Navalny's Murder: The West must realize there can be no dialog with Putin

Dmytro Levus

8 mins - 19 de Febrero de 2024, 07:00

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in custody in a penal colony in the village of Kharp in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in the north of Russia has undoubtedly become one of the most notable events in the world's political life. After all, Navalny was indeed one of the symbols of resistance to the Kremlin, a survivor of persecution and poisoning by the FSB, and an effective coordinator of anti-corruption investigations. 

It should be noted that for the West, Navalny was largely a figure who embodied hopes for the possibility of democratization of Russia and regime change. Ukrainians, Georgians, and citizens of the Baltic states are skeptical of such thoughts. They remember his dismissive attitude toward Georgians during Russia's 2008 aggression and his brazen belief that Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, would never return to Ukraine, comparing it to a "sandwich that cannot be passed back and forth." This has justifiably led to speculation that Navalny's goal is to build a non-corrupt, more efficient, but equally aggressive and more dangerous Russia for its neighbors. 

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But for now, this remains in the background. The Putin regime has killed Alexei Navalny. His return to Russia from Germany after being treated for poisoning by the FSB was a move that was as decisive as it was reckless. His arrest, trial, and sending him to serve his sentence in a harsh climate was the beginning of this slow murder. With a high degree of probability, Navalny was assassinated. After all, the Kremlin has already poisoned him once. Even if we assume that the cause of death this time was indeed a "broken blood clot," as Russian officials say, even then, the death was not natural. Serving a sentence in a Russian prison, which in terms of conditions is not much different from the hellish camps of the Gulag, in the cold of the Russian north, under the arbitrariness of guards who have orders to press and pressure the prisoner, as well as terror from prisoners who cooperate with the prison administration, regular punishment with even harsher conditions in the punishment cell - all this methodically kills health and psyche. Now that prisoner-of-war exchanges are taking place regularly and Ukrainians who were held in similar camps by the Russians are returning home, we have received a large amount of information about the terrible conditions of detention and the system of terror and pressure on prisoners that is flourishing in Russia and is actively used by the Russian authorities to break people.

But a planned assassination is more likely, and one that was carried out on Putin's orders. Those who believe that Navalny's assassination is not beneficial to the Kremlin in the context of the "presidential elections" scheduled for March are sorely mistaken. For Putin, the "presidential election" has long been an event that is supposed to confirm his sacred status, and the vote count is a purely conditional act. In this Russia of Putin's, there should be no one who could even conditionally challenge him in terms of popularity. In fact, Navalny could not compete with the Kremlin's master even in a real election. But Putin is confident that there will be no fatal unrest for his regime and that the "elections" will go smoothly. Moreover, Navalny's murder is symbolic and ritualistic, which is quite typical for both Putin and the Russian political tradition in general. And it is quite traditional for Putin. Suffice it to recall the murder of another prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, in 2015, right next to the Kremlin. In this case, we are also dealing with the courage, audacity, and arrogance that come from the Russian Chekist and criminal mentality. This audacity and arrogance are a red line through the entire policy of the modern Russian Federation. It is similar to when Putin claimed in 2014 that there was a "local militia" in Crimea and literally two months later he admits in a movie about Crimea that the "green men" were Russian special forces. There are many such examples. They are typical not only for Russian politicians, but also for ordinary Russians who, repeating the words of propaganda that Russia did not attack Ukraine, know perfectly well that it was Russia that did, but believe that Russia is above legal standards. And when Russia is caught red-handed with indisputable evidence, there is no admission of guilt, but words like "what are you going to do to me?" are heard from a petty criminal. This is exactly what happened with Malaysian Boeing MH-17, even now when the investigation and trial have been completed and proved Russia's crime.

Russian symbolism of the criminal-chekist type is characterized by an obsession with dates. They are sacralized, symbolized, and parallels are drawn, and "greetings are sent." Now the date for Navalny's murder has been chosen. It is the day of the Munich Security Conference. This is a symbolic event for Putin. It was at the Munich conference in 2007 when Putin in a speech voiced his desire to increase Russia's role and threaten the global system. Now he is not allowed to enter Munich. And this hurts him, because the recognition of Russia's role by the West that he sought, despite the great European war he started, did not happen. And this signal is being sent: "You (the West) thought you had another leader for Russia, you wanted to talk to him, here is his head." For Russians, the fact that, in fact, there was no Western support for Navalny in terms of overthrowing Putin is of no consequence. They think in these terms. If we recall that Western leaders (such as Scholz and Biden) expressed support for Navalny and warned against cruelty to him, Moscow is now not only finding confirmation of the West's "insidious plans," but is also clearly demonstrating that it is crossing red lines and is completely oblivious to the possible reaction

If someone is looking for rationality in Putin's actions, thinking that the murder did not take place because it was simply unprofitable for him, and that Navalny was not a threat, they are sorely mistaken. Putin killed Navalny simply because he could. This is how his government works, which is a complete continuation of Russian tradition. Stalin killed his political opponent Trotsky in faraway Mexico when Trotskyists were not a unified phenomenon in the world, let alone in the USSR, where their movement was finally destroyed ten years before the assassination. Ukrainian nationalist leaders Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera were killed by the KGB in Germany after the end of the active Ukrainian resistance movement during Khrushchev's rule and the so-called "thaw," or "softening and humanization" of the regime. There are many similar examples. He kills because he can, because he boasts of omnipotence.

It is significant that this boasting of impunity on the part of Russia takes the form of brazenly accusing its opponents of their own crimes. In the context of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, this was manifested, for example, in Mariupol, where the Russians call the widespread destruction and massive deaths of civilians "the consequences of the Ukrainian army's bombing." This is absurd, because it was Russia that used heavy artillery and aircraft to storm the city, and this was reported almost live by Russian media. Now Russia is accusing the West of killing Navalny. Not only Russian Z-bloggers, but also Russian officials are writing about this. For example, the speaker of the State Duma, Volodin, who believes that Washington and Brussels, the leadership of the United States, NATO, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ukraine are to blame for Navalny's death. All that remains is to organize a trial similar to those held in the USSR in 1937, where a group of zone security officers and medical workers will repent for agreeing to be recruited by MI6 and SBU spies to poison Navalny for "thirty pieces of silver".

In fact, Navalny's death should have shown the real face of Putin's Russia. Moreover, the illusion that Putin is ready to negotiate and is even negotiable should have disappeared. A totalitarian dictatorship cannot be approached with moral standards and expectations that agreements will be honored. On the contrary, Putin's current audacity is an element of intimidation of the world, and he will continue to perceive attempts at dialogue as weakness, and will continue to pressure and blackmail. The fate of Navalny, who led an unequivocally non-violent resistance to the regime and came to surrender, is the best illustration of how the Kremlin treats those it considers inconvenient and can easily "eliminate from the game."
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