Simon Cosgrove: A look back at the past week in Russia

25 December 2020

By Simon Cosgrove

Simon is chair of Rights in Russia but writes these comments in a personal capacity and they may not necessarily represent the views of the organisation

Twenty-nine years ago this week on 25 December 1991 President Gorbachev resigned, paving the way for the end of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Russian Federation as an independent state. This past week saw a remarkable development when on 21 December Aleksei Navalny published a recording of a telephone call he claims was with an FSB operative, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who allegedly took part in the August attempt on his life. The day before, on so-called ‘Chekist’s Day’ celebrating the creation of the Soviet secret police, President Putin in a speech thanked all those working in the Russian security services, protecting Russia from ‘external and internal threats’ and called them ‘reliable and courageous people.’ While the Russian authorities have so far refused to open a criminal investigation into the attempted murder of Aleksei Navalny, this week they promptly opened a criminal case against Liubov Sobol, a lawyer who worked for Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (now closed down) after she had called on the home of the FSB agent with whom Navalny had had the telephone call. Another victim of an apparently politically motivated prosecution was Yulia Galyamina, a Moscow municipal deputy given a two-year suspended sentence for repeated violation of the regulations governing public assemblies. In her final speech in court she told her accusers they had helped her ‘see how many people came to her defence’ and ‘made her stronger by giving her the experience of resilience and the ability to enjoy life, no matter what.’ 

The tightening restrictions on right of association were exemplified this week by the addition of the Prague Civil Society Centre, along with three other NGOs, to the list of ‘undesirable organisations’ banned from operating in Russia under a law adopted in May 2015. Meanwhile in Parliament the State Duma approved a bill in its third and final reading to further tighten restrictions on the right of association imposed under the so-called ‘foreign agent’ law and enabling the designation of individuals as ‘foreign agents.’ The European Court of Human Rights this week handed down two judgments concerning Russia finding violations of Articles 2 (right to life) and 8 (respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

End note

The resignation of Mikhail Gorbachev on 25 December 1991 marked a watershed in the history of Russia. The recent attempted assassination of Aleksei Navalny, who this week tricked an FSB agent into talking about the operation on the phone, may also yet prove to be a watershed in post-Soviet history – or at least in the history of a president so closely wedded to the Russian security services. The inaction of Russian law enforcement in the face of the crime against Navalny contrasts starkly with the prosecution this week of one of his colleagues, Liubov Sobol, the conviction of Moscow municipal deputy Yulia Galyamina, and the banning of the Prague Civil Society Centre as ‘undesirable’. Looking to the future, the passing of the amendments to the so-called ‘foreign agent’ legislation promises only further restrictions on human rights and an ever increasing supply of cases for the European Court of Human Rights.

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