Podcast: Then & Now #7 – Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Boris Kuznetsov

5 June 2023

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the seventh episode of our new Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas.  

In recent weeks, politically motivated trials and lengthy prison terms in Putin’s Russia reached a new peak. Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for treason and Evgenia Berkovich and Svetlana Petriichuk have been remanded in custody awaiting trial for “justifying terrorism” in connection with the staging of a play. Some say these developments signify a return to the USSR of the 1970s, others that it is reminiscent of Stalinist purges. Our guest today, Boris Kuznetsov, is a lawyer who played a key role in the first high profile trial of Putin’s presidency – he defended the interests of relatives of the sailors who died on the Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank in 2000. We invited him to share with us his experiences of the Kursk case in particular, and more widely his observations and reflections on the legal system and practice of jurisprudence in Putin’s Russia.

The recording was made on 1 June 2023.

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My questions include:

  • What prompted you to act in defence of the relatives of the Kursk sailors who died?  I read that you’ve been passionate about the sea and all things maritime since childhood. 
  • What did your experience in the Kursk case tell you about the role of legal defence in such high-profile cases, where the interests of the state might be involved?
  • What did you learn about the accident while working on this case that had not been made public before?
  • Were there any consequences for you as a result of your confrontation with the authorities in relation to the Kursk?
  • What forced you to leave Russia?
  • As someone who has studied the history of jurisprudence in Russia, in your opinion has there been a time when the legal system was independent?  Were there times when such notions as equality before the law, independence of the courts and the protection of human rights were upheld in Russia?
  • How would you characterise the relationship between the Kremlin and judges in today’s Russia? Why has the separation of powers not worked in Russia? 
  • Is there any sense in which judicial decisions under Putin and under Stalin can be compared?  Why do they both need this phantom – to present everything as though upheld by independent courts according to the law, when there is no law?  
  • How did you view the closure and prosecution of various NGOs, such as Memorial or OVD-info in the period leading up to the invasion of Ukraine?  Why did Putin need to do this?  With hindsight, how do you understand this now?
  • Recently, we saw a very harsh sentence given to Vladimir Kara-Murza. What is your assessment of this?
  • How do you interpret the recent arrests of Evgenia Berkovich and Svetlana Petriichuk?  Do you see a special significance in the case against the two women accused of “justifying terrorism” in a play? 
  • Almost immediately after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, a new law on discrediting the Russian army was adopted (Article 280.3 of the Russian Criminal Code). What has been the impact of this new law?
  • How do you see the future of jurisprudence in Russia, and of those Russian lawyers who practice law in Russia?

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