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

Free Russia Foundation Calls for Urgent and Concrete Steps to Stop Putin’s Global Assassination Campaigns

Feb 11 2021

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian pro-democracy advocate, was closely tracked by an FSB assassination squad when he suffered perplexing and near-fatal medical emergencies that sent him into coma in 2015 and 2017, establishes a new investigation by the Bellingcat group

Documents uncovered by Bellingcat show that this is the same assassination squad implicated in the August 2020 assassination attempt on Alexey Navalny and whose member has inadvertently confirmed the operation in a phone call with Navalny.   

Bellingcat has also established the FSB unit’s involvement in the murder of three Russian activists, all of whom died under unusual but similar circumstances. 

Taken together, these independent nongovernment investigations establish the fact of systemic, large-scale extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Putin’s government against its critics inside and outside of Russia, including with chemical weapons banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to formally investigate and prosecute Putin’s government for these crimes. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the Biden Administration to direct the FBI to release investigation materials surrounding the assassination attempts against Vladimir Kara-Murza that have been denied to him thus far. 

Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community to articulate measures to compel Russia to free Alexey Navalny from his illegal incarceration where his life remains in dire danger. 

Free Russia Foundation condemns in strongest terms today’s court sentence announced to Alexey Navalny

Feb 02 2021

Continued detention of Navalny is illegal and he must be freed immediately. Suppression of peaceful protests and mass arrests of Russian citizens must stop, and the Kremlin must release all those illegally detained and imprisoned on political motives. Free Russia Foundation calls on the international community, the US and European leadership, to move beyond expressions of concern and articulate a set of meaningful instruments to compel the Kremlin to stop its atrocities.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.