Cameron pledges to do ‘everything he can’ to bring home jailed Russian-British Kremlin critic

UK foreign secretary David Cameron becomes the first cabinet minister to meet with Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife of jailed British-Russian Kremlin critic Vladimir, since his arrest nearly two years ago

Tom Watling
Friday 01 March 2024 19:51 GMT
'Putin and his cronies are only people behaving like Nazis,’ Cameron says

The foreign secretary has assured the family of jailed British-Russian Kremlin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza that they will “do everything it can to bring him home” in a landmark meeting.

Lord David Cameron met with Evgenia Kara-Murza, 43, in Whitehall for crunch talks on Friday afternoon about a possible prisoner swap for her husband.

The meeting, which The Independent revealed on Wednesday was going ahead, is the first time a British foreign secretary has met with Mrs Kara-Murza since her husband was arrested in April 2022 and later sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian penal colony.


It is widely believed that he was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of treason for speaking out against Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. His sentence is the longest in post-Soviet history.

The Cambridge-educated politician and journalist, who spent years working for independent Russian newspapers in London, has since September been kept in a punishment cell similar to the one the authorities held Alexei Navalny in before he died.

And the opposition leader, whose mentor Boris Nemtsov was murdered outside the Kremlin in 2015, is suffering from a nerve condition called polyneuropathy that is worsening by the day. It was caused, says his wife, by two poisoning attempts on his life, carried out by the same FSB team that killed Mr Nemtsov and tried to murder Mr Navalny in 2020 using novichok.

Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza pleads with Russians not to give up after Navalny death (AP, SOTA)

Russian human rights lawyers, as well as British politicians, have told The Independent that Mr Kara-Murza will be the next to die if he is not either swapped or moved to a hospital.

“Alexei Navalny’s death marks a grim milestone as the government is now clearly willing to kill political prisoners, be it by outright murder or by torturing them to death,” Grigory Vaypan, a senior lawyer for Memorial, Russia’s oldest civil rights group, said. “This risk is now manifest in the case of Kara-Murza.”

Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws KC, a Labour peer, said she had “no doubt” that Mr Kara-Murza would be killed by Mr Putin if a prisoner exchange for his release is not negotiated.

Mrs Kara-Murza, speaking to The Independent after her meeting with Lord Cameron, said she believed the crunch talks, which went well over the half-an-hour scheduled time, had been a “sign of good will”.

“I think it went rather well,” she said. “We talked for almost an hour, way beyond the scheduled time.

“I am happy that the meeting finally took place. For two years, I have been requesting this meeting and for two years, I have been unable to get one.

“He assured me that the UK will be doing everything it can to bring Vladimir home.”

After the meeting, Lord Cameron called for Mr Kara-Murza to be released for “urgent medical treatment”. He said in a statement: “The politically motivated conviction of Vladimir Kara-Murza is deplorable.

“Imprisoned on false charges by the Russian regime, Mr Kara-Murza is being persecuted for his anti-war stance and defence of human rights.

“It was an honour to meet Evgenia Kara-Murza and Elena Gordon, who have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of their husband’s and son’s case.

“The conditions in the Omsk penal colony are threatening Mr Kara-Murza’s life and his health is deteriorating. He must be released on humanitarian grounds for urgent medical treatment.

“Through diplomatic interventions at the highest levels, financial sanctions targeted at those behind his poisoning and imprisonment, and by raising his case on the international stage, we are sending a clear message that the UK will not stand for this abhorrent treatment of one of our citizens. Russia’s depraved treatment of political prisoners must end.”

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron arrives at the Foreign Office, London (James Manning/PA Wire)

When The Independent sat down with Mrs Kara-Murza on Wednesday after she arrived in London, she said she was “hopeful” the foreign secretary would help her free her husband.

But the Foreign Office has maintained throughout Mr Kara-Murza’s imprisonment that it will not negotiate with Russia for fear of encouraging state hostage taking, and Lord Cameron has not announced a change in this policy.

“The official position is still that they will not engage,” Mrs Kara-Murza said.

No such promises to potentially alter this policy were made by shadow foreign secretary David Lammy either, who met Mrs Kara-Murza and Vladimir’s mother, Elena Gordon, on Thursday morning.

The details of state hostage swaps, however, are often kept under close wraps and Mrs Kara-Murza has previously said that what she believes is the Kremlin killing of Mr Navalny has further hurt her ability to speak openly about any potential plans to free her husband.

Mr Navalny’s team have alleged that Mr Putin ordered the killing of Mr Navalny within days of finding out that US and German officials may be open to a swap.

People attend the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, on Friday (REUTERS)

They claimed talks about exchanging Mr Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hit man in jail in Germany, were in their final stages at the time of his death.

Though these claims remain unconfirmed, Mrs Kara-Murza maintains that Mr Navalny was murdered. And that her meeting with Lord Cameron was taking place while the late Russian opposition was being buried was not lost on her.

“While we were sitting in his office, talking about Vladimir’s life, I couldn’t stop thinking that Alexei Navalny was being buried in Moscow.,” she said. “I cannot wrap my head around that timing. It breaks my heart.

“In my mind, I was going back to those images of thousands of thousands of people going from the church to the cemetery to say goodbye to Alexei, chanting ‘Navalny, Navalny’, all the while heavily surrounded by police.”

She added: “I was also going back to the fact that Alexei’s wife, now a widow, and their children, were not even able to be there.”

Thousands of miles from her own jailed husband, and having hardly spoken to him for two years, the message was clear.

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