Putin Rival Alexei Navalny Dies in Siberian Prison

Robyn Dixon, David M. Herszenhorn, and Catherine Belton, reporting for The Washington Post:

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the defiant anti-corruption crusader and democracy champion who was President Vladimir Putin’s despised nemesis, died suddenly in an Arctic Russian prison colony on Friday, penitentiary officials said, removing the most prominent figure inside Russia willing to challenge the Kremlin’s rule.

Referring to Navalny as Putin’s “nemesis” — which description the Post also uses in its headline — whitewashes just how despicable his attempted assassination, yearslong imprisonment, and now (presumed) actual assassination were. It’s a dysphemism — the opposite of a euphemism. Navalny was a political rival and staunch proponent of democracy. Putin was Navalny’s nemesis, but not the other way around.

His death — foretold as almost inevitable, including by Navalny himself — sent shock waves across Russia and was quickly condemned by global leaders, some of whom joined Russian opposition figures in calling it a state-sponsored murder. Navalny, 47, had appeared a court hearing by video link the day before, seemingly in good health and with his trademark humor intact.

Navalny’s family and his team, who continued to run his political operation in exile, had warned that his life was in danger since his arrest in January 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering in Germany from being poisoned with a banned nerve agent. An investigation led by Navalny and Bellingcat, an investigative journalism organization, had identified a team of Russian federal security agents as responsible for the assassination attempt, and his supporters noted that in prison he was in the clutches of the very government that had already tried to kill him several times.

Until 2017, Navalny’s death would have been met with bipartisan, near-universal condemnation here in the United States. No more. But it shouldn’t be surprising that a political party that has turned against fair democratic elections — a party whose undisputed leader has, just weeks ago, argued in court that the president of the United States could not be prosecuted in court for ordering the assassination of his political rivals — sees Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a model to follow, not an enemy to defeat.

Nearly 250 years after the founding of our nation, genuine democracy remains a radical — and alas, fragile — idea.

Friday, 16 February 2024