Open letter in support of Russian civil society

Russia's brutal and unlawful attack on Ukraine has left millions of Ukrainians fighting for their lives and freedom. The scale of the violence and the violation of rights and ethics is causing shock and disbelief throughout the democratic world.

I am writing this appeal from Russia, where I have been working on projects to support civil society for many years, including three weeks prior to Vladimir Putin's declaration of war.

I strongly support the reactions of democratic countries in recent days, and I wish decisive action against the growing dictatorship had been taken earlier. Sanctions, restrictions, and the delivery of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine are aimed primarily at saving the lives of Ukrainians. The Moscow leadership has chosen the path of isolating Russia, which is a central defense strategy of the EU and Germany in particular in times of war.

However, as I am still in the aggressor's country, I also see the collateral damage of isolation. Therefore, we in the EU must avoid collectively punishing our Russian colleagues, partners, and like-minded people with sanctions and restrictions. Regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine, the leadership in Russia has already taken a course of repression internally for many years, which will particularly affect these people.

That is why they now need our European support more than ever, and we should act anticyclically. Cutting joint educational programs, scientific and civil society initiatives and cooperation, as well as restricting entry to Germany, will only support Putin's isolationist policies and put additional pressure on the democratically-minded civil society and intellectuals.

Even though it may be difficult to imagine at present and even seen as naive, as a Russian citizen living in Germany, I want to believe in a good democratic future for Russia. The country's very diverse civil society stands for this.

Therefore, I urge not to break off relations with the Russian activist community and not to impose sanctions or restrictions on Russian citizens whose activities are directed at building a democratic society in the country. Most importantly, I ask that persecuted people not be denied entry into the EU. I am in no way trying to downplay the suffering of Ukrainians, but I ask that the suffering of my partners in Russia, who are also victims of Putin and his seemingly infinite power, be taken into account as well.
Elena Stein
Director of the Center for Independent Social Research Berlin