Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Why Putin jailed my brother

He’s fighting for freedom – and that’s what the Kremlin can’t stand

Photo: The New European

My brother Rustam Fararetdinov is from a small village in central Bashkortostan, in Russia’s Volga District. He lives there with his wife and three young children, and works as a mobile crane operator and mechanic. He has never been active in politics, nor has he ever had any problems with the local authorities. 

Yet, despite living a very normal and happy life with his friends and family, Rustam was arrested two weeks ago by the Federal Security Service (the FSB) and detained on charges of terrorism.

My brother is no terrorist. Even the arresting authorities admit this. 

According to a text Rustam sent to his wife hours after his arrest, FSB officers told him he will “sit for his brother,” and will not be released until I return from exile to face charges under Russia’s authoritarian “foreign agent” laws.

In other words, the Russian state is holding my brother hostage. They want to exchange my life for his.

Why I am wanted by the Kremlin

Very few people reading this will have heard of Bashkortostan, but you will likely have warmed your home or filled your petrol tank with our republic’s vast natural resources. Along with the neighbouring Republic of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan sits on the majority of Russia’s European oil and gas reserves, and the pipelines that send this much-sought-after energy westward flow through our borders.

There is much more to Bashkortostan than our energy sector, however. 

We, the Bashkir people, have lived on the edge of Europe for a thousand years, and were a proud and independent nation before the expanding Russian empire turned us into a colony in the 16th century. 

Then, as now, Moscow takes whatever it wants from Bashkortostan. Kremlin-controlled companies take our natural resources with little regard for the environment, and send our young men to fight and die in foreign wars with no concern for the families left to grieve. The Kremlin has also steadily pushed our native language and culture to the margins of society, year by year, decades after decade – a process known as “Russification.”

To try and stem the tide of Russification and ensure the survival of our language, my friend Fail Alsynov and I co-founded a local youth organisation called “Bashkort” in 2014. , 

We organised rallies to encourage pride in our language and culture, and thousands of people joined the 18 branches we set up across the republic. The authorities really didn’t like us, and regularly harassed us, but did not ban us.

This changed in the summer of 2020.

The Bashkir Soda Company, an enormous government-owned mining company, and one of Russia’s largest chemical exporters, acquired the mining rights to one of the most beautiful and culturally significant places in Bashkortostan.

Mt. Kushtau is one of the four “Shikhans,” which are ancient limestone deposits that tower over the Ural plains. The Bashkir people have long considered them sacred, but in the last century one was levelled and destroyed by a Soviet mining operation. BASHKORT was determined not to allow a second Shikhan to be destroyed.

The battle for Mt. Kushtau was one of the proudest moments of my life. Hundreds of BASHKORT members kept a constant vigil at the foot of the mountain, erecting barricades and forming human chains to prevent the bulldozers and other mining equipment from accessing the area. The local government deployed battalions of armed police and private security guards to intimidate us, and the Kremlin-appointed “Head of Bashkortostan,” Radiy Khabirov, came to Mt. Kushtau in person to persuade us to disperse. We would not. 

Worried that the incident could begin to draw international attention, Khabirov backed down. We won. And Mt Kushtau remains intact today.

Any victory over the Kremlin comes at a high price, however.

While we were on the mountain protesting, BASHKORT was banned by the courts for “extremism.” As one of its leaders, I was singled out for harassment, and forced to flee Russia in December 2021. A few months later, the government of Lithuania granted me assylum

Why my brother was taken hostage

Saying goodbye to my family, particularly my brother Rustam and our mother, was a necessary but painful step. 

Although far from home, I remained politically active, forging partnerships with other Bashkir exiles. Initially, we campaigned for the Republic of Bashkortostan to have meaningful autonomy, so we could rule ourselves without Kremlin interference. 

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we realised that autonomy wasn’t enough. Today we campaign for independence – not just for Bashkortostan, but for all of Russia’s many ethnic republics. 

Along with exiled leaders from Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Buryatia, the Erzyan and Moksha peoples of Mordovia, and many others, I co-founded the Free Nations League. I have also been lucky enough to speak for the Bashkir People at the European Parliament at the fifth Free Nations of Post-Russia Forum

In public, the authorities in Bashkortostan say that our calls for independence are meaningless, that we are a bunch of cranks with no popular support at home among the Bashkir people.

When they took my brother hostage, however, they gave lie to these claims. The Bashkortostan government wants me silenced so badly they are willing to imprison an innocent person to make it happen.

I have been told that it was Khabirov himself who gave the order for my brother’s arrest. In October, Khabirov personally ordered that a criminal case be opened against my fellow Bashkort co-founder, Fail Alsynov. He has never forgiven us for defying him on Mt. Kushtau four years ago, and there is nothing he fears more than a person willing to stand up to him in public. 

There is something else that Khabirov fears: seeing an account of my brother’s arrest in an English-language newspaper like The New European, or in any other media willing to shine a spotlight on his crimes.

I ask everyone reading this to share my brother’s story as widely as possible. Please tell your friends, your colleagues, and your member of parliament. 

The world needs to know that Rustam Fararetdinov is being held hostage in Russia, and why.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.