Russia’s regional elections: who is to blame and what to do

Sep 17 2015

Democratic Coalition campaign manager Leonid Volkov summarized the results of the election campaign into the Kostroma Oblast Duma in the following way: “We received 4% in Kostroma, 1.5%-2% in county centers, and almost nothing in the countryside”. In total across the oblast, the party Parnas, on behalf of which the candidates from the opposition forces were running, received 2.28%.

These elections were not a common occurrence: a substantial part of what can be called the Europe-oriented democratic opposition were hedging their bets on Kostroma.

In May of this year, in anticipation of the 2015 regional elections and the 2016 State Duma elections, several opposition movements merged to create the Democratic Coalition in order to nominate a list of candidates from the unified opposition. This alliance was formed on the basis of the existing RPR-Parnas party, which has the right to participate in Russia’s Parliamentary elections in 2016 without collecting signatures.

Initially, the activists wanted to run for regional parliaments in three oblasts: Novosibirsk Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, and Kostroma Oblast. In Novosibirsk the team of candidates was denied the right to participate in the elections, in Kaluga the coalition members chose not to participate, and so it was the Kostroma campaign that overwhelmingly attracted the attention of the liberal opposition. The full force of the coalition was devoted to the region: the list of candidates was headed by the deputy chairman of Parnas party Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition Alexey Navalny visited Kostroma several times to campaign for the coalition, and his colleague Leonid Volkov took campaign management upon himself. Volunteers and paid campaigners were invited to Kostroma from all over the country. One can judge the scale of the campaign from the following fact – the party was able to cover all precinct elections commissions: 545 observers from the Democratic Coalition were working in the region’s 400 precincts.

So why was the result 2% and not 10% as was initially planned by the opposition? Why did the Kostroma elections end up being a public whipping of the democrats and Kremlin’s revenge for 2013, when the leader of the democratic opposition Boris Nemtsov was elected deputy of Yaroslavl Oblast Duma, and Alexey Navalny, although he lost the election, was able to gather 27% of the votes in the Moscow mayoral election?

Maybe it was a difficult region? Yes, but Yaroslavl Oblast, where Boris Nemtsov won, was not much easier. Kostroma Oblast and Yaroslavl Oblast are very similar. Both of them are in Central Russia, both are 96% populated by ethnic Russians, both receive subsidies from the federal budget, and the level of urbanization in these regions is also similar: in Kostroma Oblast 71.3% of the population live in cities and towns, while in Yaroslavl this measure is 81.7%.

Did the government interfere with campaigning, disrupt events, send “nashists” (former members of Nashi, a pro-Putin youth organization that uses particularly repulsive methods). Yes, but the same happened in Yaroslavl. Didn’t have enough time for campaigning? Boris Nemtsov’s campaign lasted a month, while Democratic Coalition had 25 days. It is doubtful that 5 extra days could have radically changed the outcome of the voting.

Or maybe there wasn’t enough money for organizing a quality campaign, as claimed by a deputy to the State Duma Dmitry Gudkov? Let’s calculate. The election fund of Parnas in Kostroma was $84,811 (using the exchange rate of September 8, 2015), the number of voters in Kostroma Oblast is 545,447 people, so 16 cents was spent per voter. The number of voters in Yaroslavl Oblast in 2013 was 1,045,217 persons, the election fund of the RPR-Parnas party was $119,796 (using the exchange rate of September 6, 2013), so 12 cents was devoted to every voter. So while Boris Nemtsov spent a third less money per voter, his result was two and a half times better.

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One of the main reasons behind the bad result was that the Kostroma people did not accept outsiders: the first person on the candidate list was from Moscow, the campaign manager was an outsider, and a substantial portion of the campaigners was not from Kostroma Oblast. “But what about Yaroslavl Oblast”, – you might say, – “Boris Nemtsov was not from there either”. That is not entirely so. Boris Nemtsov was viewed by the inhabitants of the region as someone who used to be the governor of a neighboring region, the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, the First Deputy Prime Minister of the federal government, and was a former leader in the State Duma, a federal politician with extensive experience. With all due respect, nothing like this can be said about Ilya Yashin, whom the Kostroma people viewed as an intelligent young man, about whom they had heard nothing even yesterday. Additionally, Boris Nemtsov announced from the first days of the campaign that he is staying in the oblast seriously and for a long term, and that he is going to buy an apartment in Yaroslavl.

There is another reason. Evidently Alexey Navalny’s thesis “we are against crooks and thieves” doesn’t work. People have become cynical: “so what if they are thieves, who are you, saints? You will also steal if you get the power”.

Another reason for Parnas’ misfortune is the radical change in the public sentiment in the last two years. In 2013, there was none of this aggressive pro-Putin hysteria, neither on TV or among the people. “Crimea is ours” syndrome has taken over the country. Those who advocate for participating in Putin’s pseudoelections often say that elections provide a platform that gives opposition activists an opportunity to deliver their position to the masses. But in reality, it is very dangerous for an opposition activist participating in regional elections to talk about the annexation of Crimea, Russian soldiers in Donbass, or about who shot down Boeing MH17. It’s dangerous because this honest position can repel over a half of potential voters, zombified by the TV propaganda. For example, here is a recording of how the second person on the party’s Kostroma Oblast election list, Vladimir Andreychenko, initially tries dodging a question about Crimea, and then talks about an occupation of a region of a neighboring country in the following way: “legally speaking, these measures were not executed in a completely clean way”.

A democrat who runs for a regional election is faced with only two options. Either you talk exclusively about overpriced rent and utilities, broken down roads and low salaries, and then you have a chance at winning. Or you tell the full truth about the war with Ukraine, and that the sanctions against Russia were completely fair and justified, as a response to Russia’s violations of its international obligations. In that case, your chances of getting elected into a regional Duma approach zero. In Kostroma Oblast, precisely the first strategy was picked, and so Ilya Yashin did not talk about the white paper report “Putin. War”, and Vladimir Andreychenko stayed silent about Crimea. But then, where is that platform for the opposition, if it is forced to avoid all acute and relevant political questions?

In stark contrast, in August 2013 Boris Nemtsov could afford the luxury of talking to Yaroslavl voters about the topical oppositional concerns, such as corruption and stealing during the construction of sports objects for the Sochi Winter Olympics and the personal enrichment of Vladimir Putin.

So what is there to do for the opposition activists who want to have a platform but refuses to participate in Putin’s imitation of elections? The answer is simple: to campaign Russians aside from Kremlin’s agenda and their fabricated elections.

To back my words with actions, I will reveal what I plan on doing. In the near future, I plan on resurrecting the YouTube project “Lies of Putin’s Regime”, which was created at the end of 2009 by Boris Nemtsov and I. The project will have two main directions.

The first will be devoted to the annexation of Crimea, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the economic crisis as a result of Putin’s military endeavor. Boris Nemtsov voiced the idea as early as in January 2015 that it is necessary to promote the thesis: “Putin is war and crisis”. Within the last 8 months, his idea has become even more relevant and timely, and I am sure it will become even more acute as the consequences of the sanctions exacerbate. There is a lot of work to be done with the population: according to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, only a quarter of the population agrees with the statement that there is a war going on between Russia and Ukraine, while 60-70% categorically deny that assertion. But Putin is the cause of the economic crisis and the widespread poverty of the Russian population. Putin started the war with Ukraine, turned Russia into an increasingly isolated country, and brought about sanctions. About half of the videos will be about that.

The second direction will be about the advantages and the value of a democratic system. About the fact that fair elections, free mass media, separation of power and rule of law make individuals wealthier and make the society more just. The problem in Russia is unfortunately not only with Putin, his gang, and corruption. Russians have a very poor political education. For example, according to a recent poll, the number of Russians who associate democracy with procedures that guarantee the accountability of the government to its people does not exceed 20% of the total population. The Russian society is ill: with a lack of confidence in its own strength, with cynicism, apathy, and simultaneously with aggression towards neighboring countries and people. If my videos contribute even a little bit to the healing of this nation, I will know that my project was not started for nothing.

by Leonid Martynyuk

These elections were not a common occurrence: a substantial part of what can be called the Europe-oriented democratic opposition were hedging their bets on Kostroma.

In May of this year, in anticipation of the 2015 regional elections and the 2016 State Duma elections, several opposition movements merged to create the Democratic Coalition in order to nominate a list of candidates from the unified opposition. This alliance was formed on the basis of the existing RPR-Parnas party, which has the right to participate in Russia’s Parliamentary elections in 2016 without collecting signatures.

Initially, the activists wanted to run for regional parliaments in three oblasts: Novosibirsk Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, and Kostroma Oblast. In Novosibirsk the team of candidates was denied the right to participate in the elections, in Kaluga the coalition members chose not to participate, and so it was the Kostroma campaign that overwhelmingly attracted the attention of the liberal opposition. The full force of the coalition was devoted to the region: the list of candidates was headed by the deputy chairman of Parnas party Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition Alexey Navalny visited Kostroma several times to campaign for the coalition, and his colleague Leonid Volkov took campaign management upon himself. Volunteers and paid campaigners were invited to Kostroma from all over the country. One can judge the scale of the campaign from the following fact – the party was able to cover all precinct elections commissions: 545 observers from the Democratic Coalition were working in the region’s 400 precincts.

So why was the result 2% and not 10% as was initially planned by the opposition? Why did the Kostroma elections end up being a public whipping of the democrats and Kremlin’s revenge for 2013, when the leader of the democratic opposition Boris Nemtsov was elected deputy of Yaroslavl Oblast Duma, and Alexey Navalny, although he lost the election, was able to gather 27% of the votes in the Moscow mayoral election?

Maybe it was a difficult region? Yes, but Yaroslavl Oblast, where Boris Nemtsov won, was not much easier. Kostroma Oblast and Yaroslavl Oblast are very similar. Both of them are in Central Russia, both are 96% populated by ethnic Russians, both receive subsidies from the federal budget, and the level of urbanization in these regions is also similar: in Kostroma Oblast 71.3% of the population live in cities and towns, while in Yaroslavl this measure is 81.7%.

Did the government interfere with campaigning, disrupt events, send “nashists” (former members of Nashi, a pro-Putin youth organization that uses particularly repulsive methods). Yes, but the same happened in Yaroslavl. Didn’t have enough time for campaigning? Boris Nemtsov’s campaign lasted a month, while Democratic Coalition had 25 days. It is doubtful that 5 extra days could have radically changed the outcome of the voting.

Or maybe there wasn’t enough money for organizing a quality campaign, as claimed by a deputy to the State Duma Dmitry Gudkov? Let’s calculate. The election fund of Parnas in Kostroma was $84,811 (using the exchange rate of September 8, 2015), the number of voters in Kostroma Oblast is 545,447 people, so 16 cents was spent per voter. The number of voters in Yaroslavl Oblast in 2013 was 1,045,217 persons, the election fund of the RPR-Parnas party was $119,796 (using the exchange rate of September 6, 2013), so 12 cents was devoted to every voter. So while Boris Nemtsov spent a third less money per voter, his result was two and a half times better.

eeb4a8700f754178bde2afc3e34118c8-2

One of the main reasons behind the bad result was that the Kostroma people did not accept outsiders: the first person on the candidate list was from Moscow, the campaign manager was an outsider, and a substantial portion of the campaigners was not from Kostroma Oblast. “But what about Yaroslavl Oblast”, – you might say, – “Boris Nemtsov was not from there either”. That is not entirely so. Boris Nemtsov was viewed by the inhabitants of the region as someone who used to be the governor of a neighboring region, the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, the First Deputy Prime Minister of the federal government, and was a former leader in the State Duma, a federal politician with extensive experience. With all due respect, nothing like this can be said about Ilya Yashin, whom the Kostroma people viewed as an intelligent young man, about whom they had heard nothing even yesterday. Additionally, Boris Nemtsov announced from the first days of the campaign that he is staying in the oblast seriously and for a long term, and that he is going to buy an apartment in Yaroslavl.

There is another reason. Evidently Alexey Navalny’s thesis “we are against crooks and thieves” doesn’t work. People have become cynical: “so what if they are thieves, who are you, saints? You will also steal if you get the power”.

Another reason for Parnas’ misfortune is the radical change in the public sentiment in the last two years. In 2013, there was none of this aggressive pro-Putin hysteria, neither on TV or among the people. “Crimea is ours” syndrome has taken over the country. Those who advocate for participating in Putin’s pseudoelections often say that elections provide a platform that gives opposition activists an opportunity to deliver their position to the masses. But in reality, it is very dangerous for an opposition activist participating in regional elections to talk about the annexation of Crimea, Russian soldiers in Donbass, or about who shot down Boeing MH17. It’s dangerous because this honest position can repel over a half of potential voters, zombified by the TV propaganda. For example, here is a recording of how the second person on the party’s Kostroma Oblast election list, Vladimir Andreychenko, initially tries dodging a question about Crimea, and then talks about an occupation of a region of a neighboring country in the following way: “legally speaking, these measures were not executed in a completely clean way”.

A democrat who runs for a regional election is faced with only two options. Either you talk exclusively about overpriced rent and utilities, broken down roads and low salaries, and then you have a chance at winning. Or you tell the full truth about the war with Ukraine, and that the sanctions against Russia were completely fair and justified, as a response to Russia’s violations of its international obligations. In that case, your chances of getting elected into a regional Duma approach zero. In Kostroma Oblast, precisely the first strategy was picked, and so Ilya Yashin did not talk about the white paper report “Putin. War”, and Vladimir Andreychenko stayed silent about Crimea. But then, where is that platform for the opposition, if it is forced to avoid all acute and relevant political questions?

In stark contrast, in August 2013 Boris Nemtsov could afford the luxury of talking to Yaroslavl voters about the topical oppositional concerns, such as corruption and stealing during the construction of sports objects for the Sochi Winter Olympics and the personal enrichment of Vladimir Putin.

So what is there to do for the opposition activists who want to have a platform but refuses to participate in Putin’s imitation of elections? The answer is simple: to campaign Russians aside from Kremlin’s agenda and their fabricated elections.

To back my words with actions, I will reveal what I plan on doing. In the near future, I plan on resurrecting the YouTube project “Lies of Putin’s Regime”, which was created at the end of 2009 by Boris Nemtsov and I. The project will have two main directions.

The first will be devoted to the annexation of Crimea, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the economic crisis as a result of Putin’s military endeavor. Boris Nemtsov voiced the idea as early as in January 2015 that it is necessary to promote the thesis: “Putin is war and crisis”. Within the last 8 months, his idea has become even more relevant and timely, and I am sure it will become even more acute as the consequences of the sanctions exacerbate. There is a lot of work to be done with the population: according to public opinion surveys conducted by Levada Center, only a quarter of the population agrees with the statement that there is a war going on between Russia and Ukraine, while 60-70% categorically deny that assertion. But Putin is the cause of the economic crisis and the widespread poverty of the Russian population. Putin started the war with Ukraine, turned Russia into an increasingly isolated country, and brought about sanctions. About half of the videos will be about that.

The second direction will be about the advantages and the value of a democratic system. About the fact that fair elections, free mass media, separation of power and rule of law make individuals wealthier and make the society more just. The problem in Russia is unfortunately not only with Putin, his gang, and corruption. Russians have a very poor political education. For example, according to a recent poll, the number of Russians who associate democracy with procedures that guarantee the accountability of the government to its people does not exceed 20% of the total population. The Russian society is ill: with a lack of confidence in its own strength, with cynicism, apathy, and simultaneously with aggression towards neighboring countries and people. If my videos contribute even a little bit to the healing of this nation, I will know that my project was not started for nothing.

by Leonid Martynyuk

Congressional Resolution on the non-Recognition of Putin as President after 2024

Nov 20 2021

On November 18, 2021, US Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission, along with the Helsinki Ranking Member Joe Wilson (R-SC), introduced a Congressional Resolution to end recognition of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia.

Free Russia Foundation applauds this principled public stance, sees it as the only position appropriately reflecting the criminal and murderous nature of Putin’s regime, and calls on all Members of the US Congress and the Biden Administration to adopt the policy of non-recognition of Vladimir Putin and his illegitimate government.

The resolution makes the case that Putin’s continuation in office after May 7, 2024 would be illegitimate. It asserts that the amendments to the Constitution of Russia, one of which provides for Putin’s so-called zero term limit and allows him to run for president in 2024 and 2030, were adopted in violation of international conventions, as well as through extensive fraud during the so-called popular vote last year.

Cohen and Wilson call Russia’s 2020 constitutional plebiscite “the most manipulated vote” in the country’s modern history. Their resolution decries ballots cast at “park benches, car trunks and shopping carts” during weeklong voting period with people prodded to polling centers in the midst of COVID-19 outbreak.

“Any attempt by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to remain in office beyond the end of his current and final term on May 7, 2024, shall warrant nonrecognition on the part of the United States,” the resolution states.

Kremlin’s Reaction

The resolution struck a nerve back in Moscow and has evoked an immediate and vehement reaction from the Kremlin, with each statement, however, using the same precise formulation as coordinated from the top.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the proposal as “aggressive” meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

“We consider this interference in our affairs and we’re convinced that only Russians can determine who and when should be president of Russia,” says Peskov. Peskov added that the State Duma deputies will not leave this proposal unanswered.

The Russian Federation Council said that if Congress passes the resolution, it will “lead to a rupture in relations between Russia and the United States.” The document itself was called “interference in the election.”

Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council of Russia Konstantin Kosachev said that “it’s a little early this time the Americans started interfering in the presidential elections in Russia.” Kosachev called what was happening interference in Russia’s internal affairs “in its purest form” and a provocation that could disrupt the emerging improvement in relations between the countries.

Andrei Klishas, chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Law, pointed out that only the Russian people can recognize or not recognize Putin as president of Russia. “If the president decides to take part in the 2024 elections and is elected by the citizens of our country, everyone, even the most sullen Russophobes in the U.S. Congress, will recognize this,” he said.

Ironically, in the past two years, the Kremlin has effectively neutralized the Russian civil society and independent political forces through massive repressions, disenfranchising even by most conservative estimates at least 9 million Russians from participating in elections —thusly denying Russian citizens the choice that they now extol with regards to Putin’s tenure.

Today, Putin is the second-longest serving head of state in Europe, after Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Notably, in 2018, Putin publicly stated that he was not going to hold the post of president for more than two consecutive terms and denied the possibility of his participation in the 2030 election.

Having held on to his power through various schemes for over twenty years, in 2020, Putin signed into law constitutional amendments allowing him to run for reelection twice more, potentially extending his presidency to 2036. Amendments to the Constitution of Russia solved so-called the “2024 problem” that was connected with end of Putin’s presidential powers in 2024. More than 200 amendments were introduced to the Russian Constitution last year. The amendments were widely criticized both in Russia and abroad.

U.S. Adds Russia to the Lists of Countries Suppressing Religious Freedom —along With Eritrea, Iran, and North Korea

Nov 19 2021

By Yury Krylov

The United States has added Russia to the list of countries implicated in “egregious violations of religious freedom,” a move that comes as ties dip to their lowest since the Cold War. This is reported on the website of the U.S. State Department.

In addition to Russia, the list includes China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and Myanmar. According to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the situation with violations of religious freedom in these countries “is of particular concern.”

Algeria, Comoros, Cuba and Nicaragua have been placed on a watch list.

“The United States will not waiver in its commitment to advocate for freedom of religion or belief for all and in every country,” Blinken said in a statement. “In far too many places around the world, we continue to see governments harass, arrest, threaten, jail, and kill individuals simply for seeking to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs.”

Antony Blinken stressed that the U.S. will continue to push governments to correct deficiencies in local laws and hold those responsible for violations accountable.

Earlier, the US State Department had criticized the Russian court over the imposition of prison terms for the followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses (an organization recognized as extremist and banned in Russia). The denomination was banned in Russia in 2017 under allegations of “extremism,” and hundreds of worshippers have been jailed since. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, 257 criminal cases have been launched against the members of the group, 559 men and women have been charged with extremism, and 70 believers are currently incarcerated. Among those classified by Russia as extremist and banned are also a Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir and The Church of Scientology.

Free Russia Foundation submits evidence to OSCE of gross human rights violations in Belarus

Nov 16 2021

On November 4, 2021, 35 OSCE Participating States[1] invoked the Vienna Mechanism and addressed human rights concerns regarding actions by the Government of Belarus, noting the mutual accountability shared amongst OSCE Participating States for full implementation of their OSCE commitments. It requested “concrete and substantial responses” to eight questions that summarised its principal concerns regarding the human rights situation in Belarus.

On 12 November 2021, Free Russia Foundation lodged a submission to the OSCE entitled “Concerning the Decision of 35 OSCE States to Invoke the Vienna Mechanism in Relation to Serious Human Rights Violations in Belarus.”

The submission was addressed to all 57 OSCE Participating States (including Belarus), as well as Helga Maria Schmid, OSCE Secretary General; Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; and Wolfgang Benedek, OSCE Rapporteur under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the Presidential Elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus.

Free Russia Foundation has observed that the Government of Belarus has been unresponsive to OSCE concerns and has no intention to answer the questions. Belarusian civil society, on the other hand, is precluded from responding due to its well-founded fear of retribution and further persecution. Accordingly, Free Russia Foundation prepared this submission articulating responses to the eight questions by the 35 OSCE States.

The Submission asserts that:

  1. No steps have been taken by Belarusian authorities to investigate allegations that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is being unduly restricted, that individuals are being arbitrarily detained or arrested, and that numbers of political prisoners are increasing. 
  2. On 26 August 2021, the Investigative Committee of Belarus announced that it would not criminally investigate or prosecute allegations by 680 persons regarding allegations of torture and other crimes under international law.
  3. Belarusian authorities incite hate and intolerance towards representatives of any political views that contradict the state and that their lack of a proper legal response to hate crimes creates an atmosphere of impunity for offenders.
  4. Belarusian authorities have hindered the ability of civil society and media actors to document and report on human rights concerns in Belarus and persecuted individuals and groups attempting to do so. 
  5. Belarusian authorities have facilitated irregular migration (to other OSCE Participating States) which puts vulnerable people at risk, impacts on their human rights, and has a destabilizing effect on regional security. In doing so, they use people in a vulnerable position as an instrument of pressure on other countries.
  6. Belarusian authorities have disregarded its OSCE membership obligations by failing to substantively respond to human rights concerns identified by OSCE Participating States.
  7. The Government of Belarus has closed at least 185 organizations, arbitrarily arrested dozens of their associates and taken no meaningful steps to engage with civil society. Further, it has taken no steps to respond to the recommendations contained in the 5 November 2020 report under the Moscow Mechanism.

Free Russia Foundation (4freerussia.org) is an international NGO dedicated to advancing democratic development and supporting civil society with centers in Kyiv, Ukraine; Tbilisi, Georgia; Prague, Czechia; Berlin, Germany; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Washington, DC, US.

The submission was prepared in cooperation with Scott Martin of Global Rights Compliance (‘GRC’). GRC is an international LLP working on international human rights, international humanitarian law and environmental law matters throughout the world.


[1] Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, The Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and the United States.

“The Country is on the Verge of a Historic Catastrophe”: Over 100 Russian Public Figures Voice Support for the Memorial Rights Group

Nov 15 2021

Over 100 Russian human rights activists and artists, as well as 60 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) have signed the appeal in support of the Memorial Rights Group. Among signatories are writers Dmitry Bykov, Viktor Shenderovich and Lyudmila Ulitskaya, actress Liya Akhedzhakova, rights activists Andrei Babushkin, Nikolai Svanidze and Natalia Yevdokimova, politicians Lev Shlosberg, Grigory Yavlinsky, Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yashin, Andrei Nechaev and many others.

The petition stresses the importance of continuing the human rights association’s mission of preserving the memory of victims of the USSR repressions:

We, the creators and staff of educational projects, book publishers and editors, protest the persecution of the Memorial Society, the oldest non-governmental organization in Russia today.

Since 1989, Memorial has investigated the history of state terror in the twentieth-century Russia and commemorated its victims. Memorial is a museum, archive, and library; it hosts discussions, lectures, exhibitions, and books; and organizes the annual “Return of Names” campaign. Memorial is the repository of the historical memory of our society, the foundation for its healthy development and its future”— a November 15 statement signed by activists and scholars said.

“Today this future is in danger. Persecution of political opposition, civic organizations and independent journalists has become the norm. New Russian laws are at odds with civilized understandings of the law. The rector of one of Russia’s best universities has been imprisoned on manufatured charges… We demand the release of political prisoners and the repeal of unlawful repressive laws. Our country is in trouble, and we must unite to protect its future”, it added.

On November 15, the Kremlin’s top spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not comment directly the case of Memorial, but opined that Memorial “has been having problems for a long time in terms of following Russian laws.”

In the first four days since its launch, nearly 25,000 Russians have signed the online petition called “Hands Off Memorial!”. Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the moves to close Memorial and demanded Russian authorities stop using the illegal Foreign Agent law to persecute and intimidate the organization.

Case Background

On November 11, 2021, Russian human rights group Memorial received a notice from the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. According to it, the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General has requested the Supreme Court to shut down the international branch of the country’s most prominent and respected human rights group for failure to comply with requirements of the illegal law on “foreign agents” (in particular, its requirements for labeling).

Putin’s government uses the new “foreign agents” designation to target whom it perceives as foreign-funded organizations engaged in political activity and affiliated persons.

The post on the website of the Supreme Court states that the Prosecutor’s Office also demands the liquidation of the organization’s subdivisions — a human rights center, an archive, a library and a museum.

A court hearing is scheduled for November 25, 2021.

Memorial itself has characterized the General Prosecutor’s order as “a political decision to destroy civil society” focused on “the history of political repression and the defense of human rights.” The group believes there are no legal grounds for liquidating the organization.

“We have repeatedly stated that the law was originally conceived as a tool to crack down on independent organizations, and insisted that it should be abolished,” Memorial said in a statement. “The decision to abolish International Memorial is politically motivated. It aims to destroy the organization which deals with the political repressions of the past and fights for human rights today.”

Late last month, Memorial said that the number of political prisoners in Russia has risen sharply in recent years. It listed more than 400 political prisoners, including top Kremlin critic and opposition leader Alexey Navalny who survived a poisoning attempt with Novichok nerve agent last year.

Recently Russia declared the rights group “Russian LGBT Network” a “foreign agent,” along with lawyer Ivan Pavlov and “Team 29” Lawyers’ Association.

About Memorial

Memorial was established in the late 1980s during the “perestroika” reforms of the USSR. Between 1987 and 1990, while the USSR was still in existence, 23 branches of the society were set up and became active. When the Soviet Union collapsed, branches of Memorial in east and south Ukraine remained affiliated to the Russian network.

By 2018, Memorial had more than 60 branches and affiliated organizations scattered across Russia, with a quarter of them established in 2014 or later.

The branches advance the same mission of upholding human rights, documenting the past, and marking Days of Remembrance for the victims of political repression. Over the past twenty years Memorial has built up an online database of the victims of political repression in the USSR. Its fifth version contained over three million names and yet it was estimated that 75% of the victims had not yet been identified and recorded. International Memorial was added to the “foreign agents” registry in October 2016.

Free Russia Foundation asks you to urgently speak up in public calling for the immediate release of Lilia Chanysheva from illegal detention by Russian authorities

Nov 12 2021

On November 10, 2021, a prominent Russian opposition activist Lilia Chanysheva was put under a two-month arrest on charges of her alleged participation in the activities of an ‘extremist organization’— Alexey Navalny’s network.

Chanysheva’s home in Ufa, Bashkortostan, was raided early in the morning of November 9, after which she was detained, and later— arrested. This is the first arrest of a member of Alexey Navalny’s network on charges of extremism after it had been declared an ‘extremist organization’ earlier this year.

Lilia Chanysheva has refrained from participation in Navalny’s network after its official disbanding in April 2021— well before the court decisions designating Alexey Navalny’s network ‘extremist’ were made. This arrest is clearly a revenge for her past activities which were not illegal at the time. Punishing people for legal political activities is against even Putin’s Russia’s laws.

Chanysheva was one of the most prominent regional activists of Navalny’s network, chairing Navalny’s regional HQ in Ufa, Bashkortostan from 2017 until Navalny’s regional network was disbanded in April 2021. Before joining Navalny’s Presidential campaign in 2017, she used to work at Deloitte’s local office as an auditor. Later, she ran for an Ufa City Council seat, but was banned from election by authorities. Chanysheva had gained prominence as a major public opinion leader in particularly authoritarian Bashkortostan and was demonstrably law-obedient, advocating only legal means of political struggle, such as participation in elections.

During the court hearing on November 10, 2021 in Ufa, Chanysheva announced that she is two weeks pregnant (she had recently gotten married). She had never had any intention to leave Russia and has made no plans to do so, despite a clear threat to her safety, and with many of her former colleagues having left the country out of concerns for safety. Nonetheless, the Russian kangaroo court has issued a baseless verdict, placing Chanysheva in detention, despite the fact that she presents no public danger, was involved exclusively in legal activities, and had no intention to abscond.

Chanysheva’s arrest is yet another manifestation of a new wave of political repressions in Russia, as it is the first major arrest of a prominent figure from Alexey Navalny’s network since Navalny’s organization had been declared ‘extremist’. The arrest is even more disturbing, given the fact that Chanysheva had suspended her political activity a while ago, and is clearly being punished retroactively for her past, fully legal activities. It is worth considering serious sanctions against Russian authorities for this new concerning step of escalation of political repressions in Russia.