Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kremlin Critic Calls On Trump To Raise Plight Of Russia's Political Prisoners

Russian activist Vladimir Kara-Murza

A fierce critic of the Kremlin is urging U.S. President Donald Trump to be tough with his Russian counterpart during an upcoming summit and use the occasion to discuss political prisoners held by Moscow.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a historian and prominent Russian democracy activist, warned Trump on July 2 that he should not follow an "unfortunate bipartisan tradition of U.S. presidents," who he said have sought to accommodate Russian President Vladimir Putin in their first contacts in the past two decades.

"For a former officer of the KGB...compromise from an interlocutor is [seen as] a sign of weakness," Kara-Murza told reporters on the sidelines of a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

Trump is due to meet Putin on July 16 in Helsinki in what Trump has described as an effort to revive battered relations between Moscow and Washington.

Both sides have played down expectations of what the talks will produce, saying the meeting is an achievement in itself.

Trump has not said whether he will bring up Russia's alleged rights abuses and political prisoners.

Kara-Murza, an ally of the late opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead close to the Kremlin in 2015, said discussing democratic and human rights should not jeopardize other negotiations.

He pointed out that former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s "would begin all of his bilateral summits with the Soviet leadership by placing down a list of Soviet political prisoners on the table and demanding their release."

"At the same time, he was able to successfully negotiate arms control," Kara-Murza said.

Kara-Murza, 36, is vice chairman of the Open Russia foundation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oil tycoon who served a decade in jail after openly opposing Putin.

The Kremlin critic called on Trump to especially raise the political prisoner issue with Putin.

He pointed to "conservative" estimates from leading rights group Memorial that 156 people are currently being held for their political or religious beliefs in the country, which he said was "higher than the figure that existed in the late Soviet times."

He highlighted the case of Aleksei Pichugin, who has been held for more than 15 years, making him "the longest-serving of Russia's political prisoners."

Pichugin, serving a life sentence for "organization of murder," was the former security chief at Khodorkovsky's defunct oil giant Yukos.

The European Court of Human Rights has twice ruled that his rights to a fair trial were violated.

"It is absolutely use the judicial system as a tool of political persecution," Kara-Murza said.

With reporting by AFP