Russian opposition convenes in Lviv to discuss anti-Putin strategy

Russian opposition figures gathered in Lviv met with Ukrainian authorities to discuss strategies to combat the Putin regime, with the meeting remaining unannounced until it was revealed on social media. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) supported the forum, with its head, Kyrylo Budanov, deeming it a "manifestation of the fight against the Kremlin dictatorship, helping Ukraine to prevail against the aggressor state".

Details about the event were further elucidated by one of the co-organisers, ex-Russian State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. According to him, this was the second such forum, the first taking place in Kyiv on March 17, 2024. This time, Ukrainian officials were also present. "The Lviv Russian opposition forum occurred at the highest level, with over 40 participants from leading opposition groups," said Ponomarev. "Participants included representatives from all three Russian volunteer battalions, as well as members from the Ukrainian Presidential Office and the Verkhovna Rada" .

Ponomarev mentioned that many Lviv residents assisted in organising the forum, adding a symbolic dimension to the event.

The forum saw participation from prominent Russian political opposition figures such as Garry Kasparov, Mark Feygin, and Viktor Shenderovich, alongside Russian volunteer units fighting for Ukraine. However, local authorities, including Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi and the SBU unit in Lviv, stated they were unaware of the event.

"Reports suggest a Russian opposition forum is happening today in Lviv with participants like Khodorkovsky, Kasparov, Feygin, and others I'm not familiar with. Is this a joke?" questioned Sadovyi.

The Russian opposition has long been divided. Following the outbreak of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many opposition leaders emigrated and attempted to consolidate dissent against Putin from abroad. However, years of repression, arrests, and the deaths of Kremlin critics have had a debilitating effect.

The death of Alexei Navalny in February 2024 marked a critical juncture, as there were no longer any prominent figures left to unite opposition against the Kremlin.

Political analyst Oleg Posternak expressed scepticism about the forum's impact. "What we saw in Lviv were retired political bloggers with no influence over authorities or the Russian people. Their collaboration with the FSB makes them unreliable allies, even in the event of a regime change. How can such a meeting help Ukraine win, even if its goals are merely propagandistic?".

Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko suggested that the Ukrainian authorities were signalling their willingness to cooperate with all anti-Putin forces, including volunteer armed units like the "Freedom of Russia" Legion and the RDK. "These individuals support Ukraine on the battlefield, so criticism of them is unfair. Cooperation with Russia's opposition is essential to prevent a recurrence of the current conflict," he argued.

Fesenko highlighted the importance of selective engagement with the Russian opposition, referencing controversial statements by ex-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Ukraine's military developments as an example of opposition figures Kyiv might avoid engaging with.

As history shows, nations like Germany and Japan underwent significant changes post-World War II, influenced by external forces. "For internal change in Russia, we must communicate with Russians who are willing to engage. The Lviv meeting demonstrated our openness to cooperation with those committed to helping us," Fesenko concluded.

Following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, pledged to continue his anti-regime efforts and urged Russians to "fight against the regime".

  War in Ukraine, Lviv, Russian Opposition