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Russian Dissidents Urge 'More Decisive' Action Against Putin

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a joint meeting of the country's State Council and the Council for Strategic Development and National Projects, Dec. 23, 2020.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a joint meeting of the country's State Council and the Council for Strategic Development and National Projects, Dec. 23, 2020.

Russian dissidents are urging the West to take tougher action against President Vladimir Putin, saying it is in the West’s own self-interest to adopt a more decisive strategy against the Kremlin or pay a higher price later.

In the run-up to this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, and ahead of next week’s scheduled June 16 meeting in Geneva between President Joe Biden and Putin, opponents of the Russian leader are stepping up their entreaties for a more forward-leaning Western strategy to punish the Kremlin for intensifying a crackdown on dissent in Russia and for trying to destabilize the Western alliance.

“The task of changing Russia rests on the shoulders of Russians. It is monumental. It is dangerous,” said Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of the anti-corruption foundation founded by jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

“But there are several measures the West can and should adopt to make change more likely and bring it forward, not out of altruism but out of self-interest,” Ashurkov added in an appeal published in a British newspaper, The Times of London. Western countries should “increase the price tag” on the Kremlin for seeking to “destabilize the Western social and political order while robbing his own country,” said Ashurkov.

Western powers have accused the Kremlin of interfering in elections in the United States and Europe and of mounting disinformation campaigns aimed at widening political and social divides within NATO states. It has also been accused of cyber-attacks as well as carrying out assassinations of Russians exiled in Europe who oppose Putin. The Kremlin denies the charges.

Ashurkov’s appeal was echoed this week by Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian democracy leader, who, writing in the Washington Post, said while it is up to Russians to change Russia “politically motivated imprisonment is a violation of Moscow’s international commitments — and this week the number of political prisoners [already higher than in the late Soviet era] has grown again."

Andrei Pivovarov, the head of Open Russia movement stands behind the glass during a court session in Krasnodar, Russia, June 2, 2021.
Andrei Pivovarov, the head of Open Russia movement stands behind the glass during a court session in Krasnodar, Russia, June 2, 2021.

Kara-Murza cited the arrest last week of Andrei Pivovarov, former director of Open Russia, an opposition group founded by exiled Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was hauled off a Warsaw-bound plane at St. Petersburg’s airport by security operatives. And he highlighted the dawn raids in Moscow of the apartment, dacha and offices of Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition politician and former Russian lawmaker. Gudkov was detained for two days.

“The European Union has demanded the Kremlin ‘immediately and unconditionally’ release Pivovarov and others unjustly detained. On June 16, during his meeting with Putin in Geneva, President Biden will have a good opportunity to do the same,” said Kara-Murza.

The appeal by Russian dissidents ahead of next week’s Biden-Putin summit came as the head of Germany’s domestic spy agency warned the Kremlin has increased clandestine interference in Germany to Cold War-levels. Thomas Haldenwang, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), said in The Times of London that Moscow had deployed a “great number of agents” in its attempts to “build up contacts around political decision-makers” and that Germany is targeted increasingly by Russian intelligence, disinformation and lobbying campaigns.

His remarks were echoed by Bruno Kahl, head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, who said Russia and China were using every means to “secure the upper hand and sow discord between the nations of the West.” Kahl added: “You can observe a shift in their tactics: they’re getting coarser and more ruthless and pursuing their interests more flagrantly than before.”

Germany’s federal prosecutors last year charged a Russian national for the 2019 assassination of a Georgian rebel fighter in Berlin and said Moscow ordered the assassination. The German government expelled two Russian diplomats over the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen Georgian, who fought against Russia in the Second Chechen War and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken Monday said in a media interview in Washington: “We would prefer to have a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia. We’ve made that clear. But we’ve made equally clear that if Russia chooses to act aggressively or recklessly toward us or toward our allies and partners, we’ll respond.”

Speaking to the news site Axios, Blinken said Biden was meeting with Putin “not in spite of these aggressions, these attacks, it’s because of them, to tell him directly and clearly what he can expect from the United States if aggressive, reckless actions toward us continue.”

He declined to indicate whether he was optimistic about the outcome of the planned meeting, Biden’s first with Putin since being elected U.S. president.

The Biden administration drew criticism last month from Russian dissidents and their Western supporters for its decision last month to waive U.S. sanctions on companies completing the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline linking Germany and Russia.

On Monday, Blinken told a congressional panel that the completion of the $11 billion pipeline was a “fait accompli,” but he said the administration would respond if the Kremlin seeks to leverage gas supplies as a political weapon. Successive U.S. administrations have opposed the building of Nord Stream 2 fearing it will increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.

The pipeline under the Baltic Sea is 95% complete and will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine when it supplies energy to western European markets, depriving Ukraine of transit fees. Putin last week threatened to cut Ukraine off from Russian gas immediately after announcing the project would be completed within months. Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin said it would depend on the former Soviet republic showing “goodwill” towards Moscow.