By the way, it was very dangerous to oppose President Putin in Russia even before the attack on Ukraine. But, since the Russian attack, the process of suppressing the voices of protest has intensified. Even after this trend, what is being done to Vladimir is even harsher.
All the charges against Vladimir are of the Ukraine war and of making statements against President Putin. Yet his lawyer estimates that all these charges may cost him 24 years in prison in Russia.
In one of his letters from the prison cell, Vladimir says, ‘We all are well aware of the dangers of protesting in Russia. But I could not sit still looking at what was happening. Because silence is to be a partner in a way.’
Vladimir felt that he could not survive abroad. He says that ‘I did not feel right that I should keep asking other people to show courage and protest, and keep my political activities abroad sitting safely.’
Evgenia first learned about her husband’s arrest when her lawyer called. These lawyers were tracking their client’s phones.
He used to do this every time his client and friend Vladimir was in Moscow. On 11 April, the last location of Vladimir’s phone was visible to a Moscow police station. After that, the movement stopped.
After many pleas, Vladimir was finally allowed to call his wife. Evgenia lives in America with her children for her own safety. She says that her husband was given just enough time on the phone to say, ‘Don’t worry!
Evgenia smiles today after realizing the absurd reality of her husband’s instructions.
Vladimir and Evgenia were the birth of a policy of openness (perestroika) in the Soviet Union. He grew up in Russia at a time when democratic awareness was spreading in Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
After that, Vladimir studied at Cambridge and along with this he also started his career in Russian politics. He had become an advisor to the young reformer Boris Nemtsov.
Vladimir and Evgenia got married in 2004 on Valentine’s Day. Since then, this is the first time that Mian-Biwi has been separated from each other for such a long time.
Vladimir says that the most painful thing about this imprisonment is that he cannot meet his family. He says that ‘I think about him every day, every moment and I can’t even imagine what situation he must be going through at this time.’
Recently when I met Evgenia in London, she said, ‘I love and hate this man for his loyalty.
She says that ‘Vladimir should have been there with those people who were courageously taking to the streets to protest and were getting arrested.’ Evgenia is referring to Russian citizens who were detained for opposing the war.
She says, ‘My husband wanted to show that you should not be afraid when faced with the devil. I respect him wholeheartedly for this bravery. I admire him.
Vladimir was initially arrested for not listening to a police officer. But, once imprisoned, it was as if a flurry of serious charges were leveled against him.
Vladimir wrote a letter from prison EVGENIA
What did Vladimir say in the Arizona speech?
First, Vladimir was accused of ‘propagating falsehood’ against the Russian army and ‘big leaders’.
The rights organization OVD-Info has gathered information about legal action against more than 100 people under the ‘fake news’ law since the war.
A local councilor, Alexey Gorynov, was sentenced to seven years in prison in July, and the trial of a political activist, Ilya Yashin, is due to begin soon. Ilya spoke about the killing of common citizens in Bucha city of Ukraine.
Vladimir’s case is related to a speech he gave in Arizona, USA. In that speech, Vladimir said that Russia is committing war crimes by bombing residential areas in Ukraine and by ‘bombing maternal and child hospitals and schools.
Evidence related to all these incidents has also been collected independently. However, according to the charge sheet I have seen against Vladimir, Russian investigators have found Vladimir’s statements to be false, as Russia’s Defense Ministry does not allow its military to ‘use prohibited methods during the war’.
Russia’s Defense Ministry also repeatedly emphasizes that ordinary citizens of Ukraine are not ‘on its target’.
However, the ground reality is ignored.
Another allegation against Vladimir is related to a program organized for political prisoners. Political campaigners in Russia call it Russia’s ‘repressive policies.
Last month, a case of treason was filed against Vladimir.
In response to this, Vladimir has responded in his latest letter. He says, ‘Putin’s government wants to project its opponents as traitors…
But the real traitors are those people, who want to sacrifice the well-being of our country, its honor, and its future in the name of increasing their personal power. The traitors are not those who are raising their voices against it.
The treason case that has been filed against Vladimir is based on his three arguments abroad. In one of these, Vladimir also said that political opponents are repressed in Russia.
At the same time, the investigators claim that he was giving a statement on behalf of the Free Russia Foundation in America. This organization is banned in Russia.
‘Advising’ or ‘helping’ a banned foreign organization, considered a threat to Russia’s security, can be called treason in Russia.
However, no confidential information about Russia has been shared.
Vladimir’s lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, talking to me on the phone from Moscow, says, ‘Awkward hal hai. Is there a case of sedition for public speeches? Just to express my opinion. Not for any real crime.
Boris Nemtsov (left) was a friend and mentor to Vladimir (right) EVGENIA KARA-MURZA
How was Vladimir’s family life
Prokhorov says that when Vladimir gave that speech, he had nothing to do with the Free Russia Foundation. He further says, ‘This is a political matter. They also want to tarnish a normal and spontaneous political protest in Russia.
Vladimir himself says that the last time in Russia someone was prosecuted for treason for political opposition, was in 1974, Nobel Prize-winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Vladimir says, ‘I can only say this on the sedition case that I feel honored to be in the company of tall people.’
It is very difficult for Evgenia to remain calm.
However, this is not the first time when she is so scared about her husband’s safety. He has come to the brink of death at least twice, mysteriously poisoned in Moscow.
When he suddenly fell into a coma in 2015, doctors told Evgenia that her husband’s chances of survival were just five percent. But, Vladimir then came out alive from the mouth of death.
Evgenia took care of him and made him healthy again. Helped them learn to work again. She even taught her husband to hold a spoon.
Even then Vladimir insisted on working and used to work on his laptop while sitting on his couch. While at that time Vladimir used to get ill every half an hour.
Evgenia says, ‘As soon as he was able to walk, he packed his sack-bed and reached Russia. This fight is much bigger than their fear.
For Evgenia, this meant sleeping with her phone for seven years. She says, ‘I used to be scared all the time thinking that his or someone else’s call could come anytime because Vladimir himself is not able to talk now.’
Evgenia gave up on trying to stop her husband from going to Russia, all she could do was the protest that Vladimir wouldn’t even let her pack her bags. But, the last time when Vladimir went to Moscow after the start of the war, Evgenia accompanied him to France.
Remembering those days, Evgeniya says while holding back her tears, ‘I wanted to make that journey beautiful. We used to cover long distances on foot on the streets of Paris. Used to talk continuously. Somewhere in the depths of my heart, I had a feeling that what was going to happen next.
Russian President Vladimir Putin REUTERS
After Vladimir’s arrest, Evgenia has taken over his work. Along with raising her voice against the war in Ukraine and political repression in Russia, she also raises the issue of her husband.
This Monday, she is going to inaugurate Boris Nemtsov Place in London. This is the result of Vladimir’s long campaign to honor his friend and mentor. Nemtsov was a prominent anti-political leader of Russia. In 2015, he was assassinated by mercenaries near the Kremlin. The contractor for his murder has not been caught yet.
The street in London, which is named after Boris Nemtsov, is actually a roundabout and is very close to the office of the Russian business delegation at Highgate.
Evgenia says ‘The idea behind naming this square after Nemtsov was actually that whatever car arrived at the big gate of Highgate, the people sitting in it would definitely see the bar of Boris Nemtsov’s name.
Evgenia says that her husband believes that one day there will definitely come when Russia will be different and will be proud of Boris Nemtsov’s name.
Boris Nemtsov worked closely with Vladimir for many years. There was a campaign to persuade Western countries that senior Russian officials and leaders should be banned for human rights violations.
The Russian ruling class was very angry with the success of Boris and Vladimir in this campaign because before that they used to travel abroad comfortably and deposit their illegal earnings abroad.
Once in Moscow, Vladimir told me that he had come to the conclusion that the sanctions imposed by Western countries on the Russians under the Magnitsky Act were the reason behind the attempts to kill Boris and him.
Evgenia is paying a heavy price to replace her husband. But, that same passion has become his strength as well.
She says, ‘I am doing what I should have done so that I can reunite them with my children and this war stops. So that this murderous government can be put at the door of justice.
Even Vladimir imprisoned in jail is not sitting silent.
His long handwritten letters in prison testify that Russia is not always doomed to suffer dictatorship. Nor is every citizen of it a blind devotee of Putin.
How did Vladimir spend time in jail?
Vladimir points to the large number of letters coming to him, which are sent by his supporters from all over Russia. These letters contain attacks on Ukraine and open criticism of the current Russian government.
Vladimir also cites those people who, despite all the risks, are still protesting on the streets. Vladimir appeals to Western countries not to isolate these citizens of Russian society, who ‘want a different future for their country.
He also warns that the war in Ukraine will not end as long as Putin is in power.
Vladimir writes that ‘compromising for Putin is a sign of weakness, which makes the enemy more aggressive. If Putin is given a way out of this war with decent terms, he will open another front in a year or two.
Vladimir says he spends his time in prison exercising, praying, reading books, and writing letters. As a historian, he has a keen interest in those who raised their voice against the regime during the Soviet Union. Now that he is waiting for his trial to begin, he is reading a lot about these rebels.
In his letter, Vladimir writes that at that time the favorite phrase of those Soviet Union prisoners to hit the jam was ‘in the name of the success of their hopeless cause’. But, today we all know that his fight was not even that hopeless.