This article is a reprint. You can see the original at the Kyiv Post.
By Jason Jay Smart
“The grounds for my persona non grata (i.e., formal decision to not allow me to enter the country) from the Russian Federation, in 2010, was per Article 27.1 of the Russian Immigration Law. It dictates that “a foreign citizen” “shall not be permitted to enter the Russian Federation if it is necessary to ensure the defense, or security, of the state…” Why was a mere 24-year-old American awarded this recognition?
Having declined my acceptance to do a PhD at St Petersburg State University, Russia (the alma mater of Vladimir Lenin, Dmitry Medvedev, and Vladimir Putin), I began working with the democratic opposition to the Putin Regime, via a US Government funded organization that supports the fostering of active democracies worldwide. Not surprisingly, the rebirth of democracy in Russia is not something that the Putin dictatorship, having ruled the Kremlin for 22 years, is excited to see.
Back then, many Westerners criticized Putin’s opposition as being a hopeless case as “Putin will die in power.” Using this logic, coupled with “but we do not want to upset the Kremlin,” the United States and European countries have dragged their feet to take the opposition seriously and to finance programs that could make a difference in driving the fate of Russia. Today, the eyes of the West are opening to the international threat of Putin.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has cost billions of dollars in just over four weeks. By contrast, financing for Russia’s democratic opposition is an investment that can produce a high return on investment, including the prevention of future wars.
There are two streams of work that we should vigorously support. First, we should offer direct assistance to organizations such as Garry Kasparov’s Free Russia Forum, which is the only venue for Russian activists to freely meet, and to plan for the construction of a democratic Russia. Events like this are critical so that there is a ready cadre of leaders to take the helm once there is political change in Moscow.
Second, we should increase funding for organizations that provide factual news to the Russian population (i.e., Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Current Time, etc.,). As Putin has turned-off Western social media platforms within his territory, it will be easier for Putin’s “news” services to manipulate the public. However, if we confront the Russian public with the “facts-on-the-ground” of the Kremlin’s corruption and how it wages war against Ukrainian civilians, we will see a decline in support for the Russian authorities.
There are urgent things to be addressed in Ukraine that must be front-and-center, but we ought to also consider the future. What is certain is that while Putin remains in power, there will be no stability. Change within Russia is the key for Ukrainian and Western security, and it is something that we can help to achieve.”