The federal authorities should respond to Ramzan Kadyrov

Jan 23 2016

Free Russia Foundation supports the statement of Amnesty International regarding the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Prominent international rights groups Amnesty International and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action following “threats” and “menacing” language deployed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his inner circle against journalists and activists.

Russian Federation: The federal authorities must respond immediately and decisively to latest threats against human rights defenders, journalists and political activists

The federal Russian authorities must respond to a string of thinly veiled threats against several prominent human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, which originated from the political leadership of Chechnya. Such threats should not be taken lightly. The assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and the abduction and murder of Chechen human rights defender Natalia Estemirova in 2009 were preceded by similar threats. This time, those threatened and intimidated include human rights defenders Igor Kalyapin, known for his human rights work in Chechnya and Lev Ponomarev, the Editor-in-Chief of Echo Moskvy Aleksei Venediktov, and political activist Ilya Yashin, among others.

These threats are a further sinister development in the ongoing harassment of independent NGOs and human rights defenders in Russia which has seen an ever growing number of independent NGOs labelled as “foreign agents”, and four foreign organizations labelled as “undesirable” and banned from operating in Russia.

Starting on 12 January, the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov and other individuals from his close circle, have made a number of incendiary statements accompanied by an aggressive rhetoric, against those who they describe as “enemies of the people” and of Russia, and “traitors”. In his initial statement during a meeting with journalists to mark the Day of Russian Press, Kadyrov called for the “non-systemic opposition” (oppositional political groups not represented in the parliament) to be put on trial for their “subversive activities”.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement attracted much criticism, particularly from human rights defenders and other champions of civil and political freedoms in Russia. Calls were made to President Vladimir Putin to dismiss the Chechen leader for this provocative statement.

Those who publicly criticized Kadyrov were immediately subjected to pressure and harassment. Ella Pamfilova, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, was the only federal-level official who criticized Kadyrov’s statement, describing it as “meaningless” and a disservice to Russia’s President. She promptly received a call from a member of the State Duma from Chechnya, Shamsail Saraliev, who demanded that she apologize to Ramzan Kadyrov. A local MP in Krasnoyarsk who denounced Kadyrov for the same statement in a social media posting hastily retracted his criticism and declared he was “convinced of the authority of the Chechen leader” after he was contacted by “a representative of the Chechen people”.

On 16 January, the Speaker of the Chechen parliament and Kadyrov’s close associate, Magomed Daudov, published a statement in Grozny Inform, the mouthpiece of the Chechen administration, in which he blamed “non-governmental and ‘human rights’ organizations from America and Europe” for fueling past conflicts in Chechnya. He named the independent radio station Echo Moskvy and TV channel Dozhd, and made reference to several prominent human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, accusing them of high treason and other crimes. He repeated his attacks, in a deeply provocative and insulting manner, in at least two Instagram postings where he also made thinly veiled threats against those he singled out as “paid puppets” and “traitors”. Daudov’s threats were accompanied by photos of several of those he named. Further publications and personal and general attacks followed, including by Ramzan Kadyrov himself.

These threats have been made in a climate of an increasing crackdown against government critics and other dissenting voices in Russia that was epitomised by the assassination of the prominent political activist Boris Nemtsov in February 2015. There is a history of violent incidents and killings of human rights defenders and other government critics which the Russian authorities have conspicuously failed to investigate and punish. Among these is the killing of Natalia Estemirova which sent a message across Russia that human rights work – or even speaking out against the government – in Chechnya is a highly risky business.

It was a group of courageous human rights defenders from other parts of Russia, led by Igor Kalyapin and his NGO Committee against Torture (disbanded after the Russian authorities put it on the “foreign agents” list in 2015), who set up the Joint Mobile Group for Chechnya to ensure ongoing human rights work within the Chechen Republic. The Group, and Igor Kalyapin personally, have since faced a range of threats and attacks, ranging from egg-pelting by aggressive men from Chechnya at a press conference in Moscow, to the Group’s office in the Chechen capital Grozny being subjected to an arson attack on 13 December 2014, and then again ransacked on 2 June 2015 by a mob during a “protest action” outside its windows. Neither of these incidents has been effectively and impartially investigated by the authorities in spite of a wealth of evidence, including CCTV recordings, being available to them.

This pattern of threats and attacks against human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, particularly those working on Chechnya, and the continuing impunity for such acts make it imperative that the federal Russian authorities promptly and impartially investigate the threats and attacks and ensure that those responsible are brought before justice. Moreover, those who have been threatened, attacked and harassed due to their work in defending human rights must be urgently protected. As a first step, the Russian authorities should publicly acknowledge and recognize the legitimate work carried out by human rights defenders.

Prominent international rights groups Amnesty International and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action following “threats” and “menacing” language deployed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his inner circle against journalists and activists.

Russian Federation: The federal authorities must respond immediately and decisively to latest threats against human rights defenders, journalists and political activists

The federal Russian authorities must respond to a string of thinly veiled threats against several prominent human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, which originated from the political leadership of Chechnya. Such threats should not be taken lightly. The assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and the abduction and murder of Chechen human rights defender Natalia Estemirova in 2009 were preceded by similar threats. This time, those threatened and intimidated include human rights defenders Igor Kalyapin, known for his human rights work in Chechnya and Lev Ponomarev, the Editor-in-Chief of Echo Moskvy Aleksei Venediktov, and political activist Ilya Yashin, among others.

These threats are a further sinister development in the ongoing harassment of independent NGOs and human rights defenders in Russia which has seen an ever growing number of independent NGOs labelled as “foreign agents”, and four foreign organizations labelled as “undesirable” and banned from operating in Russia.

Starting on 12 January, the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov and other individuals from his close circle, have made a number of incendiary statements accompanied by an aggressive rhetoric, against those who they describe as “enemies of the people” and of Russia, and “traitors”. In his initial statement during a meeting with journalists to mark the Day of Russian Press, Kadyrov called for the “non-systemic opposition” (oppositional political groups not represented in the parliament) to be put on trial for their “subversive activities”.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement attracted much criticism, particularly from human rights defenders and other champions of civil and political freedoms in Russia. Calls were made to President Vladimir Putin to dismiss the Chechen leader for this provocative statement.

Those who publicly criticized Kadyrov were immediately subjected to pressure and harassment. Ella Pamfilova, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, was the only federal-level official who criticized Kadyrov’s statement, describing it as “meaningless” and a disservice to Russia’s President. She promptly received a call from a member of the State Duma from Chechnya, Shamsail Saraliev, who demanded that she apologize to Ramzan Kadyrov. A local MP in Krasnoyarsk who denounced Kadyrov for the same statement in a social media posting hastily retracted his criticism and declared he was “convinced of the authority of the Chechen leader” after he was contacted by “a representative of the Chechen people”.

On 16 January, the Speaker of the Chechen parliament and Kadyrov’s close associate, Magomed Daudov, published a statement in Grozny Inform, the mouthpiece of the Chechen administration, in which he blamed “non-governmental and ‘human rights’ organizations from America and Europe” for fueling past conflicts in Chechnya. He named the independent radio station Echo Moskvy and TV channel Dozhd, and made reference to several prominent human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, accusing them of high treason and other crimes. He repeated his attacks, in a deeply provocative and insulting manner, in at least two Instagram postings where he also made thinly veiled threats against those he singled out as “paid puppets” and “traitors”. Daudov’s threats were accompanied by photos of several of those he named. Further publications and personal and general attacks followed, including by Ramzan Kadyrov himself.

These threats have been made in a climate of an increasing crackdown against government critics and other dissenting voices in Russia that was epitomised by the assassination of the prominent political activist Boris Nemtsov in February 2015. There is a history of violent incidents and killings of human rights defenders and other government critics which the Russian authorities have conspicuously failed to investigate and punish. Among these is the killing of Natalia Estemirova which sent a message across Russia that human rights work – or even speaking out against the government – in Chechnya is a highly risky business.

It was a group of courageous human rights defenders from other parts of Russia, led by Igor Kalyapin and his NGO Committee against Torture (disbanded after the Russian authorities put it on the “foreign agents” list in 2015), who set up the Joint Mobile Group for Chechnya to ensure ongoing human rights work within the Chechen Republic. The Group, and Igor Kalyapin personally, have since faced a range of threats and attacks, ranging from egg-pelting by aggressive men from Chechnya at a press conference in Moscow, to the Group’s office in the Chechen capital Grozny being subjected to an arson attack on 13 December 2014, and then again ransacked on 2 June 2015 by a mob during a “protest action” outside its windows. Neither of these incidents has been effectively and impartially investigated by the authorities in spite of a wealth of evidence, including CCTV recordings, being available to them.

This pattern of threats and attacks against human rights defenders, media workers and political activists, particularly those working on Chechnya, and the continuing impunity for such acts make it imperative that the federal Russian authorities promptly and impartially investigate the threats and attacks and ensure that those responsible are brought before justice. Moreover, those who have been threatened, attacked and harassed due to their work in defending human rights must be urgently protected. As a first step, the Russian authorities should publicly acknowledge and recognize the legitimate work carried out by human rights defenders.

Lukashenka’s Ryanair Hijacking Proves Human Rights is a Global Security Issue

May 24 2021

The forced diversion and landing in Minsk of a May 23, 2021 Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, and the subsequent arrest of dissident Roman Protasevich who was aboard the flight, by the illegitimate Lukashenka regime pose an overt political and military challenge to Europe, NATO and the broad global community.  NATO members must respond forcefully by demanding (1) the immediate release of Protasevich and other political prisoners in Belarus, and (2) a prompt transition to a government that represents the will of the people of Belarus. 

The West’s passivity in the face of massive, continuous and growing oppression of the Belarusian people since summer 2020 has emboldened Lukashenka to commit what some European leaders have appropriately termed an act of “state terrorism.”

The West has shown a manifest disposition to appease Putin’s regime —Lukashenka’s sole security guarantor. It has made inappropriate overtures for a Putin-Biden summit and waived  Nord Stream 2 sanctions mandated by Congress. These actions and signals have come against the backdrop of the 2020 Russian constitutional coup, the assassination attempt against Navalny and his subsequent imprisonment on patently bogus charges, the arrests of close to 13,000 Russian activists, and the outlawing of all opposition movements and activities. All this has led Putin and Lukashenka to conclude that they eliminate their political opponents with impunity.  

Today’s state-ordered hijacking of an international passenger airplane—employing intelligence agents aboard the flight,  and accomplished via an advanced fighter-interceptor—to apprehend an exiled activist, underscores that violation of human rights is not only a domestic issue, but a matter of international safety and security.  Western governments unwilling to stand up for the victims of Putin’s and Lukashenka’s regimes are inviting future crimes against their own citizens. 

Absent a meaningful and swift response, the escalation of violence and intensity of international crimes committed  by Lukashenka’s and Putin’s regime will continue, destabilizing the world and discrediting the Western democratic institutions. 

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS – THE KREMLIN’S INFLUENCE QUARTERLY

May 20 2021

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them, we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.

Criminal operations by Russia’s GRU worldwide: expert discussion

May 06 2021

Please join Free Russia Foundation for an expert brief and discussion on latest criminal operations conducted by Russia’s GRU worldwide with:

  • Christo Grozev, Bellingcat— the legendary investigator who uncovered the Kremlin’s involvement, perpetrators and timeline of Navalny’s assassination attempt. 
  • Jakub Janda, Director of the European Values Think Tank (the Czech Republic) where he researches Russia’s hostile influence operations in the West
  • Michael Weiss, Director of Special Investigations at Free Russia Foundation where he leads the Lubyanka Files project, which consists of translating and curating KGB training manuals still used in modern Russia for the purposes of educating Vladimir Putin’s spies.

The event will take place on Tuesday, May 11 from 11 am to 12:30pm New York Time (17:00 in Brussels) and include an extensive Q&A with the audience moderated by Ilya Zaslavskiy, Senior Fellow at Free Russia Foundation and head of Underminers.info, a research project on post-Soviet kleptocracy

The event will be broadcast live at: https://www.facebook.com/events/223365735790798/

  • The discussion will cover Russia’s most recent and ongoing covert violent operations, direct political interference, oligarchic penetration with money and influence; 
  • GRU’s structure and approach to conducting operations in Europe
  • Trends and forecasts on how data availability will impact both, the Kremlin’s operations and their investigation by governments and activists; 
  • EU and national European government response and facilitation of operations on their soil; 
  • Recommendations for effective counter to the security and political threats posed by Russian security services. 

YouTube Against Navalny’s Smart Voting

May 06 2021

On May 6, 2020, at least five YouTube channels belonging to key Russian opposition leaders and platforms received notifications from YouTube that some of their content had been removed due to its being qualified as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

They included: 

Ilya Yashin (343k YouTube subscribers)

Vladimir Milov (218k YouTube subscribers) 

Leonid Volkov (117k YouTube subscribers)

Novaya Gazeta (277k YouTube Subscribers) 

Sota Vision (248k YouTube Subscribers)

Most likely, there are other Russian pro-democracy channels that have received similar notifications at the same time, and we are putting together the list of all affected by this censorship campaign. 

The identical letters received from YouTube by the five account holders stated:

“Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our spam, deceptive practices and scams policy. We’ve removed the following content from YouTube:

URL: https://votesmart.appspot.com/

YouTube has removed urls from descriptions of videos posted on these accounts that linked to Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting website (votesmart.appspot.com).

By doing this, and to our great shock and disbelief, YouTube has acted to enforce the Kremlin’s policies by qualifying Alexey Navalny’s Smart Voting system and its website as “spam, deceptive practices and scams”. 

This action has not only technically disrupted communication for the Russian civil society which is now under a deadly siege by Putin’s regime, but it has rendered a serious and lasting damage to its reputation and legitimacy of Smart Voting approach. 

In reality, Smart Voting system is not a spam, scam or a “deceptive practice”, but instead it’s a fully legitimate system of choosing and supporting candidates in Russian elections who have a chance of winning against the ruling “United Russia” party candidates. There’s absolutely nothing illegal, deceptive or fraudulent about the Smart Voting or any materials on its website.

We don’t know the reasons behind such YouTube actions, but they are an unacceptable suppression of a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the Russian people and help the Kremlin’s suppression of civil rights and freedoms by banning the Smart Voting system and not allowing free political competition with the ruling “United Russia” party. 

This is an extremely dangerous precedent in an environment where opposition activities in Russia are being literally outlawed;  key opposition figures are jailed, exiled, arrested and attacked with criminal investigations; independent election campaigning is prohibited; and social media networks remain among the very few channels still available to the Russian opposition to communicate with the ordinary Russians.

We demand a  swift and decisive action on this matter from the international community, to make sure that YouTube corrects its stance toward Russian opposition channels, and ensures that such suppression of peaceful, legal  pro-democracy voices does not happen again. 

FRF Lauds New US Sanctions Targeting the Kremlin’s Perpetrators in Crimea, Calls for Their Expansion

Apr 15 2021

On April 15, 2021,  President Biden signed new sanctions against a number of officials and agents of the Russian Federation in connection with malign international activities conducted by the Russian government.

The list of individuals sanctioned by the new law includes Leonid Mikhalyuk, director of the Federal Security Service in the Russian-occupied Crimea.

A report issued by Free Russia Foundation, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in December 202, identified 16 officials from Russian law enforcement and security agencies as well as the judiciary operating on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula currently occupied by the Russian Federation. These individuals have been either directly involved or have overseen political persecution of three prominent Crimean human rights defenders – Emir-Usein Kuku, Sever Mustafayev and Emil Kurbedinov.

Leonid Mikhailiuk is one of these officials. He has been directly involved and directed the repressive campaign in the occupied Crimea, including persecution of innocent people on terrorism charges and massive illegal searches. The persecution of Server Mustafayev was conducted under his supervision. As the head of the FSB branch in Crimea, he is in charge of its operation and all operatives working on politically motivated cases are his subordinates. 

Within the extremely centralized system of the Russian security services, Mikhailiuk is clearly at the top rank of organized political persecution and human rights violations.

Free Russia Foundation welcomes the new sanctions and hopes that all other individuals identified in the report will also be held accountable.