From the number of deceased Russian dissidents, complicity in their demise seems plausible. From evidence, thought, and logic, complicity seems unlikely:
(1) Only circumstantial links to Putin’s office have been established in the cases.
(2) Because political opposition is weak, and no obvious threat to the ruling United Russia Party, what would the government gain in assassination of opposition figures?
(3) Because Putin’s approval rating has always been high, and he has had no decisive opposition, why would he jeopardize his position by inviting accusations and scrutiny?
After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia split apart and assumed appearances of the United States Wild West, where everything was up for grabs. Disastrous Yeltsin governments emphasized the disruption and left the incoming Putin administrations to contest entrenched oligarchs, mafia type gangs that had seized legitimate businesses, and bureaucrats who would do anything to maintain their hold in office. Think of the incarcerations, local killings, and brutal actions in the United States during its growing century of “Wild West” crime, corruption during “rugged individualism,” suppression of African-American rights and murders of Black leaders, anti-union activities, and attacks on anti-government groups. Is it expected that Putin can resolve similar situations in a few years?
The cases of Russia silencing its critics have three subsets ― government officials, political dissidents, and journalists. Carefully examining each sub-set presents a different picture.
Note: The arguments only analyze specific media reports on silencing of Russian critics. Extent of human rights abuses, authoritarianism, and political suppression are not challenged, not covered, and not excused.
Killings of Government officials
Meet the nine Russian operatives who have dropped dead during Donald Trump-Russia scandal, by Bill Palmer at:
typifies the exaggerations and falsifications of the media reporting on the deaths of Russian operatives. Many of the unsubstantiated claims also appear in a USA Today article, Suspicious Russian Deaths: Sacrificial Pawns or Coincidence? by Sarah Hurst, Oren Dorell & George Petras, May 2, 2017 at: https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/suspicious-russian-deaths-sacrificial-pawns-or-coincidence/
Of the nine described deaths, only one is suspicious. As examples, the Palmer Report claims:
Mikhail Lesin died in his DC hotel room from what has now officially been belatedly pronounced as severe head wounds – meaning he was likely in a fight or murdered.
The Washington D.C. police department contradicted the Palmer report:
WASHINGTON — The death here of a prominent Russian businessman and former government minister (ED: Michael Lesin) last year was an accident caused by a drunken fall inside his hotel room, the prosecutor’s office announced on Friday as investigators officially closed the case.
The Palmer Report:
Sergey Krivov, an apparent Russian intel agent, was later found dead inside the Russian consulate in New York. Russia also claimed he’d had a heart attack. However, in a familiar tune, the coroner later found evidence that his head had been bashed in.
The New York Coroner filed a different report:
WASHINGTON — Sergei Krivov, the security officer who died mysteriously at the Russian Consulate in New York on Election Day, died due to internal bleeding, Though the New York City Police Department said Krivov was found dead with a head wound on the morning of November 8, Election Day in the US, the medical examiner’s office said it did not find evidence of a head wound on Krivov’s body, and that he died of natural causes.
The Palmer Report:
Sergei Mikhailov, who was believed to have been a U.S. intelligence asset within the Russian government, was dragged out of a meeting in Russia with a bag over his head and is now almost certainly dead as well.
Two months later, Lyudmila Klenko, writing for RAPSI, MOSCOW, June 14, at http://www.rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20170614/278942485.html mentions a living and breathing Sergey.
Businessman Sergey Mikhailov has filed a defamation lawsuit demanding 500,000 rubles ($8,800) in compensation from opposition politician Alexey Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Lyublinsky District Court’s press-service told RAPSI on Wednesday.
New York Police verified that UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin died from natural causes. Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov, was killed by a Turkish policeman, apparently protesting Russia’s role in Syria, and in full view of many people. Petr Polshikov, chief adviser to the Latin American department, died from a head wound, with the gun below his body and his wife in the next room, an apparent suicide. Alex Oronov “died of a prolonged illness after three months at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.” Oronov’s family denounced theories of an arranged killing. In another supposed assassination of Andrey Malanin, head of the Russian embassy’s consular section in Athens, Greek police suggested the man died suddenly from natural causes. Two Greek police officials said foul play was not suspected.
That leaves only one unresolved death, Oleg Erovinkin, 61-year-old chief of staff at Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft, who was found dead in the back seat of a company Lexus by his driver. Media reports suggested Mr. Erovinkin, rumored to be an informer of information for a dossier on Donald Trump, had been murdered, but it was later claimed he had died of a heart attack.
Reports on deaths of Russian government officials have been grossly distorted, and no links to high officials in the Russian government, including President Putin have been shown. The only conclusion from the tragedies is that the life of a Russian official is difficult.
Deaths of Russian Dissidents
Because Putin’s United Russia is the major Party in a multi-party system that has three large political Parties and one small Party, and has 343 seats in the 450-member parliament, the principal dissidents that require containment are not necessarily political activists but enemies of the state, business oligarchs, and criminal operatives.
When Vladimir Putin gained power in 2000, his immediate reforms provoked the constituencies that enabled Boris Yeltsin to govern and whom the Yeltsin government favored. These constituencies became the leading dissidents against Putin governments.
(1) In 2004, Putin created an army of opposition when he abolished direct election of regional governors (later re-instituted by Medvedev, and again undone by Putin), reasons being the voting was rigged, governors were operating regions as private fiefdoms, and regions’ laws and activities were not coordinated with the federal government.
(2) Putin certified the oligarchs could retain their assets as long as they did not engage in politics. This position angered many of them, especially Boris Beresovsky, who helped Putin to power. When Putin’s decisions contradicted Beresovsky’s interests, the billionaire used his media to criticize Putin. After the president retaliated, Russia’s leading oligarch left the country. From his new surroundings, Beresovsky financed dissident activities against Putin.
(3) Putin did not automatically retain Boris Yeltsin’s favored administrators. Many of them, such as Boris Nemtsov, deputy prime minister in the late 1990s, were sidelined and became bitter enemies of President Putin.
During the decades many dissidents have been killed, but what is never clarified is whether they were killed because of political dissent or for other reasons, such as retribution by nationalists for suspected treason, government assassination against a declared enemy of the state, mafia revenge for exposing criminal operations, silencing by betrayed associates, or having made too many enemies. Apparent in most of the deaths is that the Russian government and Vladimir Putin had little reason for issuing orders for the killings and did not benefit from them. Little reason does not mean no reason ― treason and where the person presented a danger to the nation are not unique. Several countries take precautions in their defense and are guilty of targeted killings when threatened.
Israel’s Mossad has engaged in a large number of wanton revenge killings of Palestinians and murders of Egyptian and Iranian scientists. The United States has involved its intelligence agencies in assisting successful and unsuccessful elimination of adversaries. Add multitudes of assassinations by drone attacks. Osama bin Laden might have planned the 9/11 terrorist action and engaged in terrorist activities, but the U.S. never supplied conclusive evidence and did not give the terrorist a legal trial.
In July 2006, the Russian Federation Council approved a law that permitted the Russian president to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside Russia’s borders to combat terrorism and extremism. The law arose from the extreme terrorism Russia faced at that time, which included bombings in Moscow, and, according to the FSB, 257 acts of terrorism committed on the territory of the Russian Federation during 2005, of which 111 were committed in Chechnya and 77 in Dagestan. Conspiracy theorists link the law to deaths of several Russian exiles.
Examination of three high profile deaths of Russians considered as dissidents gives another perspective on the attacks and on the individuals who died.
The Full Report of the Litvinenko Inquiry, chaired by Sir Robert Owen, at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/world/europe/litvinenko-inquiry-report.html details the life and death of Alexander Litvenenko, who worked at the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), was forced to flee Russia in 2000, and died, evidently from polonium-210 poisoning, in the year 2006. From the Litvinenko Inquiry Report, the protagonist emerges as a person who constantly betrayed those who trusted him, made enemies at every position he held, and engaged in wild conspiracy theories,
Litvenenko is quoted as stating that agents from the FSB coordinated the 1999 Russian apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people. In a 2003 interview with the Australian SBS TV network, Litvinenko claimed that two of the Chechen terrorists involved in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege worked for the FSB, and the agency manipulated the rebels into staging the attack. In an interview with The Chechen Press Department of Interviews at https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/london/2005/07/318875.html, Litvenenko said that “all the bloodiest terrorists of the world were connected to FSB-KGB, all of them were trained, funded, and provided with weapons, explosives and counterfeit documents to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide and that each act of terrorism made by these people was carried out according to the task and under control of the KGB.” Litvinenko also said that “the center of global terrorism is not in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or the Chechen Republic, but “creeps away worldwide from the cabinets of the Lubyanka Square and the Kremlin.”
Despite Litvenenko’s lack of credibility, Sir Robert Owens Full Report of the Litvinenko Inquiry, which, from this observer’s view, passes the credibility test, mentions that the United Kingdom intelligence services paid Litvinenko 2000 pounds each month, and that he worked with Spanish intelligence services by providing them with information on Russian mafia activities in Spain. The Full Report’s conclusion is that the Russian secret services (FSB) murdered Alexander Litvenenko, and probably with the consent of President Vladimir Putin. From the writer’s perspective, the FSB acted with encouragement from others and regarded Litvinenko as a dangerous traitor. Litvenenko’s killing, similar to that in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, where wounds from several people on a despised person complicate police identification of the actual murderer, reflected the wishes of many agencies ― intelligence, military, investigative, nationalist ― and private persons in shady businesses and criminal activities.
The first governor of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast(1991–97) and later an important member of Boris Yeltsin’s government, Boris Nemtsov became politically sidetracked after Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency. Since then Nemtsov has been an outspoken critic of Putin.
Although popularized by the west, Nemtsov was never been able to form a popular political movement in Russia. Each year his influence decreased. Why, after 17 years, when his influence was nil would Putin be interested in his elimination?
Assailants shot Nemtsov in February 2015 while he walked with a woman friend near the Kremlin. A definite attack on the government opposition, it also distressed the Putin administration, which received no benefit from the death of a recognized dissident who was no threat to its governing. Joshua Yaffa, in an article, The Unaccountable Death of Boris Nemtsov, New Yorker magazine, February 26, 2016 relates that the killing shocked Putin.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a former political adviser to Putin who became a critic of the Kremlin, when I spoke to him for a magazine piece earlier this month, said that Putin was “obviously stunned” by Nemtsov’s murder. “As a political assassination, this is direct interference in the politics of the federal center, and, what’s more, right under Putin’s nose.”
On June 29, 2017, a Moscow jury concluded that five Chechen men agreed to kill Nemtsov in exchange for 15 million rubles. The person(s) who hired them is still unidentified. So, who hired the assassins?
Boris Nemtsov, similar to Alexander Litvinenko, had a passion for making enemies. He, also, could have been the murdered passenger on Agatha Christie’s Orient Express. Some of Nemtsov’s miscalculations:
- In December 2005, prosecutors investigated the Neftyanoi bank, following allegations of money laundering and fraud. Nemtsov had become director of the Bank and Chairman of Neftyanoi Concern, an oil firm and the bank’s parent company in February 2004. He subsequently relinquished his positions. Whatever his involvement in the spurious allegations, or his reasons for leaving the Bank, Nemtsov trafficked with people, who may have been innocent but were problematic.
- During the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections, Nemtsov vocally supported the eventual winner Viktor Yushchenko, while the Russian government backed the opponent, Viktor Yanukovych. Afterwards, Yushchenko appointed Nemtsov as an economic adviser. By going beyond borders and interfering in the Ukraine election, Nemtsov created enemies in the pro-Russian Ukraine community and among Russian nationalists.
- Nemtsov outwardly criticized the Russian annexation, which also angered the pro-Russian Ukraine community and Russian nationalists.
Joshua Yaffa, in his previously mentioned article, claims that Anzor Gubashev, the suspected getaway driver in Nemtsov’s killings, told investigators that, beginning in October 2014, he came to believe that Nemtsov was carrying out a policy against the state, supporting the West and defaming the government. “We don’t feel the least bit sorry that we took him out, because from the very beginning he was a Western prostitute, and was causing all sorts of chaos,” Gubashev said during interrogation.
Someone from a cast of characters is most likely to have been responsible for Boris Nemtsov’s murder. Many deranged persons from the far right could find reasons to assassinate Boris Nemtsov. Least likely is the Putin administration, which was helped by Nemtsov’s ineffective political dissent.
Known for fearless investigative reporting, mainly about the second Chechen War, Anna Politkovskaya became a major conscience of human rights activists, a voice for those who needed a voice during the post-Yeltsin era. From June 1999 to 2006, she wrote columns for the biweekly Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper started by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and which vehemently criticized the Putin administration.
Anna’s principal antagonism to Vladimir Putin was indirect; in his position as political and military leader she considered him responsible for criminal excesses during the Chechen and other Caucasus wars, and for not restraining the criminal and corruption activities that plagued Russia. Despite her worldwide fame, mainly due to close attachment to western organizations and their funding, there is little indication that Anna Politkovskaya’s valiant campaigns had effect on the moral compass of Russia and changed the people’s outlook toward the Putin administration. Obvious reasons explain the discrepancy between her outspoken attitude and the silence that greeted her.
One of her principal failures was expectations that Putin could, within three years, make monumental changes to a society that had rigid institutions during 70 years of communist rule and seven years of corrupt, mismanaged and criminally run Yeltsin governments. To Anna’s own words, on P.127 in her book Putin’s Russia, “…during Yeltsin years, organized crime syndicates were born and grew…” can be added “and also did the oligarchs and criminal money that seized the economy, the deterioration of the military, corruption in most local governments and impoverishment of sectors of the Russian population.”
Politkovskaya rightly raged against iniquities but did not offer solutions, or consider that the Putin government’s had severe problems in keeping the country together, that permitting the Caucasus Republics to break away could start a stampede from other Republics seeking independence, that all wars are vicious and contain war crimes, and that the Russian courts had actually prosecuted military personnel for war crimes (mentioned in her book, Putin’s Russia). She never acknowledged that Putin’s managed democracy had instituted progressive policies, such as taking power from corrupt governors, forbidding the oligarchs to extend their clout by being politically active, renovating the armed forces, expanding the economy and reacting positively to pensioner protests.
It was not her fault, but she failed to arouse the public, and except for Novaya Gazeta, her voice had no media outlets. Many Russians needed more evidence to accept her charges. Again, in her own words, “Russians want censorship and authoritarianism.” She summarized her dilemma by writing, “People often tell me I am a pessimist, that I do not believe in the strength of the Russian people; that I am abrasive in my opposition to Putin and see nothing beyond that.” Her major impediment to public acceptance was a perceived attachment to western sources, which commissioned her books, funded her travel and activities, and led to her being labeled as a tool of the west. Similar to Litvenenko and Nemtsov, Politkovskaya made enemies who rode with her on the Orient express.
In May 2014, five Chechen men, three of whom were brothers, were convicted of murdering Politkovskaya in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building. In June 2014, the men were sentenced to prison, two of them receiving life sentences. It is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.
Being as Anna Politkovskaya was able to write for several years without effect on Vladimir Putins’ political life or reputation, it is unlikely Putin would have been connected with her death.
What do these three highly publicized deaths have in common?
(1) All three dissidents spoke out for several years before being killed.
(2) None of them had any influence on national politics and Putin’s personal popularity.
(3) Their actions enraged nationalist groups who perceived them as traitors.
(4) They had links to western interests.
The killings seem to have reflected the wishes of deranged persons in any one of Russian agencies ― intelligence, military, investigative, nationalist ― and many private persons in shady businesses and criminal activities.
Death of Russian Journalists
Overlooked in examination of deaths of Russian journalists is that most of the killings are related to the wars in the Caucasus and to local politics and local corruption. These killings occurred through all of the years of post Soviet era — during Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev presidencies. Being impossible to examine all, of them, it is most pertinent to examine what occurred during Vladimir Putin’s present leadership, which began in 2012.
Journalists killed during Putin’s latest presidency.
Note: Information compiled from List of journalists killed in Russia, Wikipedia at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_journalists_killed_in_Russia
A similar list also appears on the Committee to Protect Journalists website at https://cpj.org/europe/russia/,
which also shows that, during the Boris Yeltsin administration, journalist deaths were much higher than in succeeding years.
7 July – Alexander Khodzinsky, journalist in Tulun (a town in Irkutsk Oblast), was stabbed to death by a local businessman Gennady Zhigarev
5 December – Kazbek Gekkiev, journalist for local TV programs in Kabardino-Balkaria, was shot dead, after getting threats from local wahhabi extremists.
9 July – Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, deputy editor of the Novoe Delo (Dagestan based news agency), was killed by several gunshots while he was driving just 50 metres from his house on the outskirts of provincial capital Makhachkala in Dagestan.
In 2009, Akhmednabiyev’s name was added to a hit list that included the names of eight other journalists, one of whom was also shot to death in Dagestan. Although authorities have never uncovered the authors of the list, rumors have the list written by relatives of Dagestani police officers killed by members of extremist religious groups.
1 August – Journalist and human rights activist Timur Kuashev was abducted from his home and later found dead in Kabardino-Balkaria. The Kavkazsky Uzel, an independent regional website, reported that local police had detained Kuashev and threatened him in response to his blog posts, which criticized law enforcement.
March 31 – Dmitry Tsilikin, a well-known culture and arts critic, was stabbed to death in his flat in Saint Petersburg. The suspected killer is neo-nazi Sergey Kosyrev. A confirmed reason for the murder is attributed to Tsilikin’s homosexual orientation.
March 17 – Journalist Yevgeny Khamaganov died of unexplained causes in Ulan-Ude (capital city of the Republic of Buryatia). Khamaganov was known for writing articles that criticized the federal. Some reports cited friends as saying Khamaganov was hospitalized on March 10 after he was severely beaten by unknown assailants. Other reports say he was rushed to the hospital due to complications from diabetes.
April 19 – Journalist and former prisoner of conscience Nikolay Andrushchenko died in Saint Petersburg from wounds that he received from a severe beating by unknown assailants on March 9. Andrushchenko was the co-founder of the newspaper Novy Petersburg and was previously jailed in 2009 by a city court for “libel and extremism.”
Boris Vishnevsky, a St Petersburg lawmaker and former contributor to the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, told CNN that Andrushchenko had published some “very harsh reports,” but was not one of Putin’s more prominent or current critics. “His newspaper has a reputation as being ultranationalist,” Vishnevsky said, and does not appear to have a huge readership.
May 24 – Journalist Dmitry Popkov was found dead from gunshot wounds at a bathhouse close to his home in Minusinsk (Siberia). Popkov was the chief editor of the newspaper Ton-M and was known for investigating police corruption.
Deaths of Russian journalists during Putin’s current term are related to the wars in the Caucasus and to local politics and corruption. Only hearsay attributes journalist deaths to the federal administration; no reliable information indicates otherwise.
The Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-journalist-killed-20170731-story.html, reports that eight journalists have been killed in Mexico this year and more have been killed in Iraq (some in the battles). No protests about those assassinations in nations to which the United States is allied.
Unsubstantiated rumors and false information in many of the reports on deaths of Russian dissidents reduce credibility of their link to Putin’s administrations and create doubts to the veracity of similar reports.
Nation executives are not definitely responsible for corruption – think of the United States’ constant financial scandals, most recent being the 1980s Savings and Loan, the 1980s stock market scandals, 1990s corporations (Enron), 2007 mortgage market, and many others.
Nor are country presidents responsible for police brutality. Think of the United States, where many believe local police have gone berserk, killing Black citizens, and unarmed individuals. The Washington Post records almost 1000 police killings in 2015 and 2104 and predictions have the same amount for 2017. A total of 4,446 inmates (local jails and state prisons) died in 2013, heart disease and suicide being the principal causes.
Placed in proper context, deaths of Russian political activists and aged government officials in a country where male life span was 65 years in 2004 and probably less for over-stressed diplomats, might not be surprisingly high.
Why is there sparse mention of more recent arrests of several corrupt officials?
Russian Governor Arrested in Kremlin’s Latest Anti-Corruption Crackdown
April 4, 2017, Moscow Times
A Russian governor has been arrested on suspicion of taking a 140 million ruble ($2.5 million) bribe in the Kremlin’s latest high-profile anti-corruption sting operation. Alexander Soloviev, the head of Russia’s central Udmurtia region, faces 15 years in prison if found guilty of large-scale corruption.
Soloviev’s case is the latest in a string of high-profile arrests linked to corruption over the past year. The former governor of Russia’s Kirov region, Nikita Belykh was arrested in June last year on charges of receiving a 400,000 euro ($426,000) bribe. Former Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was also arrested in November 2016 on suspicion of extorting a bribe from Russian oil firm Rosneft.
In 2016, Putin dismissed several long-time allies and installed younger managers to help steer the companies during the country’s longest recession in two decades. He also replaced regional governors with technocrats, many not allied with the United Russia Party.
Why the media exaggerations and demonizing of President Putin?
Could they be due to his resistance to accept US hegemony, a condition that plagues all those the United States regards as adversaries?
Dan Lieberman is DC based editor of Alternative Insight, a commentary on foreign policy and politics. He is author of the book A Third Party Can Succeed in America and a Kindle: The Artistry of a Dog. Dan can be reached at [email protected]