March 27, 2023

Some opponents of Putin go further. Meeting outside Warsaw last November, a group of exiled politicians called the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia said that in addition to ending the occupation of Crimea and other Ukrainian territories, Russia should pay reparations to Ukraine – and abandon war criminals to stand trial. (The Congress was led by Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the Russian parliament to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014; he now lives in exile in Ukraine.)

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Another exile organization, the Free Russia Forum Anti-War Conference organized by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former political prisoner, said the conflict is not regional, that the Putin’s war is not just with Ukraine but with the liberal western world order. It is a war on the “core values” of Western democratic civilization.

Given their importance for a Russian defeat and a successful outcome of the war, Russian political émigrés deserve our support. So far, they have known how to self-organize and, for the most part, self-finance. Western aid is needed above all to lower or remove bureaucratic barriers. For example, the United States and the EU should process temporary one-year visas more quickly for political exiles who have found quick but temporary refuge in countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and the Turkey. A recent study by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, also suggests that Western consulates should be more efficient in issuing work permits and identity papers to refugees. Germany and the Czech Republic have already started designating special immigration categories for such cases to speed up processing.

Yet the West should avoid mediating or taking sides in the inevitable infighting within the emigrant community. The goal is an opposition that most closely reflects the various segments of the Russian political configuration that are now crushed under the regime’s murderous weight. Herzen, again, is leading the way by seeking to be as inclusive as possible and welcoming all who “were not dead to human feelings” into “one big protest against the evil regime,” as he put it. Herzen’s biographer, Isaiah Berlin.

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