The Biden administration on Friday imposed sanctions on a number of Russian individuals connected to the arbitrary detention of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent human rights advocate and Kremlin critic who has been jailed in Moscow for nearly a year after speaking out against the war in Ukraine in an interview with CNN.
The United States has called for Kara-Murza’s “immediate and unconditional release.” However, Friday’s actions represent an long-awaited decision on imposing sanctions against Russia for his imprisonment.
Kara-Murza, who has survived two poisonings, has been incredibly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine, and he continues to speak out even as he is detained.
In March 2022, Kara-Murza spoke before the Arizona House of Representatives and spoke out against the war. In an April 2022 interview with CNN, he called Putin’s government “a regime of murderers.” He was arrested shortly thereafter for “failing to obey the orders of law enforcement,” according to his wife.
“The Russian Government later brought additional politically motivated charges against him, and Kara-Murza currently faces the prospect of more than 30 years in prison,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Friday.
The Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions under an expansion of the Global Magnitsky Act, which targets serious human rights abusers. The sanctions come more than five months after the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the Biden administration to take action under that law.
The sanctions target Elena Anatolievna Lenskaya, Andrei Andreevich Zadachin, and Danila Yurievich Mikheev.
Lenskaya “is a judge of the Basmannyy District Court in Moscow who oversaw Kara-Murza’s pre-trial detention hearing” and “ordered that Kara-Murza be held in pre-trial detention on charges based on his exercising the right to freedom of expression,” the Treasury Department said in a news release.
“Zadachin is a Special Investigator assigned to the Chief Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation. Zadachin ordered that a criminal case be initiated against Kara-Murza based on his speech before the Arizona House of Representatives. Zadachin requested that detention be ordered as a pre-trial restraint for Kara-Murza and defended this request in court,” the Treasury Department said.
Mikheev “served as an expert witness for the Russian government on the case against Kara-Murza, reviewing video of Kara-Murza’s speech and providing a report that served as part of the basis on which Lenskaya ordered Kara-Murza be held,” the agency said.
In a complementary action, the US State Department imposed its own visa sanctions on Lenskaya and Zadachin, blocking them and their immediate family members from entering the United States. The State Department additionally sanctioned three other Russian officials: Oleg Mikhailovich Sviridenko, Diana Igorevna Mishchenko, and Ilya Pavlovich Kozlov.
“Sviridenko is the Russian Deputy Minister of Justice who oversees the prosecution of criminal cases, including the criminal case to which Kara-Murza is subject. Mishchenko is the judge who issued the initial ruling approving Kara-Murza’s arrest and sentenced him to 15 days in jail. Kozlov is the judge who denied Kara-Murza’s appeal of Mishchenko’s administrative arrest ruling,” Blinken said in his statement.
Even as he is imprisoned, Kara-Murza has continued to voice his opposition to Putin’s war in Ukraine. On Thursday, US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter read aloud a handwritten letter from Kara-Murza, which was dated February 15.
“In short, since 24 February 2022 Vladimir Putin’s regime brought Russia as close as humanly possible to the reality once described by George Orwell – a reality in which ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,’” Kara-Murza wrote.
He wrote that “despite the censorship, the repression and the very threat of imprisonment, thousands of Russians have openly denounced Putin’s war on Ukraine.”
“Dozens of us are now imprisoned for it – journalists, lawyers, artists, priests, politicians, military officers; people of different backgrounds and different vocations who have refused to stay silent in the face of this atrocity, even at the cost of personal freedom,” he wrote.
“It is my hope that when the free world today thinks and speaks about Russia, it will remember not only the aggressors and war criminals in the Kremlin, but also those who are standing up to them,” Kara-Murza wrote. “Because we are all Russians, too.”