Ksenia Kagarlitskaya: ‘The left needs to show solidarity with Russian anti-war political prisoners’

March 27, 2024
man and woman
Imprisoned anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky (left) with his daughter Ksenia. Photo: Ksenia Kagarlitskaya.

It didn’t take long after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine for Russian authorities to set their sights on 65-year-old socialist academic Boris Kagarlitsky.

Within weeks, the Putin regime had officially branded Kagarlitsky a “foreign agent”. The move not only placed numerous restrictions on his basic rights, but sent a clear message to one of the most high-profile — and last remaining — leftist anti-war critics in Russia.

“Everyone knows that the next step after being labelled a foreign agent is that you are put in jail,” Kagarlitsky told me in July 2022.

"They have labelled me a foreign agent, I imagine with the intention of wanting me to leave, but I’m not going to leave."

Though it took a while, authorities finally took that step in February, when they ordered he spend the next five years in jail.

That is why Boris’s daughter, Ksenia Kagarlitskaya, and others inside and outside Russia, are spearheading a global campaign to demand her father’s release.

At the centre of the campaign is a petition — signed by politicians, intellectuals, unionists and many others from around the world — that demands the release of Boris and all anti-war political prisoners and calls on “authorities of the Russian Federation to reverse their growing repression of dissent”.

Speaking to Ksenia for Green Left, I asked why her father had not taken the opportunity to leave the country when he could. “The reason he decided to stay is because he is innocent," she said. "He strongly believes that, as a Russian living in Russia, why should he have to leave his country if he is innocent?

“This may be hard to understand, but unless you are the type of person [Boris is], you will never understand his convictions.”

These convictions drove Kagarlitsky to stay in Russia and convert Rabkor (Worker Correspondent), the online leftist media platform he edited, into an important voice of opposition to the war.

He was always careful to avoid the censors — no mean feat in a country where it is illegal to even refer to what the regime dubs a “special military operation” in Ukraine as a war.

But in July 2023, Kagarlitsky was finally arrested and detained for allegedly “justifying terrorism”. The trumped-up charges related to innocuous comments made nine months earlier on the bombing of the Crimea Bridge that were later dug up by a local city councillor from Putin’s United Russia party and brought to the attention of authorities.

Found guilty in December, Kagarlitsky was at first only handed a fine. Two months later, however, a military appeals court agreed with the prosecution that Boris’ original sentence was “excessively lenient” and sent him to prison.

I asked Ksenia why she thought Boris had initially escaped with only a fine, given Putin’s regime is certainly not known for its excessive leniency.

“I think the reason he got a fine at the first trial is the same reason why he was not imprisoned much earlier when the war started: because he has many supporters on different sides of politics — on the opposition side and on the government side.”

By giving him a fine, “I think [the authorities] thought they were giving him a chance to leave the country. Everybody thinks that.

“But when they saw he was not going to leave, they decided to throw him back in jail. The fine was not enough for the dictatorship.”

Kagarlitsky is currently locked up in Detention Centre No. 12 in Zelenograd. According to Ksenia, “his conditions are better than they were before. He was initially placed in a cell with 15 people, but his current cell has less people.

“Though it must be stressed that we are talking about the conditions of someone who is in prison despite being innocent.”

Boris is far from being the only innocent person in jail for questioning the war. By the time of his arrest, about 21,000 people had already faced reprisals for their anti-war opinions, including more than 2000 jailed, according to Amnesty International.

These numbers have only grown since then.

As to how her father is dealing with the ordeal, Ksenia said: “Throughout it all, he has stayed positive. He is always positive, no matter the circumstances. That is the kind of person he is.”

This positivity was reflected in a note Boris sent to supporters via Rabkor’s Telegram channel on receiving his five-year term.

It read in part: “I am sure that everything will be very good. And that we will see you again both on the channel and in freedom … We just need to live a little longer and survive this dark period for our country.”

As for the campaign, while acknowledging the focus is on her dad, Ksenia stressed this is a fight to free “all political anti-war prisoners”.

Boris wrote in April last year: “if we want to stop political persecution in Russia and other countries of the world, we must fight for everyone.”

Indicating the level of the support the campaign has already garnered, the petition has already been translated into 18 languages and obtained more than 8000 signatures in two weeks.

Ksenia said: “What everyone can do right now, for all the political anti war prisoners, is sign the petition.”

Another important way to help is by donating to the campaign. “Every campaign needs to raise funds as it involves lots of resources to make it happen and make it really worldwide.”

Ksenia also encouraged supporters to organise events, such as those she coordinates in Montenegro with other Russian exiles, to collectively write letters to anti-war political prisoners and read their responses.

This activity has become popular among Russian exiles and those inside Russia who want to express their anti-war sentiments in a way that is less likely to attract punishment from the authorities.

Despite the circumstances, Ksenia also maintains her positivity: “This campaign is a chance for everyone to be part of a big solidarity campaign and demonstrate to the Russian government that there are many of us.

“Now is the moment when the left — and not just the left — needs to show its solidarity with political prisoners.”

[Federico Fuentes is active in the Boris Kagarlitsky International Solidarity Campaign and can be contacted at fred.fuentes@gmail.com. Green Left encourages readers to sign the petition at change.org or freeboris.info. You can also donate to the campaign.]

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