Title

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Bill Browder, Putin Enemy No. 1
GQ
Sean Flynn
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The harrowing tale of Bill Browder—how an American-born businessman became an enemy of the Russian state, how he has to live in constant fear, never knowing if the long arm of the Kremlin will snatch him, or kill him—is its own kind of daily terror. But what Browder’s story tells us about the way Vladimir Putin operates, and what he might want from this country, should scare us all.

William Browder took his family on vacation in July, though he won't say where because that is one of those extraneous bits of personal information that could, in a roundabout way, get him bundled off to a Siberian prison or, possibly, killed. For eight years, he's been jamming up the gears of Vladimir Putin's kleptocratic machine, a job that seems to often end in jail or death, both of which he'd very much like to avoid. He'll concede, at least, that his leisure travels took him from London, where he lives, through Chicago, where he changed planes. As he walked through a terminal at O'Hare, he got a call from a New York Times reporter named Jo Becker.

"Do you know anything," she asked, "about a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya?"

Browder stopped short. "Yes," he said. "I know a lot about her."

One of the most important things he knew was that Veselnitskaya had spent many dollars and many hours trying to convince Washington that Browder is a criminal. More than a decade ago, Browder was the largest individual foreign investor in Russia, managing billions in his hedge fund. Then, in 2009, one of his attorneys was tortured to death in a Moscow jail after exposing a massive tax fraud committed by Russian gangsters. His name was Sergei Magnitsky, and Browder has spent the years since trying to hold accountable anyone connected to Sergei's death. The most significant way is through the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a 2012 U.S. law that freezes the assets and cripples the travel of specific Russians, many of whom have allegedly laundered millions of dollars in the West.

The Kremlin hates that law. Putin's hold on power requires the loyalty of dozens of wealthy oligarchs and thousands of complicit functionaries, and their loyalty, in turn, requires Putin to protect the cash they've stashed overseas. Putin hates the law so much that he retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children—yes, by holding orphans hostage—and has said that overturning the Magnitsky Act is a top priority.

That's where Veselnitskaya comes in. As a lawyer, she represented a Russian businessman trying to recover $14 million frozen by the Magnitsky Act. More important, she was involved in an extensive 2016 lobbying and public-relations campaign to weaken or eliminate the act, in large part by recasting Browder as a villain who conned Congress into passing it. That was not empty political spin for an American audience: The Russians really do want Browder in prison. In 2013, a Russian court convicted him in absentia (and Sergei in his grave) of the very crime Sergei uncovered and sentenced Browder to nine years in prison. Later, it got worse. In April 2016, Russian authorities accused Browder of murdering Sergei—that is, of killing the person on whose behalf Browder had been crusading, and who the Russians for seven years had insisted was not, in fact, murdered.

The campaign was oafish yet persistent enough that Browder thought it wise to compile a 26-page presentation on the people behind it. Veselnitskaya appears on five of those pages.

"I've been trying to get someone to write this goddamned story," Browder told Becker on July 8. "She's not just some private lawyer. She's a tool of the Russian government."

But why, Browder wanted to know, was Becker suddenly interested?

"I can't tell you," she said. "But I think you'll be interested in a few hours."

Browder flew off to the place he won't name, switched on his phone, and scrolled to the Times website. He drew in a sharp breath.

He exhaled. F***.

Donald Trump Jr. told the Times that the June 9, 2016, meeting had been about adoptions, which demonstrated either how out of his depth he was or how stupid he thought reporters were. If Veselnitskaya had been talking about adoption, she of course had been talking about the Magnitsky Act.

Which meant she'd also been talking about Bill Browder.

He read the story again, closely. Browder wasn't sure what the implications were. But if he'd known about it in real time—that the staff of a major-party presidential candidate was listening intently to those who accuse him of murder and want him extradited and imprisoned—he would have been terrified.

"Putin kills people," Browder said to me one afternoon this autumn. "That's a known fact. But Putin likes to pretend that he doesn't kill people. So he tends to kill people he can get away with killing."

Browder did not say this as if it were a revelation. (And technically it's an allegation that Putin has people killed, albeit one so thoroughly supported by evidence and circumstance that no one credibly disputes it.) Rather, he told me that by way of explaining why he was telling me anything at all: The more often and publicly he tells the story of Sergei Magnitsky, the less likely he'll be to get poisoned or shot or tossed out a window, which has happened to a number of Putin's critics. If anything does happen to him, he reasons, the list of suspects would be short.

He spoke softly, methodically, though with great efficiency; not scripted, but well practiced. We were in the conference room of his offices in London. Afternoon light washed through a wall of windows, threw bright highlights onto his scalp, sparked off the frame of his glasses. Browder is 53 years old, medium build, medium height, medium demeanor, and was wearing a medium-blue suit. He does not look like a threat to Russian national security, which the Kremlin declared him to be 12 years ago. Still, there is a hint of steel, something hard and sharp beneath all of the mediumness; if he confessed that he'd served in the Special Forces, it would be a little surprising but not shocking.

It was late September, and Donald Trump had been president for 248 days. In the weeks after the election, Browder was "worried and confused." Trump has a creepy habit of praising Putin, but he'd also surrounded himself with Russia hard-liners like General James Mattis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo—secretary of defense, ambassador to the United Nations, and director of the CIA, respectively. Browder war-gamed the Magnitsky Act but didn't see any way that Trump could kill it—Congress would have to repeal the law—only a chance that he might refuse to add more names to the target list. (Five people were added to the list last January, bringing the total to 44.) He figured the same was true with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which President Obama signed shortly before leaving office, expanding the targeted-sanctions tool to human-rights abusers worldwide. The Russians hate that law, too, because having "Magnitsky" in the title reminds the entire planet where the standard was set and by whom.

The first months of the new administration unspooled, spring into summer. Trump's flirtation with Putin persisted, but with no practical effect. "The Russians got nothing," Browder said. Congress, in fact, imposed its own sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election, cutting Trump out of the loop entirely. "I watch this like a hawk," Browder said, "and so far they've gotten nothing. There's not a single piece of Russian policy that's gone Putin's way."

But then, in July, the Times reported that Veselnitskaya had met with Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager at the time, in June 2016. That shifted the calculus. "America has been my staunchest ally," Browder said. "It wasn't an assumption but a question: Had they flipped my biggest ally?"

That was still an open question when we met in London. Much more had been reported about Trump and Russia. Other contacts and communications were known, and details kept evolving, an endless, sloppy churn of information. There was more, too, about the meeting with Veselnitskaya, which happened two weeks after Trump secured the nomination: It was attended by eight people in all, including Rinat Akhmetshin, who is usually described as a former Russian military-intelligence officer, though that generously assumes that any Russian spook is ever fully retired from the spy game. Browder has another PowerPoint presentation on him. Additionally, Manafort's notes on the meeting reportedly mentioned Browder by name.

This is all bad. "They were in a meeting to discuss Bill Browder, the Magnitsky Act, and how to get the Magnitsky Act repealed," he said. "Now, what [the Russians] were offering in return, we don't know. But if it had just been a courtesy meeting, only one of [the Trump team] would have showed up."

Maybe no one will ever know what, if anything, the Russians offered. But there's no doubt what they wanted, and how badly. In a four-page memo prepared for the meeting by Veselnitskaya (and later obtained by Foreign Policy), the Magnitsky Act was inspired by "a fugitive criminal" who ripped off the Russian treasury and then went on a worldwide publicity tour to, apparently, cover it up. "Using the grief of the family of Magnitsky to his own advantage, Browder exposes them as a human shield to distract attention from the details of his own crime," she wrote. Passage of the Magnitsky Act, moreover, marked "the beginning of a new round of the Cold War."

That is an assertion as grandiose as it is belligerent. And yet it is not wholly inaccurate. To understand why the Kremlin is so perturbed, it helps to understand Bill Browder. In many ways, he is the Rosetta Stone for decoding the curious relationship between the Trumps and the Russians.

Browder's grandfather Earl was a communist. He started as a union organizer in Kansas and spent some time in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, where he married a Jewish intellectual and had the first of his three sons, Felix. The family moved to Yonkers in 1932, where Earl became secretary general of the Communist Party USA. He ran for president twice, in 1936 and 1940, and Time magazine put him on its cover in 1938 above the headline COMRADE EARL BROWDER. His fortunes fell in 1941, when he was convicted of passport fraud. His four-year sentence was commuted after 14 months, and he was released into relative obscurity until the 1950s, when he was harassed by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Bill's grandmother steered her boys away from politics and toward academics, in which they wildly overachieved. Felix enrolled at M.I.T. at the age of 16, graduated in two years, and had a Princeton Ph.D. in math when he was 20. He met his wife, Eva, at M.I.T., a Jewish girl who'd fled Vienna ahead of the Nazis and spent her teenage years in a tenement with her impoverished mother.

Felix and Eva had two boys. Their first, Thomas, took after his father: University of Chicago at 15, doctoral student in physics at 19. Their second, Bill, did not. He liked to ski and smoke and drink. He got kicked out of a second-tier boarding school and barely got into the University of Colorado, which was fine with him because it was a notorious party school. By his account, he spent his formative years rebelling against everything his leftist-intellectual family held sacred.

"Rejecting school was a good start, but if I really wanted to upset my parents, then I would have to come up with something else," he wrote in his 2015 book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice. "Then, toward the end of high school, it hit me. I would put on a suit and tie and become a capitalist. Nothing would piss off my family more than that."

He started studying, transferred to the University of Chicago, got into a two-year pre-MBA program at Bain & Company, in Boston. He parlayed that and an essay about Comrade Earl Browder—from communist to capitalist in two generations!—into a seat at Stanford. Out of genealogical curiosity, he began thinking about Eastern Europe. "If that's where my grandfather had carved out his niche," he wrote, "then maybe I could, too." He got a job with a consulting firm and moved to London in August 1989. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled. Eastern Europe was wide open for business.

His first account was consulting for a Polish bus manufacturer that was bleeding cash. It was miserable work in a miserable little city, but while he was there his translator explained the financial tables in the local newspaper. With the fall of communism, nationalized companies were being privatized and their stocks were offered at fire-sale prices: A company with $160 million in profits the previous year had a stock valuation of only $80 million.

Browder invested his entire savings, $2,000, in Polish stocks. He eventually walked away with $20,000. He'd found his niche.

By 1993, he was in Moscow, investing in staggeringly undervalued stocks: He invested $25 million and turned a $100 million profit. With money that good and almost no Western competition, Browder, in 1996, raised enough cash to open his own fund, Hermitage Capital.

Over the next decade, Hermitage did exceptionally well. The downside, though, was that the economy wasn't transitioning from communism to capitalism so much as it was devolving into gangsterism. Corruption was endemic. A handful of oligarchs looted and swindled at their leisure. Browder countered by positioning himself as an activist shareholder; he and his staff would piece together who was ripping off what, name names, try to impose a modicum of order on a lawless system.

When Vladimir Putin rose to power, Browder believed he was a reformer eager to purge the kleptocracy. In 2003, for example, Putin arrested the country's richest man, oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, charged him with fraud, and displayed him in a cage in a courtroom until his inevitable conviction. In the context of the time, many critics saw the ordeal as a capricious show trial orchestrated by an authoritarian thug.

Not Browder. "I would trust Putin any day of the week," he told The Washington Post in early 2004. "It's like being in a lawless schoolyard where there's bullies running around and beating up all us little people, and then one day a big bully comes along and all the little bullies fall into line. That's what the state is supposed to be—the big bully."

But Putin, he discovered, wasn't pushing for good corporate governance. He was taking over the rackets. Putin put Khodorkovsky in a cage for the same reason Vito Corleone put a horse's head in Jack Woltz's bed: to send a message. Oligarchs could steal, but they had to pay tribute.

Oligarchs no longer needed to be named and shamed; they needed to be kept in line and to keep earning. At that point, an activist shareholder like Browder became an expensive nuisance. Browder was kicked out of the country on November 13, 2005.

For a while, he thought the Russian bureaucracy had made a mistake by canceling his visa, confusing him with someone else, perhaps, or misfiling some paperwork. He enlisted the help of British diplomats—Browder had been a British citizen since 1998—to no avail. There had been no mistake. Browder had been declared a threat to Russian national security.

Hermitage Capital remained in business, though, its office run by Browder's staff while he oversaw operations from London. But in Moscow, the pressure only increased. In June 2007, security forces raided Hermitage and the office of the law firm it employed. They carted away computers and files and, interestingly, all the corporate seals and stamps. At first, none of that made sense.

But then Sergei Magnitsky, a 36-year-old Muscovite who handled tax matters for Hermitage, started digging around. He eventually discovered three of Hermitage's holding companies had been used by Russian gangsters to swindle $230 million in tax rebates. It was a straight-up robbery of the Russian treasury. The scam wasn't unheard of, except the amount was perhaps the largest such tax fraud ever uncovered in Russia.

Browder and his staff reported the theft to the authorities and the media in the summer of 2008. They even named suspects, including some of the security officials who'd earlier been involved in the office raids. Nothing happened. Then, a few months later, on November 24, 2008, Sergei was arrested at his home.

He was held for nearly a year in various prisons, overrun with rats and damp with sewage. According to complaints Sergei wrote, he was fed porridge infested with insects and rotten fish boiled into mush. He contracted pancreatitis and gallstones but was refused treatment. Yet he was repeatedly told he would be released if he would recant his allegations and, instead, implicate Browder as the mastermind of the tax scam. He refused every time.

Almost a year after he was arrested, desperately ill, Sergei was handcuffed to a bed rail in an isolation cell. Eight guards beat him with rubber truncheons. A little more than an hour later, he was dead.

Before Sergei was killed, Browder had been lobbying anyone he could think of to pressure the Russians into releasing his accountant. One of the agencies he approached in the spring of 2009 was the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency in Washington that monitors human rights in 57 countries, including Russia.

Kyle Parker, one of the Russia experts there, wasn't interested. He knew who Browder was—the money manager who'd championed Putin, the guy who'd made the rounds of Western capitals a few years earlier trying to get his visa restored. He assumed that's what Browder was still after. "Not gonna be able to make it," he e-mailed a colleague scheduling the meeting. "Unless much has changed, I see this meeting as info only and would not support any action on our part."

He eventually met with Browder, though, and he listened to the story of Sergei. Parker understood, but it didn't seem especially uncommon. "I was thinking: Why is Bill trying to suck us into a pissing match between competing criminal groups?"

Parker didn't even include Sergei in a 2009 letter to Obama highlighting the commission's most pressing concerns.

After Sergei had been killed, Browder went back to the Helsinki Commission.

Parker told him how sorry he was. He told him that he cried when he heard Sergei was dead, that he read about it through teary eyes on the Metro, riding the Red Line home to his wife and kids. He said he was going to help.

"Here you have this Russian hero almost of a literary quality in Sergei Magnitsky," Parker told me. "He wasn't a guy who went to rallies with a bullhorn and protested human-rights abuses in Chechnya. He was a bookish, middle-class Muscovite. I see Sergei metaphorically as that Chinese guy standing in front of the tanks, but with a briefcase. He provided an example for all the other Russians that not everybody goes in for the deal, not everybody is corrupt, not everybody looks the other way when people are swindled."

What Browder wanted was some form of justice for Sergei, though what form that would take was unclear. He'd researched his options for months. The Russians weren't going to prosecute anyone—officially, Sergei died of heart failure. There was no international mechanism to hold Russian nationals criminally accountable in another country. "Eventually," Browder said, "it became obvious that I was going to have to come up with justice on my own."

He outlined a three-pronged approach. One was media, simply getting Sergei's name and his death and the reasons for it into the public consciousness. He talked to reporters, and he produced a series of YouTube videos, short documentaries on the people allegedly involved in Sergei's death.

The second was tracing the money. "They killed him for $230 million," Browder said, "and I was going to find out where that money went." It was parceled out to dozens of people, tucked away in Swiss accounts and American real estate and Panamanian banks, some of it held by proxies; part of it allegedly ended up in the account of a Russian cellist who happened to be a childhood friend of Putin's. By mining bank transfers and financial records, Browder and his staff have accounted for much of it, including $14 million allegedly laundered by a Cypriot company into Manhattan property. (The Justice Department froze those funds in 2013 but settled with the company, Prevezon, last summer for $5.9 million. Prevezon's owner, a Russian named Denis Katsyv, is represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya. The case did not allege that he had any role in Magnitsky's death.)

The final prong was political. Browder had heard about an obscure regulation that allows the State Department to put visa restrictions on corrupt foreign officials. But in the spring of 2010, the Obama administration was attempting to normalize relations with Russia—a "reset," as Obama famously put it. People die horrible deaths every day, and it's terrible and it shouldn't happen. But Russia is also a large country with a significant sphere of geopolitical influence and a lot of nuclear weapons. In that context, a dead middle-class tax lawyer wasn't relevant.

But what if, Parker suggested, they went to Congress? What if the legislature, rather than the administration, took action?

That was also a long shot. Getting any law passed is difficult, let alone one the administration opposes. But Browder told Sergei's story to congressional committees and individual senators and congressmen, and he kept telling it until the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law 11 days before Christmas 2012.

The act originally named 18 Russians, including bureaucrats implicated in the original scam; investigators Sergei had accused of being involved and getting a cut of the $230 million; jailers who tormented him; and two alleged killers. As more of the stolen money was traced, more names were added to the list. Everyone on it is banned from entering the United States and, more damaging, cut off from the American banking system. That has a ripple effect: Legitimate financial institutions all over the world monitor the Treasury Department list of sanctioned individuals and are loath to do business with anyone on it. "That's what people hate about it the most," Browder said. "It makes you a financial leper."

And that matters to Putin, Browder maintains, because the Russians on the list are not independently wealthy, like, say, Bill Gates or Richard Branson. "They're dependently wealthy," he said. "They're dependent on Putin." If the deal is that corrupt Russians can keep their cash in return for their loyalty, the Magnitsky Act is an enormous thorn in Putin's side. If he can't protect anyone's pilfered money, what's the point of loyalty? Putin surely understands that, because he was so transparently rattled: Taking orphans hostage is not the reasoned reaction of a man merely annoyed.

Browder initially wanted to call the law the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act. But Parker never took to that. "Banning some corrupt officials from coming here isn't even close to justice," he said. "But it's a legislative monument to Sergei Magnitsky until one day Russia builds a stone monument to him. Because I have no doubt he'll be seen as the Russian patriot and hero that he was."

Not quite three weeks after the Times broke the story of Veselnitskaya lobbying the Trump campaign to get rid of the Magnitsky Act, Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about, primarily, how Russian operatives wield influence and frame their propaganda. Eight years after he'd started targeting a handful of Russian crooks, Browder was suddenly very relevant to a much larger political storm.

He flew home to London after he testified but had to return to the United States in early August. He checked in at an airline counter in Heathrow but was told there was a problem with his visa. He'd been flagged by Interpol, which had issued a red notice on him. It's basically an international arrest warrant, and it was the fourth requested by the Russians for Browder. Technically, a member nation is supposed to extradite him to the country that asked for the notice. But the British, along with other sensible Western nations, stopped taking Russia's attempts regarding Browder seriously years ago.

In the end, it was only an inconvenience. But what if he'd been in, say, Finland when that notice popped up? The Finns are fine people, but they also have a 500-mile border with Russia. Would letting Browder go be worth risking an international incident with a bigger, more aggressive neighbor? He can make a reasonable case that, no, he would not be worth it. "I'm very realistic about who's coming to my defense," he said. "I am my defense."

So he's careful. He avoids countries that might be friendly to Putin. Much of the Third World is out. So is Hong Kong. He'd be fine in Japan, but only if he didn't fly over Russian airspace. What if the plane has trouble and makes an emergency landing in Novosibirsk? That's where Khodorkovsky was seized and hauled off to a cage.

Even in London, he's cautious. He won't talk about his family or where he lives. He varies his schedule and his route to work every day. He doesn't eat in the same restaurant twice in succession, or in any restaurant with predictable frequency; Russian agents have reputedly twice poisoned dissidents in London. He told me the British government has rebuffed at least a dozen requests to extradite him, and American intelligence has warned him that Russian agents planned to grab him off the street.

Years ago, a Russian living in London came to Browder's staff with information about certain wealthy, corrupt people in Moscow. He was cagey and shifty and, at first, it seemed like he might be a Russian agent trying to plant false clues. But his information checked out and Browder learned who he really was. His name was Alexander Perepilichnyy, and he was nervous because he believed he was on a Russian hit list.

On November 10, 2012, Perepilichnyy dropped dead in front of his house in Surrey. There was no obvious cause of death—no heart attack or stroke or aneurysm—and an inquest wasn't opened until last June. Perepilichnyy wasn't a well-known dissident, so no one thought to take a hard look when he died. "They got away with it," Browder said, meaning the Russians. "That's a perfect example of why you don't want to be an anonymous guy who drops dead."

So Browder is deliberately not anonymous. He does not live in cloistered fear. When a car service got confused trying to pick him up for a photo shoot—definitely a way to not be anonymous—we took the Tube a few stops, then walked through Kentish Town to the studio. There was no security, just two men wandering around London. He has hobbies that he asked I not name, but none of them are solitary or sedentary. "One thing I can tell you," he said, "with the threat of death hanging over you, you live life to the fullest." He laughed a little.

In this new version of his life, Browder is still most often referred to as a financier, but that's only marginally true. He gave all his investors their money back, and manages only his own now. Justice for Sergei—and aggravating Putin—is his full-time job. His staff of 11 tracks money launderers, deciphering which flunky is fronting for which oligarch, sniffing out the rest of that $230 million. He lobbies other governments to pass their own versions of the Magnitsky Act. The United Kingdom has one, as does Estonia. Lithuania is close, and Canada passed one in October. "Unconstructive political games," Putin told a Canadian interviewer immediately after, orchestrated by "the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name."

And Putin wasn't finished. A week later, Russia slipped another red notice into Interpol's system. For the second time in three months, Browder was temporarily barred from entering the U.S. It's relentless, Putin clawing at him, thrashing. "Their main objective is to get me back to Russia," he said. "And they only have to get lucky once. I have to be lucky every time."

"Everything Bill's done has cost him tremendously," Parker said. "It's cost him money, restricted his personal freedom. And he didn't have to. He was out of Russia. He could have done what many did and walked away. Bad things happen, right? But here's a guy who's proven whatever he needed to prove to himself. He made his money. Now here's a way to find meaning. It's also a debt of honor."

No, it's more than that. "It's penance," Browder said. Sergei Magnitsky was an ordinary Muscovite who happened to work for an American who annoyed Vladimir Putin. "Sergei was killed because of me. He was killed instead of me." He let that hang there a moment. "So, yeah, it's all penance."

Sean Flynn is a GQ correspondent.

This story originally appeared in the December 2017 issue with the title "Putin Enemy No.1."

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    On November 4, 1986, the 35 signatory nations to the Helsinki  Final  Act convened in Vienna for the third follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the six weeks that followed the opening of the Conference, there was a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document, along with discussion about the next phases of review of the Helsinki process. The United States delegation to the Vienna Review Meeting made significant contributions in detailing the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in their many speeches in both the plenary sessions and in various subsidiary working groups.  

  • List of Organizations Involved in Exchange Programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

    The Commission developed this report to help in­terested persons and organizations participate in exchange pro­grams with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It lists organizations which conduct exchange programs and other contacts with these countries. The parties to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declared their intention to expand cooperation in security, economic, humanitarian, information, culture, and education affairs and to respect and put into practice certain basic principles, including those of human rights. The Final Act was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by 35 heads of state or govern­ment, including the United States, Canada, and every state in Europe except Albania. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsin­ki Commission) was created as an independent government agency in 1976 to monitor compliance with the Final Act and to encourage U.S. governmental and private programs to expand East-West eco­nomic and cultural cooperation and exchange of people and ideas. In the Final Act, the signatories express the view that cultural exchanges and development of relations in education and science contribute to the strengthening of peace, better mutual under­ standing, and enrichment of the human personality. In the Com­ mission's view, exchange programs with the Soviet bloc countries break down barriers and lessen distrust. They help Americans learn about the views and goals of these societies. Such programs help expose the peoples of these countries to the values and goals of our pluralistic society. Critical to such programs is that Americans are given the opportunity to tell the Soviets and their allies on a personal level about their concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE)

    In this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer presided over, took place on the heels of the Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE). Concerning the conference, Chairman D’Amato stated, “This package of confidence- and security-building measures is designed to bring about greater openness with respect to European security and reduce the risk of war.” One of the main aspects of this “package” was the first inclusion of provisions for onsite inspection in an East-West agreement. The conference had large implications for the Helsinki process. For instance, one named concern was that security could overshadow human rights. The witness (Ambassador Barry) did say, though, that the conference could, if properly implemented, reduce the risk of war in Europe, contribute to greater security and openness, and lead to improved East-West relations. 

  • Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the CSCE

    This hearing focused on the Vienna Meeting and narratives in previous meetings in Belgrade and Madrid. These meetings centered on the U.S.S.R.’s persistent publicity about the true nature of the Soviet system, in particular regarding the role it played in the reversal of the Soviet image in Western Europe in the early 1980's. Due to Soviet improper compliance with OSCE rules and statues, such as detaining Helsinki monitors, the Vienna Meeting focused on strengthening the relevance and effectiveness of the Helsinki process to improve efficacy on progress.

  • The Miroslav Medvid Incident

    On October 24, 1985, Soviet Seaman Miroslav Medvid jumped from the Marshal Konev (a Soviet grain freighter) while it was docked in New Orleans, LA, and reportedly attempted to request political asylum in the United States. He was interviewed by U.S. Border Patrol agents on that same night and then ordered returned to his ship. U.S. officials from the INS and State Department subsequently boarded the ship, obtained an agreement from Soviet officials that Medvid would be re-interviewed concerning his desire for political asylum, and proceeded to question him over a period of 2 days. Mr. Medvid consistently held that he did not want political asylum during this second interview process, and was finally returned to his ship on October 29, 1985.  The Medvid case has raised many questions concerning the manner in which U.S. Government officials handled the incident and concerning U.S. asylum policy toward Communist-bloc nations in general. The Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy held a series of hearings and conducted a staff investigation on the matter. This report addresses the facts developed through that hearing and investigation process. This report is divided into 6 sections: (1) a brief summary of the events from the time of Medvid's desertion to his final return to the Soviet ship; (2) a summary of the hearings that the immigration subcommittee held on November 5, 1985, November 7, 1985, February 5, 1986, and March 7, 1986; (3) a review and discussion of the major issues and points of controversy concerning the incident; (4) a description of the roles played by the individuals who had the most contact with Medvid, and their perspectives on the case; (5) a review of the adequacy. of present INS asylum procedures; and (6) conclusions drawn by the subcommittee based on the hearing and investigation process.

  • Soviet Violations of the Helsinki Accords in Afghanistan

    The Helsinki Commission held its second hearing on Soviet aggression in Afghanistan six years after Soviet invasion in 1979. The witnesses shed light on the deliberate destruction of the people, culture, and way of life in Afghanistan for the Commissioners present, and considered ways to move forward.

  • Transcripts: Restrictions on Artistic Freedoms in the Soviet Union, October 29, 1985; and the Budapest Cultural Forum, December 11, 1985

    * Public Hearing on Restrictions on Artistic Freedom in the Soviet Union The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 210, Cannon House Office Building, at 10 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Commissioners and Senators John Heinz, Gordon J. Humphrey, and Dennis DeConcini; Commissioners and Representatives Dante B. Fascell, Don Ritter, and Christopher H. Smith. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. This hearing concerned restrictions on creative freedom in the Soviet Union.   Public Hearing on the Budapest Cultural Forum The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 538, of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, at 11 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Senator Malcolm Wallop, Commissioner. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. In this hearing, the Helsinki Commission heard testimony on the most recent international meeting in the Helsinki process, the Budapest Cultural Forum.

  • Baltic Tribunal Against the Soviet Union

    On July 25 and 26, 1985, the Baltic World Conference, representing the three central Baltic organizations in the free world - the Estonian World Council, the World Federation of Free Latvians and the Supreme Committee for Liberation of Lithuania - held a Tribunal against the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The purpose of the Tribunal was threefold: to bring to the attention of the world the illegal Soviet occupation of the once free and independent Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; to document the atrocities and genocide committed against the Baltic people; and to condemn the Soviet Union for these acts against humanity. As evidenced by the materials presented in this publication, the objectives were accomplished beyond any reasonable doubt. A panel of internationally known authorities in the field of human rights served as judges: Per Ahlmark, the Rev. Michael Bourdeaux, Jean-Marie Daillet, Sir James Fawcett and Dr. Theodor Veiter, who as Chairman presided over the proceedings. After listening to the testimony of sixteen witnesses, the jurists assembled and weighed the evidence and at the conclusion of the Baltic Tribunal issued their verdict: The Copenhagen Manifesto. This publication is the result of numerous requests made by public officials, libraries, journalists, private citizens and others, for the information and testimonies given at the Tribunal. We have included in this publication the indictment, background information, the testimonies of the witnesses, and the Copenhagen Manifesto as well as brief biographies of the jurists and witnesses. It is our hope that this publication will serve not only as an historical document, but also as a source of information to all who are interested in the realization of human rights and freedom for all people.

  • THE OTTAWA HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS MEETING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HELSINKI PROCESS

    The commissioners gave testimony on the importance of the 35-nation conference which addressed "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," The discussion centered on inconsistencies between the rhetoric of the United States on the subject of human rights and its actions.  The focus of human rights covered the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and also Afghanistan. In response to human rights violations- recognizing the framework provided by the Helsinki accords- the witnesses discussed constructive measures to concentrate on human rights violations that could be corrected with relative ease and without effecting systemic change within the Soviet Union or the other states in the Soviet sphere.

  • GAO Report: Helsinki Commission: The First 8 Years

    This report, which describes and evaluates the work of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is in response to Chairman Fascell's request.  The report's conclusions: We believe that the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has helped, through its hearings and reports, to focus public attention and to inform public opinion and has made itself a principal Western source of information on Soviet and East European violations of the Final Act; helped resolve numerous family reunification cases for Eastern victims of Communist repression; played a key role in planning and conducting U.S. Helsinki diplomacy.; and effectively promoted a strong U.S. human rights policy in the East-West dialogue about cooperation, detente, and international security. The Commission has put considerably less emphasis on implementing its second mandate--to monitor and encourage governmental and private programs aimed at expanding East-West economic and cultural cooperation. The Commission's unusual organizational arrangement has worked well, although there were some initial difficulties, and as some observers have pointed out, more orthodox arrangements could also have worked well. Commission-participation in the international conferences has enhanced its ability to carry out its mandate to monitor and report on implementation of the Helsinki accords, and it has increased the ability of the Commission's congressional members to influence U.S. policy in the Helsinki process. Yet it has invited criticism on constitutional grounds relating to the separation of powers because it has, in practice, given executive functions to staff personnel who report to members of Congress. No one we consulted has suggested that this arrangement should be changed with respect to the Helsinki Commission. Some, however, have cautioned against suggestions that such an arrangement might be applied to other areas of U.S. foreign relations.

  • Documents of the Soviet Groups to Establish Trust Between the US and the USSR

    Appeal To The Governments and People of The USSR and The USA: The USSR and the USA have the means to kill in such proportions that would end the history of mankind. A balance of terror cannot be a reliable guarantee of safety in the world. Only trust between peoples can create a firm assurance of the future. Today, when elementary trust between the two nations has been completely lost, the problem of trust has ceased to be simply a question of bilateral relations. This is the question: Will mankind be wiped out by its own destructive capabilities or will it survive? This problem demands immediate action today. It is, however, very obvious that political leaders of both sides are incapable of coming to any sort of agreement about significant arms limitations in the near future . ... to say nothing of genuine disarmament. Due to their political interests and circumstances, politicians find it difficult to be objective on disarmament issues  Recognizing this, we do not wish to accuse one side or the other of not wishing to promote the peace process, nor certainly of any aggressive designs for the future. We are convinced of their genuine desire for peace and curtailment of the nuclear threat. However, the search for the path to disarmament has become difficult. We all share an equal responsibility for the future. The active peace movement among citizens of many countries proves that this is understood by millions of people. But our common desire for peace must not be blind It must be perceived and expressed in concrete terms. It must be presented in the context of actual conditions. The world is concerned about its future. Everyone understands that there must be dialogue if the threat is to be removed. The prevailing principles of conducting bilateral dialogue must be changed immediately. We are convinced that the time has come for the public not only to confront decision makers with the issue of disarmament, but to participate in the decision making process with the politicians. We are in favor of quatrapartite dialogue - for dialogue in which average Soviet and American citizens are included on an equal footing with political figures. We favor consistent and, ultimately complete destruction of stockpiles of. nuclear weapons and other forms of mass destruction, and for limitations of conventional weapons. We view the present program for the search for peace as the following: 1. As a first step to abolish the nuclear threat, we appeal to everyone who does not desire the death of his neighbor to submit his own specific proposals on bilateral limitations and cutbacks of weaponry, and, most of all, for the establishment of trust. We call for each such proposal to be forwarded simultaneously to the governments of both countries and to representatives of independent public peace groups. We hope espeially that our call will be heeded by the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States, whose governments bear the main responsibility for maintaining the safety of the world. 2. We call upon the citizens of both countries to create combined international public groups, based on the principles of independence. Their functions would include: the receipt and analysis of individual proposals on disarmament and promoting trust between nations: the selection of the most interesting and realistic proposals: bringing these proposals to the attention of the respective populations about the possible consequences of the use of nuclear arms, and about all issues concerning disarmament. 3. We appeal to the scientific community, particularly to independent international scientific organizations involved in the campaign for peace, to work on scientific problems directly connected with the preservation of peace. For instance, at the present stage, it is extremely important to develop a unified mathematical method for evaluating the weaponry of the opposing sides. We call upon scientists to create independent research groups to scientifically analyze citizen proposals. 4. We call upon political leaders and the media of both countries to refrain from mutual accustions about intentions to use nuclear weapons for aggressive purposes. We are convinced that such accusations only inflame distrust between the sides and thus make any constructive dialogue impossible. 5. We view as necessary guarantees of the establishment of trust that the USSR and the USA must create conditions for the open exchange of opinions and to inform the publics of both nations on all issues on the process of disarmament. We appeal to the governments of the USSR and the USA to create a special international bulletin (with a governmental guarnatees of distribution in both countries), in which both sides would conduct a dialogue, hold discussions, and would make public reports on the following issues, among others: a. An analysis of disarmament negotiations and the documents of the negotiations b. An exchange of opinions and proposals on possible ways to limit arms, and on disarmament c. An exchange of proposals on the establishment of trust d. An exchange of information on the possible consequences of using nuclear arms. Such a bulletin would provide an opportunity for independent citizens' peace groups to participate in general discussions, publish uncensored materials, especially proposals on disarmament and trust and information on (various) peace movements and the steps they have taken. We appeal to the governments and public opinion of the USSR and the USA since we are convinced that everyone who understands that the future needs to be defended must have a genuine opportunity to defend it! Moscow; June 4, 1982 Batovrin, Sergei Blok, V.R. Fleishgakker, Maria I. Khronopulo, Yu. G. Fleishgakker, V.N. Rozenoer, S.A. Sobkov, I.N. Ostrovskaya, L.A. Krochik, G.M. Kalyuzhny, B.I. (and seventy-four signatures in support) (the appeal is open for signatures.)

  • Chairmanship of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    This hearing was convened to discuss H.R. 4504, a bill introduced by the committee chairman, the Honorable Dante Fascell, of Florida.  This legislation provided for several changes in the administration of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. First, it stipulated that the Chairman of the Commission could not also be the chairman of another sitting committee. Second, it provided for rotation between the House and the Senate for chairman of the Commission to ensure that it meets the needs of both houses of Congress. Third, it established the position of co-chairman, which had previously been an informal arrangement. Representatives of several organizations, including the National Conference of Soveit Jewry, the Helsinki Watch, and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, spoke in favor of the legislation. The bill was ultimately passed in a vote by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on International Operations.

  • Forced Labor in the Soviet Union

    The subject of our hearing is forced labor in the Soviet Union. We have long been interested in the subject at the Commission, as many others have. The Commission issued staff reports on the subject as early as August 1980. There is no exact statistics exist in the West on the central question of the total number of Soviets engaged in various types of forced labor. The generally accepted minimum number is 3 or 4 million people-including about 10 000 political prisoners-performing forced labor in places of imprisonment and on penal labor brigades. The robust discussion provided by experts will make clear the vast extent of Soviet reliance on forced labor.

  • Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union

    This joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations was held in response to a request from the American Psychiatric Association to generate an opportunity for discussion about the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. This human rights violation was a common weapon of punishment utilized by the Soviet Union against its citizens. The hearing was held in the context of the Soviet Union withdrawing from the international association that represents psychiatry because it knew it would not be able to abide by the expected standards. Experts in the field of psychiatry presented testimony as this hearing on examined this issue as of the Soviet government in suppressing individuals who voice opposing opinions. The uniqueness of the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union as a widespread and systemic issue was addressed.

  • Update on Raoul Wallenberg

    This hearing focused on the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, distinguished diplomat who risked his life to help grant protection to Jewish refugees in Hungary during Nazis occupation. Wallenberg’s whereabouts became unknown when the Soviets liberated Hungary. Despite Soviet declarations that Mr. Wallenberg died in 1947, many witnesses have contested this claim and have reported that he is in fact in Soviet prison. The Commissioners and the witnesses discussed the U.S. response and what further actions may be needed.

  • Soviet Jewry: H. Con. Res. 63

    This joint hearing by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe examined the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union. Moscow's heightened campaign of hatred against its own citizens, in flagrant disregard of international law, was identified as a factor in whether the United States should enter into any further agreements with the Soviet Union, especially ones which involve United States security. Witnesses testifying at this hearing expressed their concerns about the continued persecution and harassment of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union. The repressive policies instituted by the Soviet regime to destroy Jewish culture, despite its commitment to the human rights terms agreed upon during the Helsinki Final Act, were outlined.

  • The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II

    The subject of this hearing, which Commissioner Millicent Fenwick chaired, was whether or not there was the possibility of complicity, on the part of the Soviet and Bulgarian secret police, to Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca’s assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As per Principle VI of the Helsinki Final Act, signatory nations are to refrain from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities. Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were privy to this at the time of the hearing. The hearing utilized witnesses to shed light as to whether or not Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were honoring this commitment in Principle VI, which was not a guarantee, especially because of Mehmet Ali Agca’s potential involvement in a Turkish arms ring that Bulgarians supported. The hearing was part and parcel of an “essential” effort to carefully and impartially examine all evidence of possible Soviet and Bulgarian involvement with Agca. 

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