, and woman in space. Even today Russia is at the forefront of technology as Pavel Durov invented Vkontakte, a social media website wildly popular in the CIS.

Could the history, nostalgia, and potential surrounding this field of study energize and mobilize the Russian people to demand the Kremlin to change policy?

To a certain extent, it already did. Up until 2012, when large protest marches were frequently happening in Russia’s biggest cities, internet freedom was considerably strong. While TV news was and still is mostly pro-Kremlin, the internet presented an alternative and mostly free outlet for anti-Putin Russians. Since 2012, however, free access to certain websites has been restricted, blacklists and even criminal investigations carried out due to anti-government social media posts.

Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist from Russia, explained that while the situation is bleak, it may not get too much worse. The methods used by Kremlin-linked authorities are losing their effectiveness as methods to circumvent these blocks are increasingly effective and popular. For instance, when a file-sharing site in Russia was shut down, the number of Russians using torrents skyrocketed and watered down the effects of the censorship considerably.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 4.00.24 PM

Greater methods of censorship have been considered by the Kremlin, even so much as extending it to operate like China’s “Great Firewall”, but the plans never went through.

So what can be done to energize anti-Putin Russians through technology?

Some methods already exist. Oleg Kozlovsky, the founder of the Vision of Tomorrow Foundation, praised Facebook as its ubiquity has been very effective in organizing protests without the Kremlin bothering to investigate. And the political will to ban Facebook and websites like it simply doesn’t exist right now, he explained. “It’d only get more people to use the circumvention tools,” tools which are widely available. Even dissidents who are harassed by pro-Kremlin thugs such as Aleksei Navalny are able to fight back.

Kozlovsky also lightened the mood when he told the audience about a time when Navalny’s website got attacked by Kremlin authorities. Navalny and his team decided to fire back and found a way. When a second Kremlin attack came on the website, users were redirected to a picture of a “pink cartoon pony”.

As it turns out social media is not the only relatively new invention that has become an outlet for the opposition, he went on to explain. Messaging apps on cellphones, such as FireChat, or Telegram, which was invented by Vkontakte creator Pavel Durov, have started to worry Kremlin authorities as well, according to Anton Merkurov.

Another great example is Movements.org – a crowdsourcing platform that connects dissidents in closed societies with individuals around the world with skills to help. This powerful combination provides those fighting for human rights in dictatorships with the expertise they need to strengthen their voice. For instance, the platform was actively used during #FreeSavchenko campaign.

Obstacles still exist. Russians across the country overwhelmingly depend on news from television, which is almost exclusively pro-Kremlin. If there is to be a shift against Putin’s United Russia party, it will only come about if there is outreach to Russians outside the big cities which are largely ignored by the pro-democracy movement. Russia is a country of 150 million people, but unfortunately most news developments within the pro-democracy opposition happen in two cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. There’s a lot more Russia out there.

Ilya Shumanov summed it up by saying that “There are two different Russias, essentially. There are those who are well-traveled and tech-savvy and aware of the world around them, and those who stick to the news on TV and do not leave the country, and are set in their ways.”

While Putin’s approval rating remains extremely high, Anton Merkurov was quick to point out that “Many Russians, especially older Russians, are very nervous about the future”. Previous conferences with members of the opposition such as Ilya Ponomarev, the exiled Duma deputy, reiterated these statements, as well as the lack of a plan that the Kremlin seems to have in regards to the sputtering economy.

In this circumstances, the technologies and the new ways of communications will definitely become a bridge to share the truth with a larger part of the population and the tool for empowerment of civil society activists to drive Russian society towards democratic change.

by Kyle Menyhert, 
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Signing of the Treaty on the “Incorporation of New Territories into Russia,” De Facto the Annexation of the Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Sep 30 2022

On Friday, September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as well as the occupation administrations of Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, signed treaties in the Kremlin on “joining Russia.”

Free Russia Foundation strongly condemns the decision of Vladimir Putin and his administration to continue the illegal annexation of the occupied territories in Ukraine. The forcible change of international borders at the expense of another sovereign state and the so-called “referenda” that preceded it are a serious violation of the foundations of international law and cannot be recognized under any circumstances.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation: “Today Vladimir Putin has de facto announced the illegal annexation of the occupied territory of a sovereign state. The signing of this treaty is a blatant violation of the fundamental norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, of which Russia is a member. Such actions by the Russian President, together with previously announced military mobilization and nuclear blackmail, only lead to an escalation of the conflict and new human sacrifices. In the modern world, borders cannot be redrawn at gunpoint. Russia’s actions are illegal and unacceptable to the civilized world.”

Free Russia Foundation, which provides support to Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, calls on all countries and international organizations to join us in resolute and public condemnation of Russian military aggression and its illegal actions to tear away the territory of sovereign Ukraine. We urge you to call on the Kremlin to cease its hostilities and leave the territories it has seized.

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Kremlin’s Decision to Annex the Occupied Territories of Ukraine and Preparations for Mobilization in Russia

Sep 20 2022

On September 20, 2022, the occupation authorities of the self-proclaimed republics “LNR” and “DNR” and other occupied territories of Ukraine, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, hastily announced that they would hold “referendums on joining Russia” in the near future. The authorities of the “LNR” and “DNR” added that the vote will take place as early as this week, from September 23 to 27, 2022.

On the same day, the Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization,” “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian Criminal Code. The deputies voted for the law in the third reading unanimously — all 389 of them. Now voluntary surrender, looting and unauthorized abandonment of a unit during combat operations will result in imprisonment.

From the first day of the war unleashed by Putin’s regime and its allies against independent Ukraine, Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights activists forced to leave the country because of direct security threats, has condemned the crimes of Putin’s regime against independent Ukraine. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and consider human life and freedom to be of the highest value.

The forthcoming “referendums”, mobilization, and martial law are a collapse of the whole system of “Putin’s stability,” the illusion of which the Kremlin has been trying to maintain since the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is preparing to blatantly violate international law once again and launch an attack on democracy and freedom in Ukraine and Europe. Any statements by the Kremlin that residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine want to become part of Russia are false.

Three decades ago, the Ukrainian people proclaimed the independence of their state. Since 2014, the world has seen that Vladimir Putin has undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and any attempts at anti-war protest in Russia through military force, repressive legislation, false statements, and massive state propaganda. Despite all the suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has failed to achieve this goal: Ukrainians continue to show fortitude and determination to defend their country at any cost, and Russian anti-war resistance continues despite repression.

We consider any attempts to tear away Ukrainian territory through so-called “referendums” categorically unacceptable and call on state institutions and international human rights organizations to join the demand for an immediate end to the war and the liberation of the occupied territories. Any war brings suffering to humanity and endangers peace. We will not allow a totalitarian dictatorship to prevail and we will continue to fight for Ukraine’s independence and Russia’s democratic future.

Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Vladimir Milov as Vice President for International Advocacy

Sep 01 2022

September 1, 2022. Washington, DC. Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Russian politician, publicist, economist, and energy expert Vladimir Milov as FRF Vice President for International Advocacy.

In her announcement of Vladimir’s new role, Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation, remarked: “I am delighted to welcome this distinguished Russian civil society leader to our team. I am certain that Vladimir will become our force multiplier and make a profound contribution to FRF’s mission, including strengthening civil society in Russia, standing up for democracy defenders who oppose war, both inside and outside the country, building coalitions and mobilizing supporters. Vladimir Milov’s professional skills and extensive experience in human rights advocacy will help us come up with effective and innovative approaches to combat the authoritarian regime and repression that the current Russian government has unleashed against citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”

Vladimir Milov was born on June 18, 1972. From 1997—2002 he worked in government agencies, more than 4 years of which were in senior positions, from assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Commission to the Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia.

Vladimir Milov has bravely and publicly called out the authorities for monopolizing the economy, and encroaching into public and political life of Russian citizens. Milov’s profile as an opposition leader rose thanks to his joint project with Boris Nemtsov. The report titled “Putin. Results,” condemned the activities of the Russian government during Putin’s presidency. In 2010, Mr. Milov headed the Democratic Choice movement, which later served as the basis for the creation of a political party with the same name.

In 2016, Mr. Milov became an associate of the unregistered presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. On May 11, 2017, he began hosting a weekly segment on the economy, “Where’s the Money?” on the NavalnyLIVE broadcast on YouTube.

In April of 2021, he left Russia for Lithuania amidst persecution of Alexei Navalny’s organizations. In February of 2022, he categorically condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On May 6, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Vladimir Milov to the list of media outlets considered as “foreign agents.” Vladimir Milov is a regular guest expert for the world’s leading media outlets — CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal.

Kara-Murza faces a new charge as the Kremlin cracks down on its opponents

Aug 04 2022

Russian pro-democracy politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who’s been in jail since April for allegedly spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military, now also stands accused of “carrying out the activities of an undesirable organization,” which names Free Russia Foundation in the newly filed charge.

Free Russia Foundation, unconstitutionally designated as an “undesirable” organization by the Russian government in June 2019, did not organize an event on political prisoners in Moscow in 2021. FRF does not have any presence or programs inside Russia. Additionally, FRF has never conducted any work in the State of Arizona.

FRF strongly condemns the new charges brought against Vladimir Kara-Murza by Russian authorities and demands the dropping of all charges against him and calls for his immediate release.

“All actions of the Kremlin directed against Russian opposition politicians and activists have nothing in common with establishing the truth. They are instead aimed solely at getting rid of opponents of Putin’s regime,” FRF President Arno stated.

Free Russian Foundation and Boris Nemtsov Foundation launch “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign

Jul 25 2022

Russia is not Putin. We are Russia.

We aim at sharing this message with our friends around the world — therefore, in cooperation with Boris Nemtsov Foundation we are launching “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign.

We are going to be telling the stories of active pro-democracy anti-war Russians who have not lost their hope. US nationals also participate in this campaign: Francis Fukuyama, investigative journalist Casey Michel, and alumni of Boris Nemtsov Foundation media school.

Thank you for your donation:

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom honors the political legacy of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian liberal opposition politician assassinated in Moscow in 2015. It promotes freedom of speech and education along with the vision that Russia is a part of Europe.