February 20, 2024

Alexei Navalny

“Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died Friday in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence, Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47…

“Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and lost consciousness at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn’t be revived; the cause of death is ‘being established,’ it said…

“Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He was later convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated.” AP News

Here’s our previous coverage of Navalny’s poisoning and subsequent arrest. The Flip Side

Both sides praise Navalny and condemn Putin:

“Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021. Right before he boarded the plane, he posted a film titled ‘Putin’s Palace: The Story of the World’s Largest Bribe’ on YouTube. The video, nearly two hours long, was an extraordinary feat of investigative reporting. Using secret plans, drone footage, 3-D visualizations, and the testimony of construction workers, Navalny’s video told the story of a hideous $1.3 billion Black Sea villa containing every luxury that a dictator could imagine: a hookah bar, a hockey rink, a helipad, a vineyard, an oyster farm, a church…

“This was his extraordinary gift: He could take the dry facts of kleptocracy—the numbers and statistics that usually bog down even the best financial journalists—and make them entertaining… The Russian prison system has said he collapsed after months of ill health. Perhaps he was murdered more directly, but the details don’t matter: The Russian state killed him. Putin killed him—because of his political success, because of his ability to reach people with the truth, and because of his talent for breaking through the fog of propaganda that now blinds his countrymen, and some of ours as well.”

Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

“Navalny’s ultimate weapon was humor. Recall that, after a potentially lethal toxin was secreted into his underpants in an attempt on his life, Navalny showed no outrage. Instead, he started calling Putin ‘the Underpants Poisoner.’ When dictators are as insecure in their own power as Putin is, they cannot stand humor. Nothing could be worse for Putin than being laughed at, than the people realizing that their emperor has no clothes

“[Navalny] chose martyrdom by voluntarily returning to Russia; he could have lived peacefully in exile. But he knew that in exile, his voice would not be heard by the Russian people. It was only from Russia, even from its prisons, that he could best make his voice heard, by sharing the misfortunes of his people tyrannized by Vladimir Putin—this sad, bloody clown who wants so badly to be king.”

Guy Sorman, City Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“It’s often said that hope shines brightest in the darkest times, suggesting that a turn for the better is just around the corner. Yet in the context of Russia’s current state, such optimism seems misplaced. The nation is not primed for widespread protest. And paradoxically, the war in Ukraine may have inadvertently bolstered certain sectors of Russia’s economy, revitalising arms production and generating military employment opportunities for unskilled workers…

“And while the masses revel in these new-found economic opportunities, the death of Navalny sends a loud and clear message to future opposition as well as the intellectual elites: dissent is no longer an option in Putin’s Russia. Russia today is a country where one cannot even lay flowers as a memorial without the threat of arrest… It is difficult not to equate the untimely death of Alexei Navalny with the death of Russian opposition.”

Olga Chyzh, The Guardian

“In 2021, President Biden said the consequences of Navalny’s death in prison ‘would be devastating for Russia.’ He no doubt had in mind more sanctions. But since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the West has already maxed out sanctions on Russia — or close to it. The Russian economy is hurting but is being kept afloat by oil sales to China, India and Turkey. There is not much more the United States can realistically do on the sanctions front without more cooperation from those nations…

“But there are two things that the West can do that would get Putin’s attention: First, send to Ukraine the estimated $300 billion in frozen Russian assets held in the West… Second, pass the $60 billion aid package for Ukraine that was just approved on a bipartisan vote of 70-29 in the Senate…

“Putin feels as though he is winning — and thus as though he can get away with murder. Giving that rapacious dictator a sense of impunity and invincibility is extremely dangerous.”

Max Boot, Washington Post

From the Right

“Ukraine is the weak point in Mr. Putin’s armor. Mr. Biden can’t hide behind Republican obstruction of Ukraine aid, as reprehensible as it is. The White House doesn’t need Congress to send Ukraine long-range artillery like ATACMS and fighter jets essential to protect civilians from Russia’s incessant bombing. Nor can Mr. Biden blame MAGA obstruction for failing to seize more than $300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets and using them to aid Ukraine…

“The West seems intent on duplicating the apathy of Russians in the face of Mr. Putin’s aggression and the results will be the same. He will grow bolder and the price of stopping him will keep going up. The risk to Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Poland will rise along with the threat to other political prisoners like activist Vladimir Kara-Murza and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich… Alexei Navalny was a man of courage and action, and only courage and action can honor him now.”

Garry Kasparov, Wall Street Journal

Others argue that “The West has already used a lot of its leverage against Russia and has little left to spare… European Union exports to Russia have declined by more than 60 percent between February 2022, when the war in Ukraine began, and September 2023. EU imports from Russia have declined by 81 percent during this same period… The US and its partners in Europe and Asia have already walled off a big chunk of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves…

“The sad reality is that there’s nothing much the US or its European allies can do to change Russia’s behavior. The US can and arguably should penalize Russia for what is essentially a state-sanctioned murder, but we also need to be realistic about what this will achieve: nothing of consequence… Putin will continue to be the brutal man he has long since become, particularly if he believes brutality is what keeps him in control of the Russian political system.”

Daniel DePetris, Spectator World

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