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Kremlin critic Kara-Murza: Protests a 'turning point' for Western stance on Russia

In an interview with DW, Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza explains why he views last weekend’s protests as a turning point in how the US should act toward the Russian government. He also vows to return to the country.

DW: What do you consider the significance of the last weekend's demonstrations across Russia, especially the fact that a lot of young people took part in them

Vladimir Kara-Murza: I think that is the key, that is the turning point. I was asked after the protests whether I was surprised and I have to admit that I was surprised by the scale, by how widespread this was. It was in 82 cities across Russia, from West to East, across 11 time zones from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. It was the most widespread protest since the early 1990s.

But what is particularly striking is who the protesters were. And they were predominantly young people, university students and college kids often in their twenties, thirties and even teens. This is the new generation, this is the Putin generation, the people who have been certainly raised and in many cases born under [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. And there is a growing realization among this generation that this regime is robbing them, not just literally in terms of corruption, which is what these protests were about, but also robbing them of their future and their prospects and that this regime is a dead end.

And frankly I think that Mr. Putin is not going to be able to do very much about this. So I think this really is a turning point and this is only the beginning of a new wave of pro-democracy and anti-corruption protests across Russia and we will see many many more of these in the coming months and years.

Russland Demonstration der Opposition in Moskau (picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/S. Karacan)

Thousands of mainly young people took part in anti-corruption protests throughout Russia on March 26

You want Washington to take a tougher stance vis-a-vis the Russian government. What concrete steps and measures would you want the US to take?

To be honest about what's happening in Russia and just call things as they are. This is a very basic thing. But it is also very important to abide by the principles that they, and I mean Western countries, preach. If Western leaders say their systems are based on democracy and rule of law and respect for human rights then they shouldn't serve as havens for people in and around Mr. Putin's circle who are engaged in human rights abuses and corruption. And we know very well that the officials and the oligarchs around the Kremlin stashed their money in Western banks and sent their kids to study at Western schools and bought up mansions and palaces and vineyards, as we now know, in Western countries. This should stop, because this is hypocritical. This is a double standard.

You met and talked with US lawmakers here in Washington. Do you think their position toward Russia has changed since the Trump administration took office earlier this year?

Watch video 03:14

@dwnews - Anti-corruption protests sweep Russia and social media

Several members of Congress from both houses and both parties have had long-standing commitments to issues of human rights with regard to Russia as well as with regard to other countries. For instance when the Magnitsky law was passed a few years ago it was done with huge bipartisan support. There is a separation of power in the United States and what members of Congress do doesn't depend on who is president and what the administration is. And the people I have had the pleasure to meet with in the last couple of days - I met with people who have spoken on my behalf after I was poisoned in February, so first of all wanted to thank them - but also to discuss the overall human rights situation in Russia.

So, but how content are you then with the White House's stance towards Russia and human rights violations there?

It is too early to tell. It has not even been 100 days since the new administration took over and we have only had one bilateral meeting so far between [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson and [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov. So it is far too early to say what the stance will be, so again, the only thing we would urge all Western leaders to do, including here in the US, is to abide by their own principles.

You support a measure in Congress to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy in Washington after Boris Nemtsov. What is the symbolic significance of that move and how optimistic are you that this will happen? 

First, this is very important to the many friends and colleagues of Boris Nemtsov in Russia. It is not more than two years since he was killed. And they not only killed him, they are also trying to kill his memory. And almost every night now the Moscow communal authorities with the help of the police destroy and plunder the unofficial memorial to him on the bridge [where he was shot], steal the flowers, steal the portraits, steal the candles. Of course the next morning there are new flowers, new portraits and new candles, because people remember. But in terms of official commemoration, the Moscow authorities have continuously rejected all initiatives, all petitions. They wouldn't even let us put a small sign on the place where he was killed or the house where he lived in Moscow.

Russland Oppositioneller Boris Nemzow erschossen (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition figure, was shot dead in Moscow in 2015

So it is very important that Boris Nemtsov's name would be commemorated where we can do it today. I know the day will come when he will be commemorated in Moscow, but now it is important to commemorate him where we can. So I wholeheartedly support this initiative.

You mentioned the latest attempt on your life. Will you go back to Russia now?

I do want to go back. But not now, I need to restore my health first. Last time it took me more than a year to get restored after the first poisoning. So however long it takes me this time, I will do that. But once I do that, I do want go back and I do want to resume my work because I think what we do is very important and we care about our country and we care about its future and we have to continue what we are doing.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician and the vice chairman of the pro-democracy group Open Russia. He was hospitalized twice in the last year in alleged poisonings by the Kremlin and testified before Congress on Wednesday.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge in Washington.

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