Alexei Navalny’s top aide Leonid Volkov has announced that he is stepping down as chairman of the ACF International Foundation (the international name for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, or ACF).
According to Volkov, the decision follows the publication of a letter that he had sent to the office of Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in 2022, without informing his ACF colleagues, which he considers to be “a big political mistake.”
In the letter, Volkov suggests that Borrell should outline clear criteria for the lifting of sanctions. Many businessmen who do not support the Kremlin have been unjustly subjected to sanctions, the politician pointed out, citing the example of Alfa Group shareholders Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan and Alexei Kuzmichev and suggesting to remove them from the EU sanctions list.
The Insider quotes Volkov's post in full:
“In October 2022, I signed and sent the following letter to Josep Borrell’s office. That letter was a big political error. Even worse, by doing so, I exceeded my authority – I signed it not in my personal capacity, but on behalf of the organisation. I did not inform my colleagues and therefore I framed them.
I had the feeling that the situation at the time (against the backdrop of Putin's defeats and disunity in the Russian elites) was critical, and that by setting a precedent, a chain reaction of public condemnation of the war and disunity in the Russian elites could be set in motion. I was wrong.
I have therefore decided to halt my public political activity as chairman of the board of ACF [Anti-Corruption Foundation] International. We will soon be meeting with our colleagues to decide how they see the possible formats for our joint work (and whether they see it [at all]). We will be sure to let everyone know about the decisions made.
I want to apologize to everyone whose trust I have not lived up to – first of all, of course, to my colleagues in the governing bodies of the ACF, to [our] supporters and, of course, to Alexei Navalny. It pains to see this whole affair used by Putin's friends of all stripes to try to hound Navalny, who has been illegally imprisoned in torture conditions for more than two years.
Let us not forget the main point: Putin has waged a criminal and insane full-scale war for more than a year, and there is no greater task in the world than to put an end to that war, and the only way to do that is by defeating Putin.
I ask you to respect my decision not to comment on this whole situation other than the above.”
The day prior, the letter in question was posted on Telegram by former Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov, with the following remark:
“It all started on October 14. Already there, in a letter to Borrell, Leonid Volkov supports the removal of Alfa from the sanctions list in exactly the same terms. I thank my colleagues in the EU for the document.”
Volkov's letter to Borrell reads in part:
“There should be a separate discussion regarding sanctions in respect of the so called ‘oligarchs’, major entrepreneurs who are not part of the government. As far as we can see, it is them who have become the biggest victims of European Union sanctions and this appears to be unfair.
In order to illustrate the above, we enclose with this letter a typical example of a case where the practical implementation of European Union sanctions caused, in our opinion, the imposition of wrongful restrictions on business people of Russian origin, who are not connected to the crimes committed by Putin’s regime. The case of Alfa-Group corporation, among others, was what encouraged us to write this letter and make suggestions on improving the current European Union policy concerning sanctions on individuals.”
Earlier, Venediktov had posted another letter which listed Volkov's signature in favour of removing Alfa Group executives – including Mikhail Fridman – from EU sanctions. Volkov's signature can be seen side-by-side with other leading opposition figures, such as TV Rain founder Natalia Sindeeva and entrepreneur Yevgeny Chichvarkin:
Following the posts, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, whose signature is also in the document, detailed how he had signed the letter. According to him, an Alfa Group executive approached him with a personal request and asked him to sign a document “which was necessary for the court.”
It is possible that Alfa Group representatives collected letters of recommendation from other signatories in the same way, and then created a unified list.
Parkhomenko added that, according to his sources, there were other personal letters written in support of sanctions relief for one of Alfa's executives. According to Parkhomenko, letters were signed by Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, incarcerated opposition politician Ilya Yashin and the human rights organization Memorial – a joint laureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.