A major Kremlin critic detained in Russia has been granted honorary Canadian citizenship in a bid to help win his freedom – prompting calls for the US and Britain to play their part to increase his chances of making it out alive.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a close ally of murdered opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, was jailed for 25 years on treason charges on April 17 this year after surviving two poisonings which left him in a coma in both 2015 and 2017.
The 41-year-old British-Russian national also lived in Washington for at least a decade, and his wife Evgenia Kara-Murza is still based in the US with their three children aged 11, 14, and 17.
After flying back to Russia at the outbreak of Putin‘s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year to oppose the war, he was detained on charges of treason and spreading false information about the Russian army via a process he described as a ‘show trial’.
Kara-Murza’s close friend and activist, Bill Browder, told the Dailymail.com that the unanimous decision by Canadian parliament to grant him honorary citizenship on Thursday is ‘really important’ for his chances of being freed alive.
Muscovite Vladimir Kara-Murza was granted honorary Canadian citizenship by unanimous vote on Thursday
The 41-year-old Kremlin critic faced what he has called a ‘show trial’ in Moscow before being jailed for treason on April 17 this year
British-American businessman Bill Browder has dubbed Kara-Murza ‘the Russian equivalent of Nelson Mandela’ as he campaigns for Britain and the US to do more to save the dissident
Browder, an American-British businessman, added that this privilege has only been granted to seven people previously, including Nelson Mandela.
Describing Kara-Murza as ‘the Russian equivalent of Nelson Mandela’, he explained: ‘He’s been given this really important recognition which will hopefully signal to the Russians that he shouldn’t be killed because he’s an important person that could be used to negotiate with in future.
‘There’s going to be a moment in time where there’s going to be a negotiation about different things between Putin and the West.
‘By giving him this status, by acknowledging his importance officially like this, it means his name will be high on the list when there are these negotiations and discussions taking place.’
The 59-year-old founder of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management said Kara-Murza has been given the ‘longest sentence of any political prisoner in Russia’ because he has been ‘so effective at upsetting Putin’.
‘They tried to kill him twice with poison in 2015 and 2017, and so (in the West) he’s really been acknowledged and recognized as the purest and most beloved Russian opposition politician to Putin,’ Browder said.
‘He is the type of person that the West wants to lead Russia – when Putin is out or when the war is over – to lead it out of this terrible place that it’s in.’
Kara-Murza was also a key campaigner for Congress passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012 – a bill intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Browder’s company lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a prison in 2009.
The Moscow-born politician was also highly instrumental in passing Canada’s equivalent Magnitsky Law in 2017.
‘Vladimir has opposed the war, he’s criticized Putin, he’s been responsible for the Magnitsky Act being passed in 35 countries,’ Browder said.
He added that the 25-year term which Kara-Murza is serving in a jail north of Moscow could be a ‘death sentence’ because he has already ‘lost more then 50 pounds’, and his health is still severely impacted by the poisonings.
His wife Evgenia also told Reuters in May that Russian authorities have been torturing him psychologically by denying him calls with his children.
For this reason, Browder is among those urgently campaigning for the US and Britain to follow Canada’s example.
In the US, this means adding him to the Levinson Act list of people officially recognized as being unlawfully detained, which was used to free American basketball player Brittney Griner from Russian jail last year.
‘This piece of legislation says if you get a special designation then the US government will use all of its resources to get you free,’ Browder said.
‘So, we’re in parallel conducting a campaign to get Vladimir Kara-Murza the designation of unlawfully detained in America, so that the US government joins in this effort.
‘We recently had 81 Members of Congress write a letter to the Secretary of State calling on him to get that designation.
‘Canada doesn’t have a Levinson Act, so honorary citizenship was as close as we’re going to get, which is very helpful.’
The fact there are two people jailed in Russia who are already listed as unlawfully detained – Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich – could be holding the US back from adding Kara-Murza to the list, according to Browder.
Kara-Murza gave evidence at his ‘show trial’ from within a defendants’ cage at the Basmanny court in Moscow in late 2022
The dissident’s wife, Evgenia Kara-Murza, said Russian authorities have been torturing him psychologically by denying him calls with his children
Kara-Murza has lost more than 50 pounds over around six weeks in jail and his friends are worried that he may not live to be freed
British-American businessman and political activist Bill Browder is close friends with Kara-Murza and the two are keeping in contact via letters to jail
US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, Britain’s Ambassador to Russia Deborah Bronnert and Canadian Ambassador to Russia Alison LeClaire spoke to the media outside the Moscow City Court following the verdict in Kara-Murza’s case
Kara-Murza is serving the longest sentence of any political prisoner in Russia, according to Browder
Evgenia Kara-Murza is worried for her husband’s health while he remains imprisoned in Russia
Meanwhile, there are currently no other known Canadian or British citizens unlawfully detained in Russia.
‘Thursday’s move by Canada lights the fire under the British government’s weir, because they need to be more active,’ Browder said.
‘If the Canadians are ready to make him an honorary citizen, then it raises the question: what is the British government doing for him, when he is a legitimate British citizen?’
The UK Foreign Office (FCDO) has placed sanctions on three individuals involved in Kara-Murza’s arrest and two members of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, who followed him prior to the poisonings.
Those sanctioned for their involvement in Kara-Murza’s arrest have been named as Elena Lenskaya, the judge who approved the arrest, and investigators Denis Kolesnikov and Andrei Zadachin.
FSB agents Alexander Samofal and Konstantin Kudryavtsev have also been sanctioned, with the FCDO saying they were part of an ‘operational team’ that followed Kara-Murza on multiple trips before he was poisoned.
The FCDO and the Canadian government has been approached for comment.