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Political Prisoners Of Russia

15 May @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Over the past ten years, the level of repression has been rising steadily in Russia. Several hundred prisoners of conscience and political prisoners are today imprisoned or detained in the country, a figure comparable to that in the late Soviet Union. Elena Sannikova, a veteran of Soviet dissent, will speak about the forms of moral resistance developed by civil society to withstand the repressive policies of the present.

The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to present a talk by Elena Sannikova about political prisoners in Russia.



Elena N. Sannikova was born in Moscow on 25 October 1959. She first came to the attention of the KGB at university in Kalinin (today Tver) after organising a Bible study group, and was expelled from her course in 1980. Shortly after, Elena joined the ‘Action Group for the Defence of the Disabled’ and established a support group for political prisoners. In 1981, the KGB gave her an official warning about her unacceptable activities. In 1984, Elena was arrested by the KGB, charged with Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda (Article 70), and incarcerated in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison. Later that year, the Moscow City Court sentenced her to 12 months in a strict-regime labour camp, followed by four years’ internal exile.  After a short period in the Mordovian camps, she was exiled to Siberia’s Tomsk Region.

Today, Lena lives in Moscow. She serves as an expert consultant for the movement “For Human Rights” and is a participant in the ecumenical and independent Christian Action movement. Elena’s articles have been published in the weekly newspapers Russian Thought (Paris) and Obshchaya gazeta (Moscow), and in the Chechen magazine Dosh (Moscow). She is a regular contributor to the internet news websites Grani.ru and Yezhednevny zhurnal [Daily Magazine] and writes prose and verse in her spare time.



James Rogers is Director of the ‘Global Britain’ Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, of which he is a founding member. Formerly, he held a number of positions at the Baltic Defence College in Estonia and has worked at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris.






Elena Sannikova began her speech by telling us her experience under the Soviet Union. She remembers the change it went through in the 1980s and early 1990s. She spent time in prison from 1984 to 1987, but when she was released, there was a change happening in Russia. In 1992, Boris Yeltsin released the last political prisoner at the time. People had more freedom of speech and freedom to travel abroad. The human rights situation in Russia seemed to be improving, and people were excited about it, but it proved to be an illusion. The new totalitarian regimes emerged in the former Soviet satellite republics, and the KGB changed its name to FSB and continued its activities. Former Soviet states sought to repress dissent with force during this period of change. For example, there were thousands of political prisoners in Uzbekistan, and a bloody war was waged in Chechnya. She believes that if Yeltsin had resolved these disputes peacefully, we would not have anti-democratic regime in Russia today. In 1999, Putin became the acting President of Russia when Yeltsin resigned. Since then, he has been using the tactics from the KGB and have gradually escalated repression. Journalists covering the Chechen war were sometimes murdered. Scientists were charged with spying and were arrested. After 2014, Russian prisons were filled with Ukrainians who opposed the annexation of Crimea. For example, one farmer put a Ukrainian flag over his house, and he was sentenced five years in prison for doing so. Putin’s regime has been refusing to release the Ukrainian prisoners for the release of Russian prisoners in Ukraine. Putin is indifferent to the fate of the Russians who fought for him. Civil rights activists and environmentalists have been persecuted as well, and she receives news about searches, arrests, and imprisonment every day. Russia also has been repressing religious activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses was labelled extremist, and Muslim groups were labelled terrorist. Many of these Muslims are Crimean Tatars. And a Danish man was arrested and sentenced six years in prison for holding prayer meetings. For many of these prisoners, their guilt had never been established, and she believes that they are innocent. However, it gives her hope that there are many in Russia defending the political prisoners and protest and raise funds for them, and she looks forward to a better future. The event proceeded to Q&A, in which she discussed the use of torture in prisons, Alexei Navalny, an activist Anastasia Shevchenko, and more.


15 May
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank
Westminster, SW1P 4RS United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Elena N. Sannikova and James Rogers


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