Silencing Voices of Russian Opposition
Putin’s Administration uses a variety of methods to silence those who disagree with the Kremlin’s policies, including political assassinations. Many Kremlin critics have been silenced by murder and the list is growing – Starovoitova, Yushenkov, Shchekochikhin, Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Nemtsov and others.
Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, died when he was poisoned with the radioactive isotope Polonium-210 (P-210) in the first ever nuclear terrorist attack in November 2006 in London. In 2014, the British Government established an official inquiry to investigate Mr. Litvinenko’s death. The inquiry established that Litvinenko was probably murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin by two Russian agents, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun. The full verdict can be found here.
The case aroused widespread suspicion as Litvinenko said this before his death: “You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”
Free Russia Foundation organized a visit of Marina Litvinenko, the widow of Alexander Litvinenko, to Washington, DC on March 14-15 to inform U.S. officials and policy-makers about the results of the inquiry and to seek for specific actions from the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration.
On Tuesday the 15th, the Atlantic Council hosted a panel discussion put together by the McCain Institute and the Free Russia Foundation regarding the Kremlin’s silencing of Russian opposition. Featured at the panel besides the wife of the murdered Aleksander Litvinenko, were Dr. Alex Goldfarb of the Litvinenko Justice Foundation, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of Open Russia and the political party Parnas.
Kara-Murza recently survived a mysterious poisoning of his own. Although he survived, his case, as well as Litvinenko’s and many others, have become emblematic of the increasingly repressive and dangerous situation facing Russian opposition activists.
David Kramer of the McCain Institute moderated the event. He noted that repression of dissidents is not a new phenomenon under Vladimir Putin’s administration, but it was made clear at the opening of the panel that today it is “no longer an anomaly, but part and parcel of the Kremlin’s strategies.”
First to speak at the panel was Marina Litvinenko. She reminded that her husband’s murder was “the first ever act of nuclear terrorism on the streets of a major city.” Mrs. Litvinenko informed that at the time of Alexander’s poisoning her husband worked with British and Spanish authorities investigating connections between Mr. Putin and his circle with organized crime – these links were confirmed by Spanish investigators after his death. She believes that this work was the main motive for his murder.
Dr. Alex Goldfarb, Litvinenko s close friend was next to speak. Litvinenko’s poisoning in London sent a grave message; even western cities like London were no longer safe. Polonium was utilized since it would be difficult to detect, but it was detected, which Dr. Goldfarb explained makes the chances of something like this happening in the west again unlikely.
Poison made another appearance more recently in the Russian dissident community when Vladimir Kara-Murza suddenly fell violently ill in a meeting in Moscow. He was lucky to be rushed to a hospital and cured, but the poison had taken a toll on him as he walked with a cane and explained that heavy metals were found in his blood. Nevertheless, Kara-Murza pledged that he would return to Moscow. “They want us to run but I won’t give them that pleasure”, he thundered to some applause. He insists: “We must practice what we preach: democracy, anti-corruption are not just ideas, they’re practices”.
Kara-Murza was one of many opposition figures who was also openly threatened by thugs likely tied to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen firebrand. He was asked what could be done from Washington, and his answer was simple. Let the opposition know they are not alone, but it is the Russian opposition’s job to bring democracy to Russia and no-one else’s. He did, however, praise the Magnitsky Act and his meetings with American politicians even taking the time to point out that the European Union had yet to pass anything like it, though he stated that the implementation of that “pro-Russian” law as he described was “feeble”.
Kara-Murza has spoke that West should include Russian propagandists which spread hatred in our country to the list of banned government figures as part of the sanctions. Russian politicians and propagandists like to criticize western values, but they will turn around and buy property and real estate in the West as well as send their children to American and European universities. “Russian governmentt officials who use media to create an environment of hate must be added to sanctions list…Russian authorities oppress citizens of Russia but invest stolen money in the West and educate their kids in the West”.
Kara-Murza also was keen to bring up the corruption that is pervasive in the Kremlin today. “Back in Soviet times there was an ideology to follow. Now the only ideology is money.”
Kara-Murza is right. The responsibility to bring democracy to Russia lies solely with the Russian people and those who strive for liberty within Russia. It’s time to turn away from the fear and hatred and mistrust of the present and look towards a brighter future that is out there for our country. Kara-Murza is also right that the Western measures against Russian corrupt officials have a very pro-Russian character, because the Russians who are involved in the fight against corruption, falsifications of elections and the illegitimate parliament are Russian patriots. They struggle for independent media, a media that informs rather than spreading propaganda. They are for dialogue and cooperation instead of threats, poisoning and murders.
by Kyle Menyhert