Washington bill would rename street by Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov

Dec 07 2017

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Council of the District of Columbia held a public hearing on renaming a street in front of the Russian Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue to Boris Nemtsov Plaza, a gesture to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was shot dead in Moscow in February 2015.

The city proposal was made after a similar initiative led by Senator Marco Rubio was blocked in the US Congress earlier in the year*. The council’s bill, B22-0539, entitled the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017”,  was introduced by D.C. city council member Mary Cheh and Chairman Phil Mendelson on Oct. 31.

In his opening remarks, Mendelson said the proposal to rename part of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy is a gesture to support democratic values. Just as 20 years ago, the Council had named a section of 16th street after Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, today the Council seeks to “honor the memory and contributions of Mr. Boris Nemtsov”, who “challenged the authoritarian regime” in Russia, Mendelson said.

Council member Cheh added that Nemtsov fought against corruption and criticized Russia’s involvement in wars. “There is little doubt that his murder was motivated by his political beliefs, his popularity and his frequent and open criticism of the Russian government,” Cheh said.

The councilor added that while the Russian government has removed signs memorializing Boris Nemtsov in Russia, “the Russian government will not be able to do it here”.

Testifying at the hearing to support the bill, Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, reflected on Nemtsov’s fight against authoritarianism, corruption, election fraud and the war in Ukraine. Nemtsov also advocated targeted international sanctions to stop human rights violations in Russia.

Kara-Murza added that despite being arrested, jailed and portrayed as a traitor in state media, Nemtsov continued his fight for a democratic Russia and was considering running against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections. “He was silenced the only way he could be – by an assassin’s bullet,” said Kara-Murza.

Commending the initiative to rename the D.C. street, Kara-Murza said, “I cannot begin to tell you how much it means. It is a tribute to a man who lived his life and gave his life for the freedom of his country. It is also a message and a reminder to Russian democrats that their fight is not ignored or forgotten. To Americans that Russia is not only about Putin’s autocracy and there are honorable Russians like Boris Nemtsov who stand up for dignity and justice”.

Also present at the hearing on Wednesday, Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, a journalist and a founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, discussed Russian authorities’ continued efforts to stamp out any remembrance of Boris Nemtsov in Russia. The authorities regularly remove flowers, portraits, and candles from Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Boris Nemtsov was killed, Nemtsova said. She added that the remembrance plaques erected by residents of the apartment buildings in Moscow and Yaroslavl where Boris Nemtsov had lived have been taken down. And in Nizhny Novgorod, where Nemtsov was a governor, the City Council does not “dare” implement an earlier plan to erect a plaque, Nemtsova said.

“The current political regime wants to eradicate the memory of my father since it believes, correctly, that symbols are important and that they can potentially facilitate and inspire change”, said Nemtsova. She added that while Nemtsov cannot be commemorated in Russia, “we have a chance does it here and here and it will be difficult to dismantle”.

Also, testifying to support the initiative were Tanya Nyberg, executive director of the Magnitsky Initiative and Karine Orlova, a journalist with the Echo of Moscow radio station. Nyberg said the passage of the bill would mean a lot for Russian activists who live in Washington, D.C. and Orlova criticized attempts to block the initiative.

During the hearing, the council chairman also read citizen’s letters who expressed views against the renaming initiative. Testifying against the bill, photojournalist Jeremy Bigwood said there is no evidence of the Russian government’s involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov. He said the council should be careful not to act based on conspiracy theories and to avoid damaging further U.S and Russian relations.

Cheh and Kara-Murza responded saying that the aim of the initiative is not to place blame on Russia but to commemorate Nemtsov and to express solidarity with the Russian people for democratic values.

The D.C. Council will accept testimonies and comments on the bill until Dec. 18. The Chairman expects a vote on the bill later in December and January. If the bill is approved, it should take three to four weeks to prepare the street signs.

*The bill was introduced in February 2017 on the anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s murder. It was introduced by Senator Marco Rubio and co-sponsored by eight other senators, including John McCain, Ron Johnson, Christopher A. Coons and Richard J. Durbin. Rubio said at the time in his statement that the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza would permanently remind Putin’s regime and the Russian people that these dissidents’ voices live on and that defenders of liberty will not be silenced. It will also help raise awareness among the American people about the ongoing abuses in Putin’s Russia”. To become law, the bill had to pass in both houses of Congress and then be signed by President Donald Trump. However, the bill was blocked by Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. After Rubio’s bill stalled in the Senate, D.C. council member Cheh and Chairman Mendelson introduced their own initiative, bill B22-0539, the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017”, on Oct 31.

by Valeria Jegisman

The city proposal was made after a similar initiative led by Senator Marco Rubio was blocked in the US Congress earlier in the year*. The council’s bill, B22-0539, entitled the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017”,  was introduced by D.C. city council member Mary Cheh and Chairman Phil Mendelson on Oct. 31.

In his opening remarks, Mendelson said the proposal to rename part of Wisconsin Avenue in front of the Russian Embassy is a gesture to support democratic values. Just as 20 years ago, the Council had named a section of 16th street after Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, today the Council seeks to “honor the memory and contributions of Mr. Boris Nemtsov”, who “challenged the authoritarian regime” in Russia, Mendelson said.

Council member Cheh added that Nemtsov fought against corruption and criticized Russia’s involvement in wars. “There is little doubt that his murder was motivated by his political beliefs, his popularity and his frequent and open criticism of the Russian government,” Cheh said.

The councilor added that while the Russian government has removed signs memorializing Boris Nemtsov in Russia, “the Russian government will not be able to do it here”.

Testifying at the hearing to support the bill, Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, reflected on Nemtsov’s fight against authoritarianism, corruption, election fraud and the war in Ukraine. Nemtsov also advocated targeted international sanctions to stop human rights violations in Russia.

Kara-Murza added that despite being arrested, jailed and portrayed as a traitor in state media, Nemtsov continued his fight for a democratic Russia and was considering running against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections. “He was silenced the only way he could be – by an assassin’s bullet,” said Kara-Murza.

Commending the initiative to rename the D.C. street, Kara-Murza said, “I cannot begin to tell you how much it means. It is a tribute to a man who lived his life and gave his life for the freedom of his country. It is also a message and a reminder to Russian democrats that their fight is not ignored or forgotten. To Americans that Russia is not only about Putin’s autocracy and there are honorable Russians like Boris Nemtsov who stand up for dignity and justice”.

Also present at the hearing on Wednesday, Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, a journalist and a founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, discussed Russian authorities’ continued efforts to stamp out any remembrance of Boris Nemtsov in Russia. The authorities regularly remove flowers, portraits, and candles from Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Boris Nemtsov was killed, Nemtsova said. She added that the remembrance plaques erected by residents of the apartment buildings in Moscow and Yaroslavl where Boris Nemtsov had lived have been taken down. And in Nizhny Novgorod, where Nemtsov was a governor, the City Council does not “dare” implement an earlier plan to erect a plaque, Nemtsova said.

“The current political regime wants to eradicate the memory of my father since it believes, correctly, that symbols are important and that they can potentially facilitate and inspire change”, said Nemtsova. She added that while Nemtsov cannot be commemorated in Russia, “we have a chance does it here and here and it will be difficult to dismantle”.

Also, testifying to support the initiative were Tanya Nyberg, executive director of the Magnitsky Initiative and Karine Orlova, a journalist with the Echo of Moscow radio station. Nyberg said the passage of the bill would mean a lot for Russian activists who live in Washington, D.C. and Orlova criticized attempts to block the initiative.

During the hearing, the council chairman also read citizen’s letters who expressed views against the renaming initiative. Testifying against the bill, photojournalist Jeremy Bigwood said there is no evidence of the Russian government’s involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov. He said the council should be careful not to act based on conspiracy theories and to avoid damaging further U.S and Russian relations.

Cheh and Kara-Murza responded saying that the aim of the initiative is not to place blame on Russia but to commemorate Nemtsov and to express solidarity with the Russian people for democratic values.

The D.C. Council will accept testimonies and comments on the bill until Dec. 18. The Chairman expects a vote on the bill later in December and January. If the bill is approved, it should take three to four weeks to prepare the street signs.

*The bill was introduced in February 2017 on the anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s murder. It was introduced by Senator Marco Rubio and co-sponsored by eight other senators, including John McCain, Ron Johnson, Christopher A. Coons and Richard J. Durbin. Rubio said at the time in his statement that the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza would permanently remind Putin’s regime and the Russian people that these dissidents’ voices live on and that defenders of liberty will not be silenced. It will also help raise awareness among the American people about the ongoing abuses in Putin’s Russia”. To become law, the bill had to pass in both houses of Congress and then be signed by President Donald Trump. However, the bill was blocked by Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. After Rubio’s bill stalled in the Senate, D.C. council member Cheh and Chairman Mendelson introduced their own initiative, bill B22-0539, the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017”, on Oct 31.

by Valeria Jegisman

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.