Elections in Turkmenistan Signal the Early Stages of a Political Dynasty

Fran McDonough

Following the resignation of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, snap elections were held in Turkmenistan in early March in which the former President’s son, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, emerged victorious. Although the ballot listed nine candidates in total, the election is believed to have been heavily controlled by the former President. Critics fear that the results indicate the beginning of a hereditary dynasty in Turkmenistan.

In February, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov announced he was stepping aside in order to allow “young leaders” the opportunity to make policy. However, despite state media claiming that the new elections demonstrate the “process of democratization” in Turkmenistan, independent observers are skeptical of the election’s validity. Several in-country sources have alleged corruption at every stage of the election—from the unauthorized delivery of ballots to rampant voter fraud at polling stations across the country.

During his sixteen years in office, President Berdymukhamedov established a veritable leadership cult in which he faced no legitimate opposition and maintained centralized command over the state’s economic and political dealings. Benefitting from his father’s control, Serdar Berdymukhamedov rapidly ascended through a series of political positions beginning in 2016, including deputy foreign minister, industry and construction minister, auditor general, and more.

Based on this history, Serdar Berdymukhamedov’s electoral victory is further solidification of the Berdymukhamedov family’s dominance in Turkmen politics. Serdar pointed to this when he asserted that his “main goal is to continue on the glorious path of development” set forth by his father. Moreover, the elder Berdymukhamedov plans to remain involved in the regime as head of the upper house of Turkmenistan’s parliament.

Although Serdar Berdymukhamedov vows to maintain Turkmenistan’s “neutral” approach to foreign policy as president, the election comes at a trying time for the country as a major exporter of natural gas. With the conflict in Ukraine prompting a global energy crisis, Turkmenistan’s new President will face some tough decisions regarding the country’s economic relationships with Russia and China, and the potential for trade with Western countries.




Alexei Navalny sentenced to nine years in maximum-security prison

Nick Mosher

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 9 years in a maximum-security prison on charges of fraud. Russian authorities claim that he stole $4.7 million of donations made to his organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Navalny is currently in prison serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence after being charged in February 2021 for violating his parole. This alleged parole violation occurred in August 2020, when Navalny was evacuated from Russia to Germany to receive life-saving medical aid after he was poisoned by the FSB.

Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, called the trial a “sham.” The witnesses used against Navalny were reportedly blackmailed by the prosecution to do so.

In reaction to the sentencing and those who are speaking out against it, Navalny tweeted: “The best support for me and other political prisoners is not sympathy and kind words, but actions. Any activity against the deceitful and thievish Putin’s regime. Any opposition to these war criminals.”

When asked about Navalny’s personal safety, Vladimir Ashurkov, the director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that he doesn’t even feel safe in London from Russian Security Services. All the worse for Navalny, Ashurkov warns: “A Russian prison cell is not a secure place—it’s probably the least secure place.”

Ashurkov went on to say that he does not expect Navalny to be free until Vladimir Putin is out of power.

Navalny’s aides worry that his transfer to a higher security prison will inhibit their ability to contact Navalny during his prison term, as well as subject the political prisoner to even worse and more life-threatening conditions.

Russia enacts “fake news” law criminalizing unfavorable coverage of war in Ukraine  

Nick Mosher

On March 4, President Vladimir Putin signed into law new legislation criminalizing “fake news” with punishment of up to 15 years in prison. And who is to be the judge of what is true and what is “fake?” The Kremlin, of course.

The new law specifically prohibits the intentional spread of information about the military and ongoing operations in Ukraine that contradict reports from official government sources. It also prohibits the use of the words “war,” “invasion,” and “attacks” from being used by the media when reporting on Ukraine.

Putin and the Russian government passed an earlier version of this law in 2019 that penalized similar actions; however the sentences for such crimes were meek, only up to 15 days.

The new law has had a major effect on independent media in Russia. News reporting organizations such as Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, Radio Free Europe and more have either suspended operations in Russia or stopped live broadcasting.

The “fake news” law comes in the wake of Russian military failures in Ukraine. While Putin expected to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in two days, the war is now entering its fourth week, with Russia holding no major Ukrainian cities. Russian authorities are now fighting an information war to keep the truth from their own people.

One of the first subjected to new legislation is Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian food blogger after she posted on Instagram that Russian authorities considered “contained knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces.” Belotserkovskaya currently lives in France. Commenting on the charge, she said “[Putin] wants to frame people like me as traitors, the fifth column.”

With a crackdown on independent journalism in the country, the last few remaining sources of actual information that can be provided to Russian citizens are dwindling. This leaves only media stations willing to peddle the propaganda churning out of the Kremlin, inundating Russian citizens with disinformation and false narratives about the war in Ukraine.

Russian propaganda machine breaks ranks

Nick Mosher

Marina Ovsyannikova, a TV editor for the Russian state-owned news station Channel One, interrupted the station’s broadcasting on March 14 to protest the war in Ukraine.

Running onto the set during the nightly news live broadcast, Ovsyannikova held up a sign saying: “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.” The sign also said in English, “No war”—the popular slogan that has spread since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—and was signed in English, “Russians against the war.”

Authorities detained Ovsyannikova shortly after this act and, she says, interrogated for 14 hours allowing no contact with her family or legal help.

The situation highlights a much greater issue within Russia—that of state-controlled propaganda that has intentionally misinformed the Russia population about the ongoing war in Ukraine. State media is lying to the public, making claims such as that the Ukrainian government is carrying out a genocide against ethnic Russians and that Ukrainian forces are bombing their own people. Ovsyannikova herself claims that her own mother is “brainwashed” by this propaganda.

Channel One is one of the most prominent media outlets peddling the Kremlin’s lies. Ovsyannikova admitted to this in the video message she recorded before running onto the set to denounce the war: “Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it… ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people.” OVD-Info, an independent Russian human rights group, released this pre-recorded video immediately following her live protest. In it, Ovsyannikova urged Russians to join anti-war protests: “They can’t imprison us all.”

Ovsyannikova was offered asylum by French President Emmanuel Macron but declined, despite here anxiety over the safety of her children. “I am a patriot; I want to live in Russia,” she said in an interview with ABC News.

Russians flee repression, economic collapse

Warner Speed

Russian citizens are fleeing the country in the hundreds of thousands in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

On March 13, the BBC estimated that as many as 200,000 Russians have left the country since the beginning of the war. Many Russian citizens have crossed into Finland and the Baltic states, while those without European visas have fled to countries who have not yet closed their airspace to Russian flights, such as Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and Serbia. As of March 20, the mayor of Tbilisi reported that 25,000 Russians have arrived in the Georgian capital alone.

Russian émigrés are leaving home largely due to the sharp economic contraction caused by sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, Russia has experienced rising inflation, unemployment, and interest rates, while companies dependent on trade have struggled to adapt to the loss of access to foreign markets.

The Kremlin’s excessive crackdown on anti-war sentiment has driven many Russian citizens out of the country as well. In response to political unrest at home, the Russian government has enacted several repressive measures, including fines and lengthy jail sentences for expressions of anti-war sentiment.

Politico reports that some young Russians have fled the country out of fear that they could be “sent to serve on the front lines” if they speak out against the war or the regime. On March 31, Putin authorized a new draft of 134,500 conscripts, raising fears among some young Russians that they may be forced to fight in a war which they do not support.

Fleeing Russians have thus far experienced a mixed response from those in their new host countries. Armenia has in many ways embraced the exodus, as the Ministry of Economy recently published a guide for Russian businesses relocating to Armenia and instructions for transferring money out of Russian banks using cryptocurrency. Armenia’s openness to Russian capital may hinder Moscow’s attempts to halt an outflow of rubles, but it also allows Russian businesses relocating to Armenia to circumvent certain sanctions.

Georgia, on the other hand, has approached incoming Russian businesses with skepticism. The Bank of Georgia now requires Russian citizens attempting to open bank accounts in Georgia to sign a statement “declaring that Russia is an aggressive occupying power and pledging that they will not spread Russian propaganda.”

Vladimir Putin has seemingly embraced the departure of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens, referring to the exodus as a “natural and necessary cleansing” of Russian society. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has shown signs of concern, as he has proposed economic benefits for businesses and workers in critical industries who choose to stay. The Prime Minister’s actions suggest that Russia’s ongoing brain drain may become a source of disagreement within the Kremlin.

Tensions Continue to Rise in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Region

Fran McDonough

Tajik authorities are cracking down on the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) this month as fallout from the region’s widespread protests in November 2021 continues to impact the already-tumultuous regional situation.

In recent weeks, a number of GBAO residents—including informal local leader Mahmadboqir Mahmadboqirov—have been arrested and charged with “inciting ethnic hatred” in addition to other crimes. These charges are being met with a shared sense of “unease and uncertainty” among GBAO natives, also known as Pamiris, who anxiously await the Tajik government’s “next step against [them].”

Gorno-Badakhshan is a remote Eastern region of Tajikistan home to the ethnically and religiously distinct Pamiri people. Tensions between Pamiris and Tajiks have existed since 1992 when GBAO leaders attempted to gain independence from Tajikistan during the Tajik Civil War. There have been several clashes since, including deadly skirmishes in 2012 and 2014.

In November 2021, anti-government protests broke out again in the GBAO capital, Khorog, following a local man’s death at the hands of regional policemen. In response to the rallies, which left several dead, the Tajik government shut down internet access (both mobile and fixed-line) to the entire region, a move strongly condemned by human rights groups worldwide.

Internet access has remained unavailable since then and the recent arrests have only intensified regional hostilities. In early January, Amriddin Alovatshoev, a GBAO migrant leader living in Russia, was detained by Russian authorities after allegedly organizing protests in Moscow and was held secretly for several weeks.

Although Tajikistan’s Prosecutor General confirmed on February 2 that Alovatshoev was moved into a Tajik holding center, experts and Alovatshoev’s lawyer are calling the three weeks of unaccounted detention a “forced disappearance” on the part of the Tajik government.

Alovatshoev’s family, in coordination with lawyers from the Civil Society Coalition against Torture and Impunity in Tajikistan, have repeatedly requested information on Alovatshoev’s current location since that February 2 announcement but have received none. Without knowing Alovatshoev’s whereabouts, the charges against him, or even his physical condition, some fear Alovatshoev is being mistreated or tortured.




Thousands arrested in Russia protesting war in Ukraine

Nick Mosher

In response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian citizens have taken to the streets across Russia to speak out against the war. Protests can be seen in over 50 cities across Russia as protestors hold up signs and chant the same line: “Нет войне,” meaning “No to war.”

Similar to past protests in Russia, arbitrary arrests and beatings from the police are widespread. Russian law entails that organized demonstrations must apply for a permit 10 to 15 days before the intended date. Police therefore have free rein to arrest peaceful protestors regardless of their actions at demonstrations as these protests are technically unauthorized and illegal. Over 5,000 protestors have been arrested, and videos online show brutal acts by Russian police detaining protestors.

Russian authorities have blocked the use of Facebook and Twitter to obstruct communication among protestors and to stop the spread of unfavorable news on the Ukrainian invasion. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications regulator, announced that the spread of “false” or “unverified” information would be blocked and only information from official sources could be used to report on Ukrainian.  The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Facebook of committing human rights violations after the social media platform partially restricted access to the profiles of the Russian government and certain state-owned media companies.

On February 21, Politico Europe interviewed a Russian woman detained during the demonstrations in St. Petersburg. “There were 15 of us,” she said. “They took away our phones and held us in an enclosed space for 13 hours. It was too small for all of us to be able to sit at the same time, so many had to stand.” Some police stations in Russia have been shut down, enacting “Fortress Protocol”—a tactic used when an attack on the station is deemed imminent that denies individuals detained during protests access to lawyers.  

Despite the sheer size of the protests, President Putin has made no comment on the outrage towards his decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Please consider donating to Liberty Lexington’s Stand with Ukraine Fundraiser. All contributions will be given to non-profit organizations providing relief on the ground in Ukraine. Please use the link below to learn more and contribute. https://uncommongood.io/fundraisers/standwithukraine

Russian dissident Alexei Navalny facing an additional 15 years in prison

Nick Mosher

On February 15, Russia’s most famous dissident, Alexei Navalny, resurfaced from his jail cell in Vladimir, Russia. Navalny has been serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term since February 2021 on charges of violation of parole. This charge—widely dismissed as fabricated—came in August 2020 when he was evacuated to Germany after being poisoned by Russia’s security service, the FSB.

Navalny is now on trial for two additional alleged crimes: embezzlement and contempt of court. Regarding the former, prosecutors claim that Navalny stole $4.7 million of funds donated to his political organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. The second claim is that he insulted a judge during his previous trial. For these two alleged crimes, Navalny could receive 15 additional years in prison.

The trial is being held in a penal colony in Vladimir, a city a few hours away from Moscow by car. The trial is being criticized for its location, with many claiming that it is being held in the penal colony  in order to limit media access and inhibit Navalny’s lawyers, banning them from bringing their laptops into the prison.

In response to this, Navalny argued that these measures are being taken because the Russian government is afraid: “It is just that these people, who ordered this trial, are really scared… Scared of what I say during this trial, of people seeing that the case is obviously fabricated.”

Four witnesses have testified against Navalny, claiming that he stole money they intended to donate to the Anti-Corruption Foundation. Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny’s longtime ally, is accusing the Russian government of coercing these individuals to testify. Two of the witnesses, Zhdanov claims, are being paid by the government to speak against Navalny while the other two are being threatened, one with a ten-year prison time and the other with a tax fraud investigation. Another witness who refused to testify against Navalny claims that prosecutors tried to threaten him into testifying and gave him a script to recite during the trial. Since his refusal, the individual has fled Russia out of fear of retaliation.

Critics claim that the timing of this trial coincides with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in order to distract the public from the ongoing trial.

Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, unjustified war on Ukraine

Lane Johansen

On February 24, Vladimir Putin officially declared war on Ukraine.

The Russian leader, who has been the de facto head of state since January 1, 2000, has been waging a hybrid war on Ukraine for the past eight years. In March 2014, Putin illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and in April sent troops into eastern Ukraine (known as Donbas) to provoke and support a separatist movement there. In May, the two regions of Donbas declared independence as the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (abbreviated as DNR and LNR, respectively).

While the Donbas War has raged since 2014, with occupation forces committing countless ceasefire violations and killing over 14,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians since, tensions escalated substantially last year when Russia amassed nearly 100,000 troops along the border of Ukraine in November 2021. By December, US intelligence began warning that Moscow was preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with up to 175,000 troops.

On February 20, US intelligence reported that Russian forces had received actual orders to invade. The following day, Putin officially recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in an address widely criticized as a blatantly false and propagandistic history lecture that cynically denied the very existence of Ukrainian statehood. Then, not long after recognizing the independence of the DNR and LNR, Putin ordered troops into Donetsk and Luhansk to perform “peacekeeping duties.”

Three days later, in his second fiery and propagandistic address that week, Putin officially declared war on Ukraine—what he termed a “special military operation”—with the stated goal of “protect[ing] people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years… [and] the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.” Only minutes later, attacks began in several parts of Ukraine, including missile strikes in the capital, Kyiv.

The first week of full-scale war in Ukraine has seen shocking escalation and human rights violations by Russia, including indiscriminate shelling and missile strikes in residential areas across the country. On February 27, Putin ordered that Russian nuclear forces be put on high alert, citing NATO’s “aggressive statements” and the West’s rapid and strong sanctions. On March 2, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service reported that more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians had been killed since the full-scale invasion began. That same day, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine dating back to 2013, and the United Nations General Assembly voted 141-5 to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine and demand that Russia withdraw all military forces.

Putin’s war on Ukraine has triggered the swiftest refugee crisis of this century, with the UN reporting on March 2 that over a million people—more than 2% of Ukraine’s population—had fled the country in less than a week. 

Those who remain in Ukraine spend their days and nights in basements, bomb shelters, and subways—most of the country’s civilian population is now underground. In Kyiv alone, some 15,000 are sheltering in the subway. Essential operations have also transitioned to operate underground, including maternity wards; numerous reports have emerged of Russian forces shelling hospitals, Ukrainian mothers giving birth in bomb shelters and metro stations, and makeshift neonatal intensive care units being set up in underground bunkers.  

To follow the war in Ukraine:

English-language coverage from Ukraine: The Kyiv Independent

Western sources: Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bellingcat

Fastest updates: The Kyiv Independent’s Telegram channel

Please consider donating to Liberty Lexington’s Stand with Ukraine Fundraiser. All contributions will be given to non-profit organizations providing relief on the ground in Ukraine. Please use the link below to learn more and contribute. https://uncommongood.io/fundraisers/standwithukraine

European countries receive Ukrainians fleeing their homes as Russia wages war

Jackson Sharman

As the Russian invasion into Ukraine continues, thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing from their homes. European countries prepared for a repeat of what happened in 2014, when a Russian invasion of Crimea forced thousands to leave their homes.

According to the United Nations, more than 350,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled the country a number that is expected to rise in the coming weeks. The refugees were primarily elderly Ukrainians, women, and children. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prohibited men 18 to 60 from leaving the country.

Half of those who have fled are seeking refuge in Poland, while many others have gone to Hungary, Moldova, and Romania. The UN Refugee Agency said there were wait times of up to 40 hours for people entering Poland from Ukraine. Poland and other countries have dropped their requirements of people providing a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter.

Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova all share borders with Ukraine. Ukrainians will likely continue fleeing to these countries, either staying there or eventually moving further west.

Reuters reported that decreasing amounts of cash, fuel, and medical supplies could force as many as five million people to leave Ukraine.

Polish officials were asked to provide details on what facilities they could make available in their towns. Plans include placing refugees in spaces such as hostels, dormitories, and sports facilities.

“This will be an all-hands-on-deck moment for the entirety of Europe,” said Jacob Kurtzer, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In addition to the refugee crisis, Russia will likely try to use the migrants into Europe to sow division among EU countries. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said, “I have no doubt he could seize the refugee flows coming out of Ukraine the same way he’s seized the refugee flows coming out of the Middle East. It’s another way to try to split Europeans from each other.”

If you would like to donate to people in need due to this crisis both in and out of Ukraine, here is a list of verified charities working to help Ukrainians.

Please consider donating to Liberty Lexington’s Stand with Ukraine Fundraiser. All contributions will be given to non-profit organizations providing relief on the ground in Ukraine. Please use the link below to learn more and contribute. https://uncommongood.io/fundraisers/standwithukraine