I’ve blogged previously about Russia’s flirtation with fascism, the rise in authoritarianism and nationalism, and the increased aggression in its near abroad. I don’t need to rehash the propaganda campaigns, the lies, and the efforts to destabilize eastern European nations. Seems Russia is in the news a lot ever since the 2016 election.
Lately, something else seems to be on the rise, but isn’t getting as much attention as the cyber intrusions: corruption and murder which looks very much to be linked to the Kremlin.
You remember the murder of Boris Nemtsov, don’t you? No?
Boris Nemtsov was a leading Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister who was murdered in Moscow in February 2015. BBC reported at the time that an unidentified attacker shot Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin.
In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.
Mr Nemtsov, 55, served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
He had earned a reputation as an economic reformer while governor of one of Russia’s biggest cities, Nizhny Novgorod.
Falling out of favour with Yeltsin’s successor, Mr Putin, he became an outspoken opposition politician.
Five ethnic Chechens were tried for the murder, and Chechen
leader thug Ramzan Kadyrov quickly proclaimed the defendants not guilty and blamed the United States.
It’s only a coincidence that the accused thugs were Chechen, and it’s only a coincidence that Nemtsov was fearless in his public accusations against Putin and his ally Kadyrov of misappropriating government funds, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture. And it’s only a coincidence that Kadyrov is a close ally and cousin of Duma Deputy and Adam Delimkhanov.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
A British inquiry into the death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko found that Putin had likely approved the polonium tea that killed the spy who fled to Britain after becoming an outspoken Putin critic.
But nothing to see there either.
Another Putin critic recently wound up in the hospital. Intrepid journalist Michael Totten posted this article on his Facebook page yesterday about Russian reform advocate Vladimir Kara-Murza who wound up in the hospital for the second time in less than two years.
Vladimir is perhaps the most authentic, articulate, informed, reasoned, effective, and persistent advocate for reform and decency in Russia. He has carried his message to audiences in Washington, and across Europe and his own country. He played a key role in the passage of the Magnitsky Act which restricts travel to the US and freezes the assets of designated Russians whose violations of human rights standards have been especially pronounced. Vladimir is also courageous beyond words. After his friend and colleague Boris Nemtsov was murdered outside the Kremlin almost exactly two years ago, Vladimir chose to return to Moscow to advocate for reform in Russia. He did so at considerable personal risk and sacrifice.
Kara-Murza worked for Open Russia, founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was tossed into the Russian clink for daring to stand up to Putin.
Khodorkovsky was arrested on what appeared to be pretty spurious charges of tax evasion and fraud. He spent the next 10 years in prison, with new charges added on to his sentence, including the accusation that he stole 350 million tons of oil… from himself. His trials were, by all accounts, kangaroo tribunals. It took months just to read the initial charges against Khodorkovsky in a notoriously corrupt judicial system, in which his defense attorney now faces the Russian equivalent of disbarment for failure to defend her client effectively.
He was released in late 2013 and later started Open Russia to promote civil reforms in Russia, and Kara-Murza worked for the NGO and was a good friend of the late Boris Nemtsov. Open Russia – restarted by Khodorkovsky after being harassed by the Russian authorities, and its accounts frozen in 2006 – continued to experience… um… incidental problems, as Kara-Murza wrote in 2014.
Open Russia was revived eight years after being forcibly shut down by the Russian authorities. Its relaunch and the opening videoconference that linked civil society activists in ten cities across Russia—from Kaliningrad to Tomsk—were greeted with the typical official response. Almost all regional locations experienced difficulties with the Internet, which was mysteriously cut off minutes before the conference. In Moscow, conference participants were confronted by “journalists” from the notorious NTV channel, which specializes in slandering civil society and opposition activists (incidentally, the location of the event was never publicly announced). In Yaroslavl, someone sabotaged the door lock the night before the conference, leaving activists unable to enter, and the technical equipment blocked inside. In Nizhny Novgorod, members of a pro-Kremlin group headed by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fedorov stormed the hall where conference participants were assembled.
But move along. Nothing to see here. Russia is innocent. It’s just a coincidence that those critical of the Kremlin and Putin’s policies are either dying or being imprisoned. Magnitsky, Navalny, Litvinenko, Nemtsov, Khodorkovsky, and Kara-Murza. And that’s just the top of the iceberg. If I wanted to go on, I’d mention the list of journalists and freelancers who were murdered, and who were reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, including Anna Politkovskaya, Anastasia Baburova, and Igor Domnikov.
Is it any wonder that the United States late last year passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act? The legislation augmented the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, and ensures human rights abusers from anywhere in the world were denied entry into the United States and barred from using our financial institutions. It was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
The indomitable Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) last year uncovered an army of Russian trolls attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy by using the White House’s online petition tool to demand that the Magnitsky Act be repealed.
Don’t count on it, motherfuckers.
The freedoms we so take for granted and even condemn others for exercising can have real and tragic consequences in places other than the United States. And the truth reported by journalists elsewhere, which media outlets so take for granted here in the United States, can result in violence, suppression, arrest, and murder.
Interesting aside, however. Kara-Murza in January sent a letter to Bob Corker and Ben Cardin – both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – asking them to carefully consider the situation in Russia before voting on Rex Tillerson’s nomination.
It is also important to remember that, according to the statues [sic.] of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – of which both the United States and Russia are full members – “issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law… are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”
I trust that you will take these issues into account as you consider the nomination for Secretary of State and the next steps in U.S.-Russia relations.
Here’s wishing Vladimir Kara-Murza a quick recovery and a safe escape from Moscow. Being deathly ill in a Russian hospital is no joke under the best of circumstances (see my description of my tonsil surgery when I was a kid). But when you challenge the Kremlin, survival becomes a whole different challenge.