UK

Putin critic Bill Browder dedicates knighthood to ‘brave’ Russian dissidents

Sir Bill becomes a knight in the King’s Birthday Honours after lobbying for laws that enable countries to sanction individual human rights abusers.

Anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder has received a knighthood
Anti-corruption campaigner Bill Browder has received a knighthood (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Staunch Kremlin critic Bill Browder has dedicated his knighthood to Russian dissidents who made the “ultimate sacrifice” to fight for their country’s freedom, including Vladimir Kara-Murza and Alexei Navalny.

The US-born financier is knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours after years of lobbying governments to introduce sanctions against human rights violators and kleptocrats.

Sir Bill’s campaign work started in 2009 after the death of his associate Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail after exposing a tax fraud involving Russian officials.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Sir Bill said the honour is “really unexpected and very moving” as he dedicated it to Mr Magnitsky, Mr Navalny and Ilya Yashin, all of whom have either been killed or jailed for opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He also paid tribute to opposition figures Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated on Moscow’s Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge in 2015, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is serving a 25-year jail sentence and survived two poisoning attempts.

Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza and Sir Bill Browder talking about the Magnitsky Justice Campaign at the University of Chicago in 2019. (Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign)
Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza and Sir Bill Browder talking about the Magnitsky Justice Campaign at the University of Chicago in 2019. (Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign)

Both supported Sir Bill with his campaigning to pass the Magnitsky Act in countries across the world.

“There are a lot of Russians that have proven to be brave and have made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

He said he thought the letter informing him of a knighthood was “a prank” when he received it two weeks ago.

Sir Bill recalled being tricked last year into taking a virtual meeting with the former president of Ukraine, which turned out to be a deep fake.

“Some Russian pranksters used it to make fun of me on Russian state television,” he said, adding that the knighthood letter was “such a crazy thing that first it seemed like that, a prank”.

Sir Bill, who is a British citizen, also said he “always felt myself a bit of an outsider”, having grown up in a professor’s family from the south side of Chicago, in the US.

“So to be knighted by the king is probably the warmest embrace I could have ever got from this country.

“But it’s not just an honour for me, it’s an honour for the whole Magnitsky Justice Campaign and all the effort that we put into getting these laws passed in the name of Sergei Magnitsky.”

A protester holds a picture of Alexei Navalny opposite the Russian Embassy in London, after the news of his death
A protester holds a picture of Alexei Navalny opposite the Russian Embassy in London, after the news of his death (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Speaking about Mr Kara-Murza, Sir Bill said: “One of my main goals is to get him out of prison right now.

“If this honour helps raise my profile, so I can fight for justice for him, then this will have been an honour that goes beyond me and goes towards him and other people.”

Sir Bill called for more recognition and support for those in Russia fighting for a democratic future.

He has also been lobbying western governments to seize frozen Russian central bank reserves to give to Ukraine as the war there continues.

“We only think about the bad Russians, the Putin regime and all of his evil warriors, but there are some good Russians (and) a lot of them are already dead,” he said.

“We should do everything we can to support those Russians that are fighting the Putin regime, so that when his regime finally falls we have some good and decent people to run the country, to bring democracy, human rights and freedoms to the Russian people, and to engage with the West in a peaceful way.”