The Russian opposition continues to endure constant hounding

Feb 16 2016

Recently, the Kremlin has resorted to its standard method of using Gopniki [a pejorative term to refer to aggressive young lower-class suburban male dwellers coming from families of poor education and income – FRF] and Siloviki [security and law-enforcement structures – FRF] to carry out harassment.

Now the poorly educated and mercenary young people ready to execute any tasks for paltry monetary rewards, are after Fmr. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the Russian opposition leaders.

The Russian leadership has utilized gopniki to carry out stunts like this for many years. When the Kremlin youth movement “Nashi” (“Ours”) was at the zenith of fame, many of its members and activists carried out acts of hooliganism.

Since Russia has become more isolated in recent years, Nashi has taken a backseat to the National Liberation Movement, Young Guard of United Russia, and similar organizations. These aggressive groups, along with Ramzan Kadyrov’s legions of devoted armed thugs known as “Kadyrovtsy” routinely chase and harass Russian opposition members and liberal journalists.

Last week, a group of unknown people speaking with a recognizable Chechen accent threw a cake at one of the Russian opposition leaders Mikhail Kasyanov while he had dinner in a restaurant. The attackers verbally insulted him and accused of treachery. Many people found it laughable, but similar incidents that happened to Nemtsov led ultimately to his grisly death in central Moscow. The attack in a restaurant strongly implies that Kasyanov was under surveillance, since the attackers knew exactly where he was spending his evening. This was a private dinner, not a public event.

Two days later, there was a new attack and some people threw eggs at Kasyanov’s car. A few days later Putin’s supporters blocked Kasyanov in a dressing room of a hotel in Nizhny Novgorod. When Kasyanov got out of there after the police arrived, NOD activists showered him with insults and tried to hit him.

Vladimir Putin’s supporters ridiculed the opposition leader for the fact that he filed a complaint about this incident. Even some opposition activists, who receive similar threats, are very reluctant to go to the police, as reporting the incident would lead to further ridicule.

In our opinion, on the contrary, the lack of reaction from law-enforcement authorities implies a connection between the Russian authorities and the criminals that carry out these incidents. A folder with official documents refusing to initiate legal proceedings would not be excessive since it is considerable evidence of the Kremlin’s complicit attitude towards harassing dissent.

A former senator of the Russian Federation, Konstantin Dobrynin, tweeted the following recently: “Kasyanov, you can like or dislike him, is a former Prime Minister of Russia after all. Of Russia! And this harassment humiliates all of us. And the President, too,”

For several years, dozens of Nashi thugs followed Nemtsov with scoop-nets and urine as well. Last year, somewhere between fifty and seventy thousand mourners marched through Moscow to pay their respects and bid Nemtsov farewell after he was gunned down in Moscow.

TV host Andrey Bocharov rightly pointed out on Facebook that showering opposition figures with eggs and other food is quite a deliberate policy of dehumanization. Members of the opposition can be freely mocked, humiliated and laughed at. And when the society no longer sees the person behind that humiliation, then it is possible for these thugs to take the next step and kill him.

This year, in September, there will be elections to the State Duma and regional legislatures in Russia. Kasyanov, as a leader of the PARNAS political party and one of the leaders of the Democratic Coalition, will play a significant role in the elections. And it’s already obvious that in addition to the administrative obstacles the Kremlin specializes in, the “Gopniki machine” will be also be deployed against him and his supporters.

Gopniki are constantly used during the Russian elections. And it is noteworthy that Gopniki and activists of the youth wing of the ruling party “United Russia” are often one and the same. For example, in the municipal elections in St. Petersburg in 2014, young candidates of the “United Russia” threw a liquid of a strange consistency at opposition members outraged by numerous violations, and they poured kefir [sour milk] on journalists.

This will no doubt be followed by the Kremlin releasing statements to the international community that there was a free, fair election in Russia which resulted in the formation of a legitimate parliament. And as before, it will be a lie.

by Aleksandra Garmazhapova
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

Now the poorly educated and mercenary young people ready to execute any tasks for paltry monetary rewards, are after Fmr. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, one of the Russian opposition leaders.

The Russian leadership has utilized gopniki to carry out stunts like this for many years. When the Kremlin youth movement “Nashi” (“Ours”) was at the zenith of fame, many of its members and activists carried out acts of hooliganism.

Since Russia has become more isolated in recent years, Nashi has taken a backseat to the National Liberation Movement, Young Guard of United Russia, and similar organizations. These aggressive groups, along with Ramzan Kadyrov’s legions of devoted armed thugs known as “Kadyrovtsy” routinely chase and harass Russian opposition members and liberal journalists.

Last week, a group of unknown people speaking with a recognizable Chechen accent threw a cake at one of the Russian opposition leaders Mikhail Kasyanov while he had dinner in a restaurant. The attackers verbally insulted him and accused of treachery. Many people found it laughable, but similar incidents that happened to Nemtsov led ultimately to his grisly death in central Moscow. The attack in a restaurant strongly implies that Kasyanov was under surveillance, since the attackers knew exactly where he was spending his evening. This was a private dinner, not a public event.

Two days later, there was a new attack and some people threw eggs at Kasyanov’s car. A few days later Putin’s supporters blocked Kasyanov in a dressing room of a hotel in Nizhny Novgorod. When Kasyanov got out of there after the police arrived, NOD activists showered him with insults and tried to hit him.

Vladimir Putin’s supporters ridiculed the opposition leader for the fact that he filed a complaint about this incident. Even some opposition activists, who receive similar threats, are very reluctant to go to the police, as reporting the incident would lead to further ridicule.

In our opinion, on the contrary, the lack of reaction from law-enforcement authorities implies a connection between the Russian authorities and the criminals that carry out these incidents. A folder with official documents refusing to initiate legal proceedings would not be excessive since it is considerable evidence of the Kremlin’s complicit attitude towards harassing dissent.

A former senator of the Russian Federation, Konstantin Dobrynin, tweeted the following recently: “Kasyanov, you can like or dislike him, is a former Prime Minister of Russia after all. Of Russia! And this harassment humiliates all of us. And the President, too,”

For several years, dozens of Nashi thugs followed Nemtsov with scoop-nets and urine as well. Last year, somewhere between fifty and seventy thousand mourners marched through Moscow to pay their respects and bid Nemtsov farewell after he was gunned down in Moscow.

TV host Andrey Bocharov rightly pointed out on Facebook that showering opposition figures with eggs and other food is quite a deliberate policy of dehumanization. Members of the opposition can be freely mocked, humiliated and laughed at. And when the society no longer sees the person behind that humiliation, then it is possible for these thugs to take the next step and kill him.

This year, in September, there will be elections to the State Duma and regional legislatures in Russia. Kasyanov, as a leader of the PARNAS political party and one of the leaders of the Democratic Coalition, will play a significant role in the elections. And it’s already obvious that in addition to the administrative obstacles the Kremlin specializes in, the “Gopniki machine” will be also be deployed against him and his supporters.

Gopniki are constantly used during the Russian elections. And it is noteworthy that Gopniki and activists of the youth wing of the ruling party “United Russia” are often one and the same. For example, in the municipal elections in St. Petersburg in 2014, young candidates of the “United Russia” threw a liquid of a strange consistency at opposition members outraged by numerous violations, and they poured kefir [sour milk] on journalists.

This will no doubt be followed by the Kremlin releasing statements to the international community that there was a free, fair election in Russia which resulted in the formation of a legitimate parliament. And as before, it will be a lie.

by Aleksandra Garmazhapova
columnist of Free Russia Foundation

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.