On June 11, Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov spoke on Capitol Hill at a forum entitled “Seven Democrats and Putin: Human Rights in Russia Ahead of the G8 Summit.” The event was co-hosted by the Institute of Modern Russia and the Foreign Policy Initiative.

 

 

Opening the forum, IMR Senior Policy Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza reviewed the recent political developments in Russia and introduced the main speaker—former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, co-chairman of the Republican Party of Russia–People’s Freedom Party (RPR–PARNAS). The discussion was moderated by Matthew Kaminski, member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. Ellen Bork, director of democracy and human rights at FPI, addressed the forum on behalf of the organization.

Nemtsov presented his latest report on corruption in the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The report reveals that the government’s expenses for this project quadrupled over the last few years, reaching an unthinkable $50 billion, with half of that amount allegedly spent on kickbacks and embezzlement.

According to the opposition leader, the May 2012 protest rally on Bolotnaya Square marked a pivotal point for Russia. “Before that, we had the so-called ‘sovereign democracy,’ a term invented by [former Kremlin Deputy Chief-of-Staff] Vladislav Surkov, which meant that we had manipulations, falsifications, etc., but not tough repressions,” Nemtsov observed. “Now we have the criminal case of Bolotnaya Square, in which dozens of people are being prosecuted because they allegedly attacked the police. We organized an independent investigation into the events of that day and found that the police in fact provoked protesters.”

The Russian opposition leader also addressed the ambiguous U.S. policy toward the Kremlin.

After the mass protests in 2011 and 2012, the regime has been sliding into a state of “paranoia” and becoming more similar to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus. “On the one hand, Putin hates Lukashenko, but on the other hand, he wants to be like him,” Nemtsov noted. “Today, Russia has more political prisoners than Belarus.” The manifestations of this “paranoia,” according to the opposition leader, include criminal cases against Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov. Nemtsov also pointed to the growing anti-Americanism, which is being instilled by the state propaganda machine: “People are made to believe that protesters are being paid by the U.S. State Department.”

Boris Nemtsov noted that the recent emigration of Sergei Guriev, former president of the New Economic School, is one of the dangerous signs of the “tightening of the screws.” The opposition leader linked Guriev’s departure with the preparation of the third criminal case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is currently scheduled for release in 2014. Guriev was among the experts who reviewed the second Yukos trial for the presidential Human Rights Council and concluded that the case was fabricated. He also helped Navalny and “made the mistake” of inviting President Obama to speak at his school in 2009. As the RPR–PARNAS co-chairman noted, Putin does not appreciate such independence. As for Khodorkovsky, Boris Nemtsov that “Putin’s goal is to keep him in jail forever.”

The Russian opposition leader also addressed the ambiguous U.S. policy toward the Kremlin. “On the one hand, the U.S. Congress passed a very pro-Russian law, the Magnitsky Act. On the other hand, the State Department continues with realpolitik and cooperates with Putin on a number of issues,” Nemtsov noted. “But the problem is that for Putin, such stance is a sign of Obama’s weakness because it makes him think that he can buy anyone, like he did [former German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder.” (Schroeder was offered a job as chairman of the board of Nord Stream, Gazprom’s strategic pipeline project).

 

 

Days before the G8 summit that will be held in Northern Ireland on June 17 and 18, Nemtsov called for the Magnitsky sanctions to be introduced in the European Union, and for the “Magnitsky list” to be expanded in the United States. Considering the absence of democracy in today’s Russia, the opposition leader caustically suggested renaming the G8 into “G7 plus Putin.”

“Putin is a modern combination of Stalin and Abramovich. He will never go for mass repressions. After all, the 21st century is much softer than the 20th century because of globalization and mass access to information,” Nemtsov noted. “Stalin was a murderer, but he was not corrupt. Putin and his circle are deeply corrupt, and they care about their assets in Europe. And this is a chance for European democracies, because even though Putin might act as if he has unlimited power and unlimited opportunities, that is not true. He only wishes he had that.”

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