Nfter the second interrogation within a few days, Vadim Kobsev knew he had to leave Russia. He is 25 years old and comes from Rostov-on-Don in southwest Russia. There he spent years campaigning for Alexey Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most important opponent, for free elections and against corruption. Kobsev had had to serve four arrest sentences of between four and 13 days in recent years for “offences against the law”. In the fall of 2019, he also got caught up in the maelstrom of criminal proceedings against Navalnyj’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its representations across Russia.
Human rights activists see the actions against Navalnyj and his comrades-in-arms as political persecution, and the federal government also regularly condemns it sharply. Kobsev experienced raids, account freezes, interrogations and, as he describes it, threats that he, like Navalny and other comrades-in-arms, would be sentenced to years of imprisonment, tortured or killed. A summons from the Rostov investigative committee dated March 21 of this year, which the FAZ has seen, states what Kobsev is accused of, including founding an “extremist association” and money laundering: This list of facts, which was used against Navalnyj’s comrades-in-arms, means the prospect for those affected to years of imprisonment.
“It became clear to me that I was going to jail,” says Kobsev, speaking from the one-room apartment on the outskirts of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where he and his wife are staying. “Do you admit that you have been extremist and undermined the constitutional order?” he was asked in the investigative committee. “We didn’t have a plan, we just fled,” says Kobsev.
Via Armenia to Georgia
There is a dispute in the EU about whether Russians are allowed to vacation in their member countries, whether they should be granted visas at all, as long as Russians are killing Ukrainians every day. Kobsev and his wife didn’t even have the first requirement for a visa: like seven out of ten Russians, they didn’t have foreign passports. As soon as the two had applied for and received some, they traveled to Georgia via Armenia; Direct flights to the country, which is at odds with Moscow in the dispute over the Russian-occupied areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and a declared westward course, have long since stopped. Russians can enter Armenia and Georgia without a visa. Tens of thousands walked this path after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
Georgia is not a permanent solution for Kobsev, as a tourist he can only stay in the country for up to a year, and work is hard to come by. There are also increasing cases of Russian opposition figures and independent journalists being turned away at the border. Out of consideration for Moscow, many suspect. Kobsev hoped for Germany and applied for a humanitarian visa at the embassy in Tbilisi. Such visas are issued on the basis of Article 22 of the Residence Act. It reads: “A foreigner can be granted a residence permit for admission from abroad for international law or urgent humanitarian reasons.”