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‘My pebble on the scale’ A former Team Navalny activist is back in Russia to collect signatures against the war

Source: Mediazona

Original story by Mediazona. English-language version by Emily Laskin.

Ivan Luzin, a former member of Alexey Navalny’s team in Kaliningrad and a tech and marketing manager, moved his family to safety in Poland in March 2022, fearing persecution related to his past political activities. On January 29, he returned to Russia to run the anti-war campaign “Enough! We’re Done Fighting!” He plans to collect Russian citizens’ signatures on a form letter addressed to Vladimir Putin, calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The Russian independent outlet Mediazona asked Luzin if he fears going to prison and what impact he expects his initiative to have. Meduza summarizes Luzin’s response.

Ivan Luzin worked for Alexey Navalny’s headquarters in Kaliningrad until the headquarters closed. On February 24, 2022, he tried to go to a local anti-war protest but was arrested as he stepped off the bus he took to the event. Luzin spent 25 days in jail. (Almost a year earlier, in April 2021, he’d spent 21 days in jail for going to a pro-Navalny rally.) Following Luzin’s release in March 2022, he and his family moved to Poland. Leaving Russia became more urgent with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but Luzin says they decided to go after the January 2022 arrest of Liliya Chanysheva, another Navalny associate. 

Despite those risks, Luzin is now back in Russia “to do what I need to for this little project.” He says he plans to leave again within a month.

Luzin’s letter to Putin makes the following requests:

  1. Stop shelling Ukrainian territory and, in particular, stop missile and artillery strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure;
  2. Start talks with Ukraine with the goal of negotiating a ceasefire at the front lines, and take real steps, like withdrawing troops from the front and from Belarus, to reassure the Ukrainian authorities that a ceasefire won’t be merely an opportunity for Russian troops to regroup;
  3. Bring international organizations (particularly the UN) and peacekeeping contingents to the territories currently under Russian control that were under Ukrainian control before 2014, to ensure the safety of residents of those territories; and
  4. Exchange all citizens of Russia and Ukraine arrested during the “special military operation.” 

Luzin says he went back to Russia partly because there isn’t a very effective system for communicating with the Russian authorities online, and he believes the project requires sending physical letters through the mail. His second concern is ethical. Even though sending an appeal to the Russian president is a protected legal action, he says, the situation in Russia is changing so quickly that signing his letter might put people at risk. “It seems to me that if you ask a person to do something that you consider right on your behalf, it’s only correct to at least partially share the risks with that person,” he told Mediazona.

As for the danger Luzin himself faces in returning to Russia, he says, “I’m not an idiot.” He recognizes that authorities have come for him before and could do so again, though he hopes that they won’t. “I calm myself with the thought that it’s not in law enforcement’s interests to come after me because […] it will draw attention and interest to my appeal.”

Still, he admits that high-profile arrests of opposition figures like Ilya Yashin and Alexey Gorinov are on his mind. He’s tried in the appeal to Putin to use language that can’t be construed as “disinformation” about Russia’s military. He hopes that effort will pay off and that he will avoid criminal charges.

“The appeal uses the phrase, however hard it is to write, ‘SVO’ [‘special military operation’ instead of ‘war’], precisely so that it can’t be the basis for any sanctions against me, or against people who sign the appeal,” says Luzin.

The decision to return has been fraught. Luzin’s loved ones have found his decision to return to Russia painful and have tried to talk him out of it. And he’s well aware of similar initiatives that haven’t achieved the desired results. Activist Lev Ponomaryov’s petition, “Stop the War in Ukraine!” has more than a million signatures, yet the war drags on. But, says Luzin, “that doesn’t mean it’s not working and can’t work.”

He calls his own initiative a “pebble on the scale” but points out that anti-war actions have declined in recent months. “This is not good,” he says. The situation today in Russia and at the front is different than it was at the very beginning of the war, Luzin believes. Regardless, he says, “anti-war pressure from society must continue.”

As to whether he thinks his project will stop the war, Luzin’s answer is a clear “no.” He doubts the letter will even reach Putin personally, but he has a grassroots approach to the issue of anti-war action in Russia: “Will it exert influence alongside some other factors? Some small influence, maybe. Yes, I think so.”

Luzin is planning to mail each signed copy individually and says he hopes to collect so many that the mailing work overwhelms him. He’ll send the letters as he gets them, probably all with the same return address, though the sender’s name will change to reflect each person signing. Luzin is also planning to send a letter in his own name. Last he checked, he told Mediazona, he’d amassed 17 signed letters.

On January 29, the day Luzin arrived back in Kaliningrad, he sent out a call on Telegram for locals to come to a bar where they could sign copies of the letter. It was a last-minute organizing attempt, however, and nobody showed up. At the end of the evening, two officers in uniform came into the bar, looked around, asked the bartender something, and left, after which Luzin also left. The officers were standing in the street, and Luzin says he counted three more in civilian clothes. They’d probably come “to check whether there was some mass event happening,” he guesses.

Luzin isn’t sure why the officers ignored him. Either they didn’t notice him, or “nobody wants me right now,” he told Mediazona, adding, “I hope they don’t figure out where to reach me.”

Story by Anna Pavlova for Mediazona

English-language version by Emily Laskin

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