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

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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 Kremlins 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.

Free Russia Foundation’s Press Release on Submission of Article 15 Communication to the International Criminal Court

Oct 06 2020

On 21 September 2020, the Free Russia Foundation submitted a Communication to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Office (in The Hague, Netherlands) seeking accountability for Crimean and Russian authorities concerning international crimes perpetrated during Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. The Communication was prepared in cooperation with Global Rights Compliance and Center for Civil Liberties and is based on a focused inquiry conducted over the past year. In our inquiry, we documented crimes as part of a systematic, planned attack by the Russian state against civilians and groups in Crimea in order to discourage them from opposing the illegal occupation of Crimea and to force their departure from the peninsula. Crimes against civilians included unlawful arrests, beatings, torture, enforced disappearances, and other inhumane acts causing severe mental and/or physical pain. In particular, the crimes targeted the Crimean Tatars, a native ethnic group who had only recently returned to their homeland, having previously been forcefully and brutally displaced by the Soviet Union in 1944.

One of the principal coercive acts was the illegal detention and concomitant violence before, during, and after the imprisonment of political prisoners. Most of those detained were arrested by Russian and Crimean authorities on terrorism charges, but it was their legal, pro-Ukrainian advocacy that led to their imprisonment. In addition, trials of those arbitrarily detained were conducted in wholesale disregard of their fair trial rights. For example, some of those illegally imprisoned were denied a speedy trial, access to independent lawyers, and the opportunity to defend themselves against their arrest in a courtroom.

In order to force those illegally detained to confess to crimes they did not commit, Russian and Crimean authorities also perpetrated acts of torture and cruel or degrading treatment, the levying of additional charges against them, even more inhumane prison conditions, denial of communications with their families and threats made against them, enforced disappearances, and even, in at least one case, a mock execution.

Other inhumane acts include “punitive psychiatry” and the denial of adequate prison conditions, including the following: (i) feeding people inedible food or, at times, no food at all; (ii) facing severe overcrowding in prisons; (iii) denial of regular water supply; (iv) threats of assault against them by prison cellmates; and (v) adding pork to food – prohibited for observant Muslims. Further, medical attention was systematically inadequate or denied for many individuals.

Concerning acts of torture, it was perpetrated by different Russian authorities, including the FSB. Allegations include the use of electric shocks in an effort to get an accused to confess. One was beaten in the head, kidneys, arms and legs with an iron pipe. With another, fingers were broken. Still another endured spinal bruises and having a plastic bag placed over his head to the point of unconsciousness. Further, threats of sexual violence against a detained man were made. Murder as well. Hands were broken, teeth were knocked out in still another.

Trials were largely held behind closed doors for illegitimate reasons, and many of the witnesses were secret not only to the public but also to the Accused. Further, credible allegations exist that, at times, there were FSB or other agents in the room, silently instructing witnesses what to say and how the judges should rule. This adds credence to words, according to the Kyiv Post, heard by Arsen Dzhepparov from a senior FSB lieutenant who stated “I will prove by all possible – and impossible – means that [an Accused is] guilty – even if he isn’t guilty”.

Concerning the crime of persecution, nearly all of these deprivations of fundamental rights were carried out with discriminatory intent. Specifically, these groups were targeted due to their political view – namely, by peacefully opposing the illegal occupation of their country. Some were targeted on ethnic grounds or religious grounds on the basis of their Crimean Tatar background.

War crimes, another group of crimes punished at the ICC, were also perpetrated in addition to or in the alternative to the crimes against humanity. This includes the crime of torture, outrages against personal dignity, unlawful confinement, wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of a fair and regular trial, and the transfer of the occupying power of parts of its population into the territory it occupies or the deportation of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.

All these crimes had the ultimate objective of the criminal enterprise – the removal of pro-Ukrainian elements out of Crimea and the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation without opposition, including the installation of pro-Russian elements, which include the emigration of more than 70,000 Russians, the illegal imposition of Russian law in the occupied territory, forcing Russian nationality on many Crimeans, and the appropriation of public property.

Ultimately, we hope that all the information gathered by the ICC in the context of its preliminary investigation will lead the ICC to investigate mid- to high-level Russian and Crimean officials on this basis. The international community expects responsible global leadership that follows the rule of law and expects it – no matter the situation – to be respected, especially from a state that is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. When this fails to happen, the international community must demand accountability. We hope that an investigation can be opened and responsible officials of the Russian Federation will be investigated. After an investigation that conforms to international best practices, responsible persons should be charged with the systematic perpetration of international crimes.

Novichok Use Implicates Putin’s Government in Navalny’s Poisoning

Sep 02 2020

Today, the German government has announced that Russian pro-democracy leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Novichok is a deadly nerve agent developed by the Soviet government chemical weapons program and used on several occasions by the Russian government to kill its critics in the recent years.

To restate the obvious, Novichok is a poison that can only be accessed with the authority of the Kremlin. Therefore, today’s announcement by German officials  directly implicates the Kremlin and Putin in the high-profile assassination attempt on Navalny.

The choice of Novichok was not just a means  to silence Mr. Navalny, but a loud, brazen and menacing message sent by Putin to the world: dare to criticize me, and you may lose your life.

The announcement by the German government of its intent to formally notify the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (‘OPCW’) of the use of Novichok against Navalny is a meek bureaucratic half-measure that fails to acknowledge the extraordinary threat to human life posed by Putin’s regime everywhere. Taken together with Angela Merkel’s promise earlier this week to help Putin finish his Nord Stream 2 pipeline despite an international outcry amounts to condoning the poisoning and normalizing it into a new modus operandi where Putin’s murders go unpunished. Free Russia Foundation urges the leaders of the EU, its Member States and the U.S. Government to take an urgent and drastic action to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime not only to serve justice, but to establish a powerful deterrent against new attacks by Putin’s regime globally.

Free Russia Foundation Statement on Kremlin’s Interference in Elections in Georgia

Aug 26 2020

We are deeply concerned with information recently distributed by the well-respected authoritative source Center “Dossier.” According to “Dossier,” the Kremlin is using Russian political expert Sergey Mikheev and consulting company “Politsecrets” to manipulate Georgian society, distribute disinformation and anti-democratic narratives, undermine Georgia’s Western aspirations, and interfere in free and fair elections in Georgia scheduled for October 2020.

More

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Investigation into Alexey Navalny’s Poisoning

Aug 20 2020

Free Russia Foundation is gravely concerned about the life and safety of Alexey Navalny. More