In a public letter shared on social media, Ilya Yashin, a Russian opposition activist currently imprisoned, expressed his criticism of Czech President Petr Pavel’s recent statements advocating for stricter surveillance of Russians residing in the West. Yashin argued that such remarks only aid Russian state propaganda. He emphasized that Russia is “not a country of murderers,” but rather a nation where “murderers have seized power.”
In a mid-June interview with RFE/RL, Petr Pavel proposed enhanced surveillance measures for Russians living in Western countries, citing their citizenship in a nation engaged in aggressive warfare. He drew a parallel to the strict surveillance imposed on Japanese individuals in the United States during World War II.
Pavel’s words triggered a strong reaction from Russian media and officials, who interpreted the statement as evidence of alleged “Russophobia” prevalent in the West.
In his letter, Yashin revealed engaging in debates with his fellow inmates on various topics, attempting to convey that “Russia can be different” and that Russians are not fated to live under a dictatorship. He argued that European values serve the interests of the Russian people, and he offered historical examples, including the Czech Republic and its esteemed first president, Vaclav Havel, whom he greatly admires.
“Imagine this: in the midst of one of these discussions, you, Mr. President, appear on the television screen. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine revels in your words, suggesting that all Russians residing in Western nations should come under strict scrutiny by local intelligence agencies. You mention the experience of the United States during World War II, where 120,000 people of Japanese descent were interned, deeming it ‘just the cost of war,'” Yashin wrote in his open letter.
“My cellmates listen attentively to your speech. ‘Is this your Havel?’ one of them asks me. ‘No,’ I clarify, ‘that’s Petr Pavel.’ ‘Whether it’s Havel or Pavel doesn’t matter,’ another responds. ‘Putin correctly explains to the West that we are all second-class people, both you and me. No difference,'” the letter continued.
“Mr. President, I might be seen as a romantic, but I genuinely believe in European values. I believe in the equality of all individuals and that everyone deserves fair treatment. People should be judged based on their actions, not ‘by association.’ I believe that in a free society, security services do not monitor individuals based on their nationality. I believe that my country can break free from the shackles of dictatorship, just as your nation and many other European countries in the Free World once did. I believe that Russia and Europe can coexist peacefully as good neighbors.”
“It is for these beliefs that I find myself in Putin’s prison. After all, Putin is relentlessly instilling in the minds of my compatriots that Europe is the enemy and its leaders are Russophobes. Please refrain from assisting Putin in convincing Russians of that narrative and treat my people fairly,” Yashin concluded.
Ilya Yashin, 39, previously held positions in Moscow’s municipal government and was one of the few remaining opposition politicians in Russia who openly criticized the country’s invasion of Ukraine before his arrest last June. He was detained due to his YouTube posts concerning the killing of civilians by Russian soldiers in Bucha.
Last year, Yashin was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison by a Russian court for spreading false information about the Russian military. He maintains his innocence and, during his trial in April, referred to President Putin as a war criminal.