Saturday, August 18, 2018

Russian Activist Living in Ukraine who Helps Kazakh Dissidents Threatened by Astana Agents

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – One of the many unfortunate developments in the post-Soviet space is that agents from one government manage to operate on the territory of another with apparent impunity in an effort to intimidate, harm or even seize and return dissidents to their country of origin.

            This problem typically exists below the radar screen of the host countries or of the West and that makes a new article by Kseniya Kirillova of Radio Svoboda about a Russian activist who fled to Ukraine in 2014 and now helps Kazakh dissidents under threat especially important (

            Aleksey Vetrov formed the Nizhny Novgorod Civic Movement in 2011 to coordinate protests there, she writes.  He also took part in demonstrations in Moscow and elsewhere. That brought him to the attention of the siloviki, and he was slated to be arrested. But he learned about that in advance and fled to Ukraine to seek protection.

            The UN commissar for refugees recognized him as a political refugee, but the Ukrainian government did not give him  that status.  He nonetheless continued his civic activity, first for victims in the Donbass and then for political refugees from Kazakhstan who came to Ukraine in the hopes of protection.

            Vetrov is now a leader of the émigré operations of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, a group Astana describes as extremist because it opposes the same problems in Kazakhstan that dissenters face in Russia: “the absence of rotation in power, total corruption, persecution for dissent, and mass tortures in camps that sometimes lead to deaths.”

            Kazakh opposition figures have protested against all these things, but most of them are now either behind bars or in emigration. The authorities in Astana are increasingly trying to silence those abroad through the use of the Kazakhstan special services, Vetrov tells the Radio Svoboda journalist.

            Kazakh dissidents living in Ukraine have reported that they have been followed and harassed by agents from their homeland and say that they have sought protection from Ukrainian officials but without particular success. In at least some cases, Ukrainian officials may be cooperating with Kazakh ones. (

            The activities of the Kazakh agent network in Ukraine rise and fall with political protests in Kazakhstan. When there are numerous protests, the agents intensify their activities, Vetrov says; when things quiet down now as they have over the summer,  then the agents become less active at least at an observable level.

            Vetrov himself has been the victim of tracking by this agency, and he is worried about his own security in the future. “Because I have been refused official status as a refugee, Ukraine doesn’t guarantee my security,” and the UN program for resettling refugees into third countries was recently closed.”

            “Not having a Russian foreign passport,” he continues, “I myself do not have the opportunity to go to a third country and therefore remain in Ukraine where at the  moment danger clearly threatens.  I am very worried about Kazakhstan special services’ efforts to gain access to information on the computers of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.”

            And that makes him worry about his own future, Vetrov says. After all, he is “a living bearer of this information.”

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