Russia’s Human Rights Council was reshuffled to exclude critics and bring in pro-war cheerleaders.
It comes ahead of a key annual meeting where free speech about the Ukraine war was to be discussed.
Putin wants to keep the group “on-message,” one expert told Insider.
President Vladimir Putin removed several critics from Russia’s Human Rights Council on Thursday, replacing them with some pro-Kremlin and pro-war figures, according to independent Russian media.
The official decree removed 10 names from the council, including internationally respected figures like xenophobia researcher Alexander Verkhovsky and anti-torture campaigner Igor Kalyapin.
In their place, new council members include Alexander Kots, a war correspondent for Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, who has been sanctioned as a propagandist by the UK, and Elena Shishkina, a representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, which is unrecognized by the West.
The changes suggest a shift in how Putin deals with dissent as his Ukraine invasion stalls.
Dr Precious Chatterje-Doody, a lecturer in politics and international studies focusing on Russia at the UK’s Open University, told Insider: “Putin wants to be sure that the Council will be on message” for its annual meeting, scheduled for December 10.
One of those removed, journalist Nikolai Svanidze, had wanted to raise Russia’s clampdown on anti-war speech at the meeting, according to Meduza.
Chatterje-Doody said that until the invasion of Ukraine, a ‘safe’ level of political dissent had been folded into Russia’s political system “as long as it doesn’t impinge directly on the image or credibility of the Kremlin or Putin himself.”
This system — often referred to as controlled opposition — is what Chatterje-Doody said had allowed organizations such as the Human Rights Council to express genuine criticism.
“But the war context has changed all that,” she said. “All avenues for dissent in Russia are being dramatically shut down, and the replacement of critical voices with war cheerleaders is a continuation of that.”
On October 7, Russia rejected a UN Human Rights Council draft resolution condemning what the body called “the significant deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.”
Top Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that membership rotations at the Human Rights Council are normal.
Peskov added that with the changes “other people become leaders of public opinion, and in the new circumstances, other people can represent civil society in the best way, are the most correct reflection of civil society,” state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti reported.
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