Domestic terrorism: massive violations of human rights in Russia (interview with Mikhail Svetov)


The focus of this material is the mass violations of human rights in Russia — the origins and causes of this phenomenon, and how it affects the current situation. It is possible that this material will be the answer to the question of why we should not expect mass riots and protest actions in the Russian Federation against the authoritarian government, which launched a bloody full-scale war against Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The main respondent was an opposition Russian politician and blogger, chairman of the movement «Civil Society», Mikhail Svetov.

Who is Mikhail Svetov?

Mikhail Svetov, who was included in the register of foreign agents by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, is a political analyst and politician who were fascinated by the ideas of libertarianism since childhood. He was able to achieve success in his political career and become a popular blogger. Now Mikhail Svetov is a controversial figure in the ranks of the Russian opposition.

Mikhail Svetov speaks at an opposition rally, 2019. Source:

His position towards Russia’s war against Ukraine: “the war in Ukraine is criminal in itself. It is not necessary to invent genocide in order to condemn it. Moreover, the understanding that war never changes is the best inoculation against revanchism. War is scary. Children and women die in war. War is grief. Always.”

We decided to ask Mikhail a few questions about the human rights situation in Russia. And here’s what we got!

What human rights are violated in Russia now and in recent years?

It’s easier to find which rights are not violated in Russia. That is, open the Constitution [of the Russian Federation — ed.]and just go from top to bottom. And here is each of the points of the guarantee of human rights in Russia. Everything is being violated. The right to freedom of speech is violated, the right to independent, unbiased litigation is violated, and the right to the inviolability of the human body is violated. All the rights that exist in Russia are literally violated because Russia is not a state of law.

Russia is a country that is subject to state arbitrariness and is subject to a very small group of people who have rallied around Vladimir Putin and who fully perceive Russia as just their own fiefdom.

It seems to me that discussing Putin’s Russia in the context of what rights are being violated in Russia is no longer relevant because there are no rights left in Putin’s Russia. Only state arbitrariness remains.

Political repression

Political repressions in Russia are actions of authorities aimed at suppressing political opposition and restricting people’s rights to freedom of expression of their thoughts and views. These actions may include detention, imprisonment, prosecution, prohibition of political activity, and other forms of discrimination.

Putin’s main opponent, Alexei Navalny, has been in custody under strict conditions since 2021. Source: 

In Russia, there is a significant increase in political repression against the opposition and public sector activists. This is evident in cases where prominent political leaders and public figures have been accused and convicted for their actions and words. For example, Alexei Navalny, a prominent opposition leader, was detained on January 17, 2021, and sentenced to three and a half years in solitary confinement for violating the terms of his suspended sentence. Navalny was arrested on his return from Germany, where he was being treated for poisoning, and sentenced to two years in prison for violating the terms of his suspended sentence. In March 2022, Navalny was sentenced to an additional nine years in prison. This sentence was noted by many international human rights organizations as politically motivated.

Other political leaders and activists have also been subject to political repression in Russia. For example, opposition activist Ivan Golunov was detained and charged with possession of drugs.

Police detain Lyubov Sobol, a political oppositionist to Putin’s regime. Source:

Other opposition leaders, such as Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov also became targets of political persecution. This happened because of their active participation in elections and an attempt to fight corruption and abuse of power.

What is your assessment of the current state of political repression in Russia, what has changed in recent years?

Unfortunately, all the consequences of political repression are unfolding before our eyes today. That is, what could still be fought and needed to be fought 4-5 years ago has become a reality today.

Totalitarianism took place in Russia in exactly the same way as it took place in Belarus. And it is not possible today to resist or rally against this well-knit machine of violence.

The only hope for some serious change is the hope that either [Vladimir] Putin will die for one reason or another, or there will be a coup d’état that will undermine the power and open a window of opportunity for society to regain some part of its freedom, some part of political subjectivity.

Blogger Nekoglai was tortured in Russia. In early March 2023, he handed over five drones to the Ukrainian army. Source:×456/65f2f017d0cbdb3f5498610db3263551.jpg

We are witnessing the consequences of political repression in the Russian Federation today. It will get worse further, but how this can be reversed is quite difficult to understand today. The Putin regime of 2023 is only a regime that easily declares war on a neighboring state, which literally razes peaceful cities to the ground and says that this is some kind of liberation action. This is a regime that kidnaps people with all-Russian recognition, tortures them, “puts them on a bottle” [in Russian, this means literally and figuratively the act of rape – ed.], as happened with Nekoglai, and remains absolutely unpunished. What are the consequences? Well, the consequences are such that everyone in Russia today lives in fear and hopes that they will come for their neighbor first, and literally they will come for you last.

How can you help yourself to resist the political repressions of the Russian Federation?

What actions can be taken to resist political repression in the Russian Federation? Probably the only defense that people have left against repression is publicity. And publicity also helped Yuri Khovansky [Russian a musical performer, a scandalous blogger who spent almost six months in a pre-trial detention center – ed.], and Nekoglai, literally at the last moment, to escape from the torture conditions in which they found themselves. And yet publicity did not fully protect them. And people who do not have publicity, who around them cannot raise the necessary level of noise, are absolutely defenseless. We saw this from the investigations of project.

Remember, these creepy videos where people are tortured with a mop, yes, literally raped with a mop. What happened as a result of this investigation? Yes, in general, nothing. Well, someone was fired there, and they announced that some kind of internal investigation had begun, but we did not see any high-profile trials. Therefore, all these conversations like “oh, you just need to choose a good lawyer, you need to build a line of defense, not make any mistakes when communicating with the investigator, and then, like, the court will judge you” — this it’s just a lie. It’s not even manipulation. It’s a deliberate misrepresentation because in Russia there are no legal procedures at all as a phenomenon.

There are simply no rights in Russia, therefore, in general, there is nothing to violate. And what actions can be taken? This is, first of all, publicity; this is probably some kind of individual protest, a time of loners, what I call it. Sabotage on the ground is something that we periodically observe now after the start of the war. But it is impossible to work systematically to counter the regime today in Putin’s Russia. Absolutely in the same way as it is impossible in Belarus of Alexander Lukashenko. And this is also a reality to be reckoned with.

Censorship and restriction of freedom of speech

Russia also has censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly. According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index report, Russia ranks 155th out of 180 countries in the press freedom rating. With the report for 2021, Russia was in 150th place.

In Russia, there are also restrictions on freedom of assembly. According to the report of the Civil Union for the Protection of Human Rights, the authorities often use force to disperse peaceful protests and detain protest participants. For example, during the mass protests that began in Russia in support of the political leader Alexei Navalny on January 23, 2021, more than 3,700 people were detained.

On February 24, 2022, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor for short in Russian —ed.) demanded that the mass media publish only «data from official Russian sources» about the war with Ukraine and threatened fines of up to 5 million rubles and blocking. Data from alternative sources, according to Roskomnadzor, will fall under the article on «distribution of false information». Extrajudicial blocking of materials on this basis was introduced in 2019.

Let we talk about censorship and restriction of freedom of speech in the Russian Federation. What changes occurred in recent years? 

In Russia, there is simply no space left for freedom of speech. If we talk about the changes that took place after the start of a full-scale war, then, let’s say, the censorship that used to apply only to people who spoke about politics, were actively involved in politics or social activities. So, this censorship went down to a lower level, to the level of ordinary society. Today, according to censorship laws, completely random people are already being persecuted for some tweets of political content or critical content in relation to the war that Vladimir Putin unleashed, for insufficient loyalty to the regime.

The loudest story here is probably what happened to Nekoglai, literally a person for a parody TikTok who was stolen from his own apartment, beaten, tortured, intimidated, kept in isolation for two weeks, and deported from the country. Something completely unthinkable a few years ago! Something that a few years ago, if not happening, then only happened to people actively involved in politics. Today, censorship has become total, and it is in the context of the totality of censorship that one should not discuss what is happening in Russia today. That is, no, it doesn’t matter whether you are a politician, a public figure, a prominent person, or an inconspicuous person in Russia today, if you dare to speak out against the war, then something truly terrible can happen to you.

The attitude towards humor has also changed, we just discussed Nekoglai, but a similar story happened a little earlier with Yuri Khovansky, also a blogger, in general, who always believed that his hut was on the edge, that politics did not concern him. At some point, a criminal case was opened against him on terrorism. They put him on the list of terrorists, literally separated by commas, with people who blow up houses, and they began to bully him, and they began to intimidate him. Here he spent eight months in a pre-trial detention center, an absolutely monstrous story. This is a story about censorship in Putin’s Russia.

Mikhail Svetov: «there is simply no space left for freedom of speech»

What consequences can arise from censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech in the Russian Federation, both for journalists and ordinary citizens?

It seems to me that talking about the consequences of persecution due to censorship and restriction of speech in the Russian Federation for journalists, well, this question is simply not relevant in the modern era, yes, that is, there are no independent journalists left in Russia.”

There are people in Russia who continue to work “underground”. Some correspondents make reports from the field and at the same time hide their faces, but there are simply no free media in Russia. Even the media, which would pretend, formally performed such a function. Even Ekho Moskvy, a super-loyal radio station run by a man who is friends with Dmitry Peskov, Margarita Simonyan, and Maria Zakharova, even this radio turned out to be out of place in Putin’s Russia today, was closed, and Alexei Venediktov himself was recognized as a foreign agent.

That is, what are all the consequences that censorship could have for journalists, they have already arisen today, and today censorship, it descends to a wide level. We just talked about Nekoglai, just talked about Khovansky, descends to the level of ordinary people, and there was a high-profile story a few weeks ago that a man was sentenced to years in prison for criticizing the war for discrediting the army. Yes, no politician, no Ilya Yashin, no Alexei Navalny, no, just a person who wrote several critical posts on his social networks, so for ordinary citizens, the totalization of censorship is terrifying, and today Russia has been fully turned by Vladimir Putin into the territory of such a large fear.

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees

In Russia, there is also a problem of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. According to Amnesty International’s 2020 report, ill-treatment of detainees, including beatings and threats of sexual violence, continues in Russia.

How can one assess the current situation with the use of torture and ill-treatment of detention in the Russian Federation?

Well, how can this are assessed, except as sharply negative? This is a reality that gradually, gradually became commonplace. And the longer people ignored it, unfortunately. So, I sounded the alarm throughout some kind of public work.

Before that, we also remember the story of the secret prison, the torture chamber, which was found near St. Petersburg several years ago, there was no investigation. I sounded the alarm that, guys, if you don’t get into politics now, then politics will definitely come to your house, because the strategy is my hut on the edge, and it doesn’t work. All you achieve in this way is that when they come for you, there will be no one to intercede for you.

And today Russia has come, in general, to such a moment. To the moment when no scandal is able to stop the horror that occurs in places of detention, places of interrogation. And even stories like what happened to Nekoglai. As with Yuri Khovansky. It does not provoke any investigation that is, again returning to the answer about human rights. Again, returning to the answer about censorship. Detainees in the Russian Federation have no rights. The right of detainees in the Russian Federation is to suffer, be afraid, tremble, and hope that they will not kill them. There are no other rights left; the repressive apparatus has fully taken place.

The status of a foreign agent

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law on «foreign agents», previously passed by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council.

The law will allow anyone who receives support from abroad or is «under the foreign influence in other forms» without receiving foreign funding to be declared a «foreign agent.»

Russia’s registry of «foreign agents» — a name with Soviet-era undertones — lists «politically active» people and organizations determined by Russian authorities to have received foreign funding and subjects them to strict audit requirements.

According to the law, «foreign agents» were prohibited from teaching in public schools and universities, conducting creative activities at the expense of the budget, participating in procurement under state contracts, and conducting environmental expertise.

In addition, the law introduces the concept of «natural persons affiliated with foreign agents». They include founders, managers, participants or employees of organizations declared «foreign agents».

The State Duma adopted the new law on June 29, 2022 and the Federation Council approved it on July 8, 2022.

In October 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to study the vague criteria of the current law on «foreign agents» so that they «are not abused in any way.»

Putin signed the law four and a half months after ordering the Russian army to invade Ukraine, a move that plunged relations with the West to their lowest point in a decade and accompanied a historic crackdown on dissent inside Russia.

Mikhail Svetov was added to the list of «foreign agents» in favor of Ukraine

Is the status of an agent used to fight dissent?

The status of a foreign agent, it was literally invented in order to fight dissent. In order to fight people who are broadcasting an agenda critical of the Putin regime and the Kremlin. In particular, I myself was named a foreign agent, and a foreign agent in favor of Ukraine.

I remind you that I have never received any foreign funding, especially since I never worked for any Ukrainian structures, and yet the foreign agent was recognized. Why does it? This is done in order to squeeze people out of the country. In order for being in Russia to be associated with real risks of criminal prosecution, I remind you that if you do not fulfill the requirements of the status of a foreign agent, that is, do not mark all your publications, the information that they were written by a foreign agent, do not fill out an income declaration every six months, very quickly criminal proceedings may be initiated against you.

Now, of course, all this makes people keep quiet because they know that it will break their lives, which is why most foreign agents leave the country, and those who remain, in general, behave much more carefully, much more quietly. Because they simply expect to wait out this nightmare in the hope that a thaw may occur at some point. As it happened, for example, in the Soviet Union.

Therefore, yes, in practice you are obliged to fulfill a huge number of absurd requirements, requirements that often exist so that you cannot fulfill them. And so that if you wish, you can start a criminal case at the click of a finger. Therefore, foreign agents are leaving Russia.

What organizations and groups are engaged in the protection of the rights of detainees in the Russian Federation and what role do they play in the struggle for the rights of detainees?

The question, it seems to me, is not relevant today. Yes, some organizations are still eking out an existence: Agora or OVD-Info. They are continues to talk about some political detentions, about detentions for words. But these organizations de facto do not have any levers of pressure on the authorities in Russia today. And even pressure through international institutions.

We remember that Russia has ceased to recognize the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, and even in order to send its complaint to the European Court, now it is still required to pay for the work of judges there, because Russia no longer pays for the work of judges in the ECHR since it left this organization. Therefore, organizations help people in trouble to evacuate, this is probably the only thing they can really do today.

To suppress the protests of citizens in the Russian Federation, there is an extensive and numerous system of repressive police structures

If a person still has the opportunity to leave the country, people who are completely in trouble are helped by the media. But there are no systemic ways to help, as in Europe, as it happens in the USA. There is no organization in Russia that could stand up for people who are being tortured and achieve some kind of justice because in Russia everything is subordinated to law enforcement agencies.

Violence and discrimination

In Russia, violence takes many forms, including domestic violence, law enforcement violence, and violence by nationalist and racist groups.

Domestic violence is one of the most common forms of violence in Russia. According to the Levada Analytical Center report, in 2019 in general, 24% of respondents know about the use of physical force (beating, blows) in families among their environment, including their own. Every fourteenth resident of Russia (7%) witnessed domestic violence in their parents’ family, and every twentieth (5%) practices or becomes the object of violence in their own family. Given the sensitivity of the topic of violence for the interview format, it can be assumed that these figures in both cases could be even higher.

Law enforcement violence is another serious problem in Russia. According to the report of the Public Union for the Protection of Human Rights, over 7,000 deaths from violence committed by law enforcement officers were registered in Russia between 2010 and 2019.

Nationalist and racist groups that promote intolerance towards other nationalities and religions are also active in Russia.

There is also a problem of discrimination in Russia. According to Amnesty International’s 2020 report, there are legal and practical restrictions in Russia that limit the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. There are also restrictions on the rights of women, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, and national and religious minorities in Russia.

Mikhail Svetov’s opinion

I would not single this out as a separate problem, because in Russia everyone is equally subject to discrimination and repression.

That is, yes, there are some separate discriminatory laws, in particular, directed against LGBT people, but for the sake of justice. You don’t have to be LGBT to be tortured in prison. You don’t have to be LGBT to have your door cut out, or jailed on some far-fetched pretext.

Therefore, yes, at some point, LGBT people turned into such media bogeymen, where they are used as a scapegoat. That is, in any case, they simply try to make society the enemy. But in practice, why was Nekoglai LGBT? Or maybe Yura [Khovansky] was LGBT? Or maybe Alexei Navalny? Or Ilya Yashin? No, no, we just live in a society of total fear in which different groups of people are periodically appointed as enemies, and some kind of persecution begins against them.

Russia is equally repressive towards everyone. I would not single out any one group, because it is impossible to single out. The discriminatory law is applied with the same success against Russian nationalists.

How many Russian nationalists have served time in prison? From Demushkin [Dmitry Demushkin – ed.] to Tesak [Maxim Martsinkevich — ed.], who were literally tortured. We just talked about torture. The man who was killed in prison. And there was no investigation either.

Nationalist organizations were destroyed several years ago, long before the war. And the fact that today the state is served under the guise of nationalism. And what the West is happy to broadcast as a nationalist agenda is, in fact, not a nationalist agenda at all. This is an agenda of total loyalty to the Kremlin and loyalty under red flags.

Therefore, I would not say that discrimination against certain groups is taking place in Russia, because no, in Russia there is simply a construction of a totally repressive state, which equally represses everyone who dares to speak even a word against those norms, which are planted by the Kremlin.


Recent years, and especially the situation of the last year, testify to massive violations of human rights in Russia. This applies not only to political activists, journalists, and opposition politicians but also to ordinary citizens who try to express their opinions.

One of the first demonstrations against the Russian attack on Ukraine in Lithuania, February 27, 2022. Source:×425.jpg

Banning the activities of some political parties and public organizations, restricting freedom of speech and mass media, and launching a propaganda campaign against dissidents — all this shows that Russia does not adhere to the standards of democracy and freedom. Isn’t this proof that Russia is a country that acts by terrorist means, both in its own country and outside its borders?

P.S. In the end of November, 2022 European Parliament declares Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Danylo Kondysiuk

Views: 771