Reviews | Want to undermine Putin? Help the Russians who oppose the war.
And there is still much more the West can and should do on the sanctions front. Every day Putin’s army stays in Ukraine is a day the free world should impose new sanctions.
At a time, One aspect of the sanctions regime needs to be urgently corrected: the unwarranted punishment of Russian opposition leaders, human rights activists and independent journalists who fled their homeland rather than support the war of aggression of Putin. Now many of them are stuck in places like Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Israel, Turkey and Cyprus with only short-term tourist visas and limited access to their European credit cards or bank accounts. . Some don’t even have passports or travel documents.
The fate of Dmitry Gudkov is illustrative. Ten years ago, Gudkov was a charismatic young rising star in the Russian parliament. Gudkov opposed many of the Kremlin’s favorite measures, such as the annexation of Crimea and the Anti-Magnitsky Act (which sanctioned a number of US officials and banned US citizens from adopting Russian children). At the time, Gudkov was an elected deputy who sought to move his country toward democracy through peaceful cooperation, not confrontation, with other politicians. Today, however, Putin has shown zero tolerance for any opposition.
So far, the democratic world has not done enough to help Gudkov and his family living in exile in Europe. He could not open a bank account because he is considered a public official of Russia. He and his family entered Cyprus on tourist visas but can only obtain temporary resident status there if they open a bank account. Yet his US bank account has blocked his funds, in accordance with Executive Order 14024, and now requires a special license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control for their release.
Gudkov is a famous opposition leader and a member of the Russian Anti-War Committee, a group of exiled Russian personalities working actively against the war. Thousands of lesser-known Russians who also fled after Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine are facing similar challenges, but with little hope of convincing authorities they deserve access to their cards. credit and bank accounts or to receive visas, travel documents or temporary visas. residence.
These are difficult problems to solve. We shouldn’t grant refugee status to Russians who support or were indifferent to the war, but we certainly shouldn’t punish those who actively resist Putin. It is in the long-term national interest of the US, EU and Ukraine to help those who have chosen exile over acquiescing to Putin’s policies. We must help them foster opposition to the Kremlin – and especially to independent journalists who provide reporting that can come back to Russia, offering urgent alternatives to government propaganda. These Russians may one day return to their country and help push it in a more democratic direction. The free world has every reason to prepare for that day.
To help solve this problem, governments that sanction Russian citizens should create a “Russia Freedom Commission” of independent experts who could make recommendations on exiled Russian activists who need bank accounts, cards credit, travel documents, visas and work permits. The members of this commission could come from the Russian Anti-War Committee, True Russia (another Russian group in exile dedicated to ending Putin’s war), human rights activists from Russia and Ukraine and of democracy-promoting non-governmental organizations that previously operated in Russia and are therefore familiar with the opposition movement. A seal of approval from this committee could help banks, landlords, credit card companies and governments make decisions about these Russians living in exile.
The United States, European Union, Britain, Canada and other democracies must also create special visa programs to actively encourage Russia’s best and brightest to emigrate. Even if these people don’t want to return to Russia anytime soon, we still need to help them. Encouraging the brain drain also undermines Putin’s regime in the long run by depriving the country of vitally needed talent. Russians with special skills who already live abroad should be offered accelerated opportunities to renounce their Russian citizenship and become citizens of their country of residence. Israel and Silicon Valley are just two places that benefited enormously from the first waves of Russian emigration. We should think creatively to facilitate this new wave now.
Sanctions against the Russians in response to Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine are both fair and effective. But we need them to work more fairly to end this war. We should not inadvertently punish Russians willing to risk everything to oppose Putin.