Russia: International solidarity can free Boris Kagarlitsky

June 20, 2024
Boris Kagarlitsky in handcuffs
Boris Kagarlitsky at the time of his arrest. Photo:

The Russian Supreme Court’s Military Chamber rejected Russian anti-war socialist Boris Kagarlitsky’s appeal on June 5, against his five-year prison sentence for “justifying terrorism”.

Kagarlitsky must now remain confined to a penal colony in Torzhok, 250 kilometres northwest of Moscow. The decision was unjust, but not unexpected, and will be contested.

Kagarlitsky was initially jailed in July last year and held for nearly five months in pretrial detention. He was charged over ironic remarks he made on social media after the 2022 explosion on the Crimean Bridge.

In December, a military court freed him after imposing a fine. But in February, in an unexpected appeal trial, prosecutors overturned the December verdict, citing excessive leniency.

During the June 5 appeal hearing, Kagarlitsky said naming the offending YouTube video “Explosive Congratulations for Mostik the Cat” — a reference to a stray cat that lived on the bridge — was “an extremely unfortunate joke”. But he argued his jail term was disproportionate to the offence.

Gross miscarriage of justice

The appeal court judges refused to change Kagarlitsky’s sentence, despite an appeal from 37 international political figures and intellectuals, including Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Yanis Varoufakis, as well as Spanish government ministers and parliamentarians from France, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and Brazil. An international petition demanding Kagarlitsky’s freedom has collected more than 18,000 signatures.

Spurred by the campaign to free Kagarlitsky, academic positions were secured for him from top universities in Brazil and South Africa. It was hoped that Moscow might be induced to free him if he agreed to leave the country.

For the time being Kagarlitsky is sitting in a gulag-period penal colony. Because of his age, 65, Kagarlitsky is housed with other pensioners and is not required to work.

But the conditions in this colony are inferior to those he had in pre-trial detention in the Komi Republic. That was apparent when Kagarlitsky appeared in the courtroom through video link. He had lost weight and appeared haggard.

The judge’s decision ignored basic democratic and legal rights. It was simply a decision handed down in advance from the regime, determined to crush domestic opposition to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.

It represents a gross but entirely deliberate miscarriage of justice.

There have been more than 100,000 cases of fines imposed on people for real or imagined protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war.

As Kagarlitsky wrote in his “Plea to My Western Progressive Friends”: “You can … find numerous reports of fines imposed on people who had inadvertently painted their fence yellow and blue many years ago, now risking undesirable associations with the Ukrainian flag, or who thoughtlessly went out into the street in blue jeans and a yellow jacket...

“[T]ry to imagine what it is like to live in a state where you can be detained and prosecuted for wearing the wrong clothes, [or] for liking a ‘seditious’ post on social networks...

“We in Russia … do not want to live like this...

“Of course, when someone tells you that the Putin regime is a threat to the West or to the whole of humanity, this is complete nonsense.

“The people to whom this regime poses the most terrible threat is (aside from the Ukrainians, who are bombarded daily by shells and missiles) the Russians themselves, their people and culture, their future...

“We do not need any favour but a very simple one: an understanding of the reality that has developed in Russia today.

“Stop identifying Putin and his gang with Russia. Realise at last: those who want the good of Russia and the Russians cannot but be irreconcilable enemies of this power.”


The longer the campaign to free Kagarlitsky continues and gets louder, especially in the countries of the Global South where Putin seeks favour, the more it undermines Putin’s influence in the world.

That is the hope, not only for Kagarlitsky but for the many other political prisoners in Russia.

Ilya Budraitskis, on Jacobin Radio, emphasised the importance of the international campaign against political repression in Russia, because the people “protesting against the war, or against social inequality or against the repressive state regime are part of the global movement".

“The struggle is international and these people are your comrades in struggle. The Russian case should be taken as a warning, as a global warning of what could happen with you…

“Kagarlitsky’s case is especially important because Kagarlitsky is emblematic for the Russian left and for the international left. His case is decisive not only for him, but also for other left wing socialist political prisoners in Russia.”

Kagarlitsky’s current incarceration for his political activity is not his first. He was imprisoned during the Brezhnev era for distributing the samizdat journal Left Turn. He spent nearly two years in the infamous Lefortovo Prison.

By 1986 he was in the forefront of the informal groups that proliferated as Mikhail Gorbachev lifted controls.

In the 1990s, Kagarlitsky was a founder of the Party of Labour, and was elected to the Moscow City Soviet, the city’s governing body.

It was in that capacity that Kagarlitsky commandeered a car to get to the scene of violence when Boris Yeltsin was shelling the elected parliament during the 1993 constitutional crisis.

Kagarlitsky was arrested and savagely beaten, before being released thanks to solidarity efforts.

I remember that night vividly. Word got out that Kagarlitsky was arrested, with the phone number of the militia station where he was being held. There were so many international calls pouring in that Yeltsin’s White House intervened to get him released.

I called his home for an interview, just as he arrived. His first words were “International solidarity works. Thank you.”


Over the subsequent decades, Kagarlitsky has persisted in his political and intellectual activity, founding the popular media channel Rabkor. His YouTube program was seen by tens of thousands.

In 2021 Kagarlitsky was held for ten days for insisting that the parliamentary election results were fraudulent.

In 2022, he was declared a foreign agent — usually indicating imminent arrest or an invitation to leave the country. Kagarlitsky remained in Russia and continued to write and broadcast.

Kagarlitsky’s many books have appeared in translation all over the world. He is not just the most prominent Russian Marxist thinker abroad; he is also the symbol of the Marxist left in Russia.

Kagarlitsky received the Daniel Singer Prisoner of Conscience award earlier this year. In making the award, the committee notes that in his writing, his political organising, and his life, he displays a casual courage and easy wit that incenses authoritarians. This same grace and courage inspire others to fight on.

Sergei Erekhov, Kagarlitsky’s attorney, is now preparing an appeal to the Constitutional Court and the UN Court of Human Rights.

The international campaign of solidarity with Boris Kagarlitsky will continue until he is released.

[A version of this article was first published at Jacobin.]

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