In her essay for the Carr Center's latest publication, Making a Movement: The History and Future of Human Rights, Maria Kuznetsova (MPP '25) discusses her work as a human rights defender in Russia and her views on the Russia-Ukraine conflict from her unique perspective. 


Maria Kuznetsova, Scholar at Risk, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

"I am a human rights defender and democratic activist from Russia. The greatest lesson I have learned so far is that violence never remains confined to the space you initially allow it. Russian civil society has been actively raising awareness internationally about human rights abuses inside Russia for about two decades. In parallel, Georgians and Ukrainians have been forcefully and persistently highlighting their own struggles against invasions since 2008 and 2014.

"Through Russia's example, we have seen that the global community has long employed an “appeasement of the dictator” tactic— cooperating with Putin even after the murders and assassination attempts on opposition leaders, the closure of independent media and human rights organizations, and the attacks on Georgia and Ukraine.

"We should closely listen to human rights defenders and support them—they are the litmus test of society, sensing first when society begins to ail."

"Like many other human rights defenders, I cannot return to my home country due to a possibility of imprisonment. I had to leave Russia before the invasion of Ukraine. Most significant pro-democratic organizations were either shut down or labelled as foreign agents well in advance, with many opposition leaders arrested months before February 24th. Such an attack is not possible without first eliminating any opposition that can protest domestically. Talking to many international leaders in the months before the invasion of Ukraine, I saw a huge reluctance to act. This inaction proved costly for humanity as a whole. So, here is what I want to say: violence never stays inside. Violence won’t stay in Donbas, Abkhazia, or the Xinjiang Uygur region; it will spread far beyond “deathworlds” when authoritarian states feel they will go unpunished. I strongly believe that world leaders should stop dividing dictators into “ours” and “theirs” and see authoritarianism as a global threat, especially in a century of rapid technological and economic growth, where new surveillance and control technologies make peaceful regime change even harder.

"We should closely listen to human rights defenders and support them—they are the litmus test of society, sensing first when society begins to ail. At this stage, the worst consequences can still be averted, but this requires decisiveness, collaboration, and international pressure. The UDHR proclaims universal rights that apply to all humans without discrimination. Now, more than ever, we should support those on the frontlines of human rights defense." ■

Read the full publication.