Stop talking to the trolls in Russia and work for a peaceful world | Eduard Kukanov

Sweden’s human rights record has been widely scrutinised in the past two weeks, and the recent revelations have placed a spotlight on the links between Russian prosecutors and groups around the world.

Human rights in Russia: from decriminalising torture to the detentions of opposition leaders | Vladimir Frolov Read more

This week in Stockholm, over 20 organisations put forward a joint statement on human rights, condemning Russia’s criticism of the EU, NATO and the EU delegation in Russia, and supporting the rights activists who bravely confronted Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of the Council of Europe.

The statement also condemned the execution of six Russian human rights defenders in Sochi last year, and voiced concern about the closure of groups and the lack of due process for those affected.

The second reception, a so-called “tourist” visit by Elena Mazepin, the deputy chair of Russia’s Justice and Supreme Court, aimed to reach the more independent Russian-speaking communities of Scandinavia.

During her visit, she interviewed few critics and heavily stressed human rights in her public statements, stressing the need to build independent courts, as well as the importance of human rights defenders. However, at her private meeting with 20 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Handicap International, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, German-Russia Association and Nordic Freedom Alliance, she made at least 17 speeches about “strengthening Russia’s effective judicial system” and denounced various international organisations’ criticism of Russia.

Her attacks were triggered by statements by the US deputy assistant secretary of state during his recent visit to Ukraine, and by the work of the OSCE mission to Sochi on the non-judicial detention of the well-known activist Olga Stepanova.

This pushback to criticism is not just meant to protect the legal system or the ethnic identity of Russians, but to brand those who criticise Russia as “international kakistocrats”. Mazepin suggested that these NGOs were fomenting “new-style Bolshevism” and seeking to “choke the independence of the judiciary” and that “a tiny group of subversive society breeders would like to limit, institutionalise, suppress and destroy the very existence of the Russian judiciary and Russian law enforcement system”.

Her accusations smacked of the accusations used during the Cold War to label Russia’s opponents as foreign agents. For an invitation for Mazepin to visit Sweden was more blatant than the one given to Vladimir Putin to visit 2008. The visit was organised by Russian ambassador Grigory Perkovich.

Indeed, since the beginning of this year, Russia has also been staging international “counter-nazis” events. In other words, Russia is trying to forge alliances with rights groups which are deemed agents of the west as well as with nationalist groups in Ukraine and Belarus.

In June 2018, during the presentation of the surveillance bill, Alexander Golts, a senior member of the Kremlin-backed United Russia party, said there was an aim to “penalise” the “opponents of the rule of law and power structures”.

It is time for rights advocates to be aware of the kinds of conspiracies that serve their interests. The backlash against Russia’s critics from Amnesty International to human rights organisations serving their objectives shows that this reality is a serious one. In fact, Russia’s war against NGOs is not limited to its domestic policy but reaches international circles as well.

The first step is to be aware of these provocations so that we can expose the agenda-driven and supposedly democratic nature of all government actions against civil society. Once the scale of this war is apparent, it will be easier to fight the further impoverishment of civil society.

Eduard Kukanov is a co-chair of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the president of the Russian-speaking population of Scandinavia. He teaches in a Russian language media course at the Sintra University.

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