BIPR | Russian Opposition in the Time of War of Ukraine
Ashurkov began the seminar by explaining the political situation in Russia, where the lack of free media and independent judiciary has effectively eliminated all feedback mechanisms between the society and the government. Nevertheless, he recognized that this system cannot last forever – that it will inevitably grow evermore unstable. Accordingly, the goal of the Anti-Corruption Foundation has been to be the most powerful political organization in Russia when such a transition starts and to steer Russia on a "normal democratic path of development." To do so, the team sought early on to increase their support base and find innovative solutions to the specific needs of the country, all while establishing and maintaining a moral authority – an aspiration he argues they have since achieved.
Ashurkov gave interesting insights on the successes of the organization's investigative team, which seeks to expose government corruption in large state-owned companies and state procurement activities. Their YouTube channels – which have around five million subscribers and reached around 20 million unique viewers in January of this year, 80-85 percent of whom were in Russia – have been some of the most effective tools of gaining public support. As early as 2011, the organization's campaigns against United Russia, a political party largely associated with President Vladimir Putin, have led to noticeable changes in the electoral outcomes.
Ashurkov then spoke about the organization's relations with Western governments, particularly in regard to its stances on sanctions, protests, and the war in Ukraine. He explained that the organization has a meticulous procedure for creating a list of people they believe Western governments should sanction, which currently includes around 7,000 individuals. While their organization has been advocating for sanctions for years, he described the West's action on the matter before the war as "a trickle," whereas sanctions since have come in like "an avalanche." However, he called on Western governments to be more nuanced in issuing sanctions and to provide an offramp for certain individuals who clearly state their positions as anti-war.
Regarding social movements, Ashurkov recognized they cannot take on Putin directly, nevertheless they have the ingredients for success. Relying on strategic polling assessments, social media, emails, and other databases, they estimate their support base in Russia to be 20 million people. While all protest activity has been outlawed in Russia, he described some of the organization's clandestine efforts to support individuals interested in expressing their opposition to the government.
He stated that they do not project a timeframe for political change in Russia, therefore they focus on their ability to continue as long as needed. He does not foresee millions of protesters overcoming the state security structures, but rather he believes political change will require a combination of popular unrest and some sort of elite coup or revolution. Interestingly, then, he credits Putin's war of aggression to the political change that has happened over the last year and said they expect something on this front "to happen within two or three years."
Finally, Ashurkov answered a series of questions from the audience regarding clarifications of Navalny's policy objectives, future investigations, Russian society, and expectations for the future.
Vladimir Ashurkov is a Russian opposition politician currently living in London. In 2011, he and Alexey Navalny, the most prominent figure in the Russian opposition movement, established the non-profit Anti-Corruption Foundation, of which Ashurkov became the Executive Director. In 2014, as a result of politically motivated criminal persecution by the Russian authorities, Ashurkov moved to London, receiving political asylum in 2015. He continues his civil and political activities in close collaboration with Navalny and their team.
Prior to pursuing civil and political activities, Ashurkov worked in finance and investment. He served as the Director of Group Portfolio Management and Control at Alfa Group Consortium, one of the largest Russian investment groups, between 2006-2012. Before joining Alfa Group, he worked in various positions in the investment banking and transportation industries. Ashurkov received his MBA from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania and is also a graduate of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.