Vladimir Kara-Murza’s wife Evgenia thinks he will have been like a “hurricane contained inside a bottle” since he was arrested on 11 April in Moscow and held in pre-trial detention over a speech he had made in Arizona criticising the war in Ukraine.
“He has so much energy, so many ideas, and initiatives, that being contained within the four walls of a prison will be the hardest part for him,” said Evgenia, who has not been allowed to speak to him.
As a Russian politician, campaigner and regime critic, Vladimir Kara-Murza worked for 15 years alongside Boris Nemtsov, another opposition leader, who was killed in 2015.
Sitting in a hotel near Westminster on the same day she met the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly, Evgenia Kara-Murza warned the UK government that her husband, a British citizen who has twice been allegedly poisoned by the Russian spy agency the FSB, may have reason to fear for his own life.
She had no criticism of her husband’s decision to repeatedly return to Russia, even after the invasion of the Ukraine, saying: “He believed that as a Russian politician, he cannot call on people to continue fighting if he himself is somewhere safe, and he believes that he has to share the same risks, the same challenges as the Russians who continue to oppose this war.
“Basically, by calling this war a war, instead of the ‘special operation’ as the government wants it to be called, by saying that, a person can end up in prison for up to 15 years. On the basis of the charges laid so far Vladimir is now facing up to 10 years.”
No court date has been yet set, possibly because officials will press additional charges such as advocating personal sanctions against the regime, she said.
“Our family has been living like this for a long time,” said Kara-Murza, who has three teenage children. “He was targeted by an FSB team that tried to kill him twice in 2015 and 2017.
“Thanks to an amazing independent investigation by Bellingcat and Insider, we now know the names and the faces of those people from the FSB, who had followed him before the poisoning. Both times Vladimir was left in a coma with multiple organ failure. And I brought him back to the US. He recovered and then he went back to Russia.
“The Russian authorities have chosen this new tactic of dealing with opposition figures, especially well-known opposition figures like [Alexei] Navalny, or my husband – they try to lock them away and hide them from the public eye and prevent them from continuing to work. It is because they’re so effective when they’re outside.”
Kara-Murza said that since the war started Russia had switched from being an authoritarian regime to a totalitarian one. “There is not one independent media outlet left, there is massive repression and propaganda pumped out on national TV … There is a new iron curtain around this country.”
But she insisted dissent exists below the surface as people access news via virtual private networks or the Telegram messaging service. “I believe that Putin has not yet declared mobilisation because he knows how people will react to it. But a week or two ago, they said that there have already been 11 conscription centres burned down across Russia.
“So that’s how people protest – by saying: ‘We’re not going to go to your war.’ People get arrested for going out on the street with a copy of War and Peace. Others have been arrested for carrying ‘invisible anti-government slogans’. The police said they could see invisible things. It is that crazy.”
She pleaded for the west not to give up on the dissidents in Russia.
“I believe Putin has signed his own death warrant with this war,” she said, “but he will fall the sooner we end these double standards: at the same time as countries support the Ukrainian people by sending weapons and providing humanitarian aid and imposing sanctions on the Russian economy, they also give Putin billions for oil and gas, which allows him to continue his aggression … this has to stop because honestly, it is inexplicable.”
Her husband’s arrest and her campaign to secure his release have required her to change her role. “The fact is, I’ve never been a public figure. I’ve never been a public speaker, so everything I’m doing today, I’m learning it day by day.
“All the people I’m meeting, I heard of them, of course, from my husband’s work, but I’ve met very few of them before. So everything is novel. Everything – speaking and being on stage, speaking to journalists – is very new to me. It’s a rather glum joke, but we do have this joke in the family, that I only emerge when my husband gets poisoned or thrown in jail.”