Another Putin critic silenced as human rights abuses continue in Russia
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On February 2, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent Russian activist, journalist, and opposition leader, was hospitalized with symptoms very similar to a poisoning that almost ended his life two years ago. While we don’t yet know the cause of his current illness, his family and close associates believe that it is likely another attempt on his life.

As Vladimir lies unconscious in a hospital in Russia, his suffering is a stark reminder of the brutal human rights abuses and repression of independent voices that have become so commonplace in Putin’s Russia.

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The political environment in Russia created by the Kremlin encourages using violent means to silence voices of opposition. Let’s not forget how the Putin regime came to power: through use of brutal force in Chechnya after suspicious apartment bombings that killed nearly 300 people in Moscow in 1999. From there, the list of victims includes:

 

  • Anna Politkovskaya, a courageous journalist and prominent Putin critic who was shot and killed as she entered an elevator at her apartment building.

  • Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer turned Putin critic, who was poisoned by a highly radioactive and rare substance called polonium while living in London. Litvinenko was a British citizen; in a report ten years after his demise, the British government found that his death was “probably approved” by Putin himself.

  • Natalia Estemirova, an internationally renowned human rights activist who was kidnapped near her home in Grozny, Chechnya, while working on cases of human rights abuses. Her body was found a few hours later with gunshots to the head and chest, carried out in professional execution style.

  • Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s brave opposition leader and former deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, who was gunned down while crossing a bridge near the Kremlin in February 2015. Nemtsov’s death was a major blow to Russia’s political opposition.

 

Their murders have been orchestrated to send a strong signal to other members of the opposition, journalists, human rights activists, and critics: keep quiet or face the consequences.

Nemtsov was a close colleague and friend of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Along with a few other opposition leaders, Kara-Murza has remained committed to fighting for a free, democratic, and open Russia despite the constant threats to his life.

In the United States, Kara-Murza has been an active proponent of democratic principles, calling for a stronger U.S. response to the regime’s well-documented human rights abuses. He pushed for Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act – named after another victim of Putin’s regime: Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was investigating fraud allegations against high level Russian officials. Sergei was arrested and brutally beaten. He died in prison in 2009.

The Magnitsky Act, which levies sanctions against Russian officials who were involved in Sergei’s death, was passed by Congress in 2012. In December 2016, Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act which extends the United States’ government’s authority to deny visas and freeze the U.S. assets of anyone who has committed "gross violations of human rights.”

Following Nemtsov’s murder, Kara-Murza urged the United States to impose sanctions on the Kremlin’s propagandists, whom Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, held responsible for killing her father by inciting a malicious and hateful campaign against him.

Kara-Murza could have immigrated to the West, as many other Russian opposition leaders have done. But he chose to continue to fight for reform from inside Russia. Kara-Murza’s determination in the face of great odds and courage to push for democratic values and principles deserves our whole-hearted support.

Western policymakers should send a strong message to Putin that the West stands together in support of those principles and the people who espouse them.

R. Nicholas Burns is a former U.S. under secretary of State. Tom Melia is a former assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Carl Gershman is the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. Michael McFaul is a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. William Taylor is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Andrew Weiss is vice president for Studies with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Damon Wilson is an executive vice president with the Atlantic Council. John Herbst is a former U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ukraine and is director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. David J. Kramer is the senior director for Human Rights and Policy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Eric Edelman is a former U.S. ambassador and former under secretary of Defense. Julianne Smith is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Strategy. Elisa Massimino is the president and CEO of Human Rights First. Leon Aron is a resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Natalia Arno is the president of the Free Russia Foundation. Alina Polyakova is deputy director of the Eurasia Center and senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. Anders Aslund is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. Max Boot is a senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Jeff Gedmin is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. James Denton is publisher and editor of the World Affairs Journal.


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