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Russia: Notable Politicians Arrested Since the 24th of February Invasion

While the lasting Russian invasion to Ukraine brought severe atrocities and pain to Ukrainian society, it also brought an unprecedented wave of crackdown and repression in Russia. On March 5, the Russian government passed a law that bans calling the war a ‘war.’ According to OVD-Info, a Russian watchdog aimed at combatting political persecution, 16,437 people have been arrested since the invasion February 24. Among those, several prominent politicians decided to stay in Russia despite possible persecution. In this brief article, I will outline some of them.

Ilya Yashin

Perhaps, no one has been as politically active in the Russian-speaking world for as long as Ilya Yashin. Currently 39, he came to politics as a first-year Bachelor student of political science at the age of 17. Since the first day of his political activities, Yashin ran for elections at all levels (municipal, regional, and federal) and was open to collaborations with politicians representing various sides of the political spectrum and civil society. He became a member of a youth wing of the centrist liberal Yabloko ‘Apple’ (Яблоко, RE) party and quickly became the chairman of its Moscow branch in 2001 and of the Federal youth wing in 2005. At that point, there were speculations that Yashin would become one of the primary party figures for the upcoming State Duma (Russian parliament) elections in 2007. He was keen on taking initiatives to spark protest movements. For example, he was one of the co-founders of the youth movement called ‘Defense’ (Оборона) in Spring 2005 that organised numerous demonstrations during the 2005–2006 period. It led to deteriorating relations with his party. In 2008, Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Milov, Roman Dobrokhotov, and other prominent Russian political activists founded the Solidarity movement, of which Ilya Yashin was also one of the co-founders. This resulted in his expulsion from Yabloko as he was considered undesirable for the political objectives of Yabloko’s leadership.

In later years, Yashin collaborated with PARNAS (RE), was a member of the Russian Opposition Coordination Council, and along with Alexey Navalny, was one of the main organisers of the Bolotnaya protests of 2011 that sparked after the allegations of electoral fraud in the State Duma elections of the same year. In the timespan of 2017–2021, Yashin was involved in municipal politics and chaired the Council of Deputies of the Krasnoselsky district in Moscow. In addition, he developed his YouTube channel by which he directly addressed his supporters. As of August 2022, Yashin has 1.35 million subscribers. From the beginning, he publicly criticised the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the government passed the law on ‘war censorship,’ he was confident that his arrest would be a matter of time. On June 27, he was sentenced to 15 days for disobeying law enforcement. Consequently, he got charged with spreading fake news about the Russian Armed Forces.

Ilya Yashin // Photo: Sergey Rodovnichenko (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Vladimir Kara-Murza

Vladimir Kara-Murza is one of the most prolific Russian opposition politicians of this century. He has been one of the key figures in such centre-right political parties as the Union of Right Forces (Союз правых сил, СПС) and the Republican Party of Russia – People’s Freedom Party (Партия народной свободы, ПАРНАС). Over the years, he closely collaborated with such names as Boris Nemtsov, Mikhail Kasyanov (PM during Putin’s first term), Yegor Gaidar (one of the authors of Russian economic liberalisation in the 90s), and Alexey Navalny. He is also famous for his countless publications with analysis of Russian politics in the Putin era. Over the last years, he has been active at the Russian Opposition Coordination Council, the ‘Open Russia’ movement, the ‘Free Russia’ foundation, and the Russian anti-war committee. Furthermore, he survived two poisoning attempts in 2015 and 2017. On April 11, 2022, he got arrested in Moscow for ‘spreading false information on Russian military activities in Ukraine’. In late July, he faced a new charge over supporting political prisoners. Currently, he is still in detention and expected to get a 10-year of a prison sentence.

Vladimir Kara-Murza at the place of Boris Nemtsov’s death // Photo: Michal Siergievicz (CC BY 2.0)

Yevgeny Roizman

Slightly less known abroad, Yevgeny Roizman was one of the main headliners in Russian socio-political life. Having spent most of his life in his native Yekaterinburg (the fourth largest city in Russia after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk; also the native city of Boris Yeltsin), Roizman is mainly known for being the mayor of Yekaterinburg for the period of 2013–2018. Prior to that, he was a member of the Russian State Duma. He rose to prominence in the early ’00s as one of the founders of ‘City without drugs’ foundation. The foundation achieved a considerable decrease in drug-related mortality rate by twelvefold. During his mayorship, he continued his efforts to combat violence, drugs, and corruption. He also tried to run for gubernatorial elections in Sverdlovsk oblast (where Yekaterinburg is located) but failed to pass the municipal filter (e.g., to get the approval of incumbent deputies that are from the governing party). Frequently criticised for having right-wing views, Roizman was among those to publicly express his disapproval of the invasion. On August 24, he was detained for ‘discrediting’ the Russian army on his YouTube channel.

Yevgeny Roizman // Photo: Public domain

Leonid Gozman

Leonid Gozman is an experienced politician who participated in critical transformations of Russia in the 1990s. He closely worked with Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais, both prominent names of Russian economic liberalisation policies in the 1990s. Additionally, he worked as a scholar in numerous institutions in the US. After Putin’s rise to power, he was involved in political activity by being one of the leaders of the Union of Right Forces and the Right Cause. Since the annexation of Crimea, he has also been a public critic of Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine.

On July 25, 2022, he was detained by Russian police in Moscow over his alleged failure to inform the authorities about his Israeli citizenship. On August 29, he was arrested for 15 days due to a Facebook post he made in 2020. He stated: ‘Hitler was absolute evil, but Stalin was even worse. The SS were criminals, but the NKVD was even more terrible because the Chekists murdered their own. Hitler unleashed a war against humanity; the communists declared total war against their people.’