Putin critic falls into coma


Vladimir Kara-Murza, a leader of the Russian opposition who has been a vocal critic of what he calls a Kremlin policy of assassinating political enemies has fallen into a life-threatening coma caused by an unknown poison, his wife said on Monday, The New York Times reports:

In Moscow, Mr. Kara-Murza, 35, has been in a coma and at the center of a politically hued medical mystery since Thursday as doctors puzzled over his symptoms while keeping him alive on artificial respiration. Mr. Kara-Murza suffered similar symptoms in 2015 and later said he had been poisoned. Then, a French laboratory found elevated levels of heavy metals in his blood but was unable to pinpoint any specific poison.

After the 2015 episode, Mr. Kara-Murza recuperated in the United States and suffered lingering nerve damage for about a year, but returned to his political activism in Russia despite threats. The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, for example, posted a photograph of Mr. Kara-Murza in cross hairs (right).

He is a coordinator for former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s nongovernmental organization, Open Russia, and has advocated for sanctions against Russian officials and media executives before U.S. lawmakers, RFE/RL adds:

At the time of his most recent hospitalization, Kara-Murza had been traveling around Russia, conducting screenings of a documentary about his close political ally, the late opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in February 2015.

“We do not know the details on the cause for this most recent health issue, but it appears to be part of an alarming trend where Russian political opposition are targeted for their work,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said last week, The Hill reports.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), however, pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Vladimir Putin does not deserve any benefit of the doubt here, given how commonplace political assassinations and poisonings have become under his regime,” he said in a statement last week.

Kara-Murza addressed a 2015 symposium honoring the memory of Boris Nemtsov, The Struggle for Russia’s Future, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

For both Mr. Kara-Murza and Nemtsov, the violence was demonstrative, notes David Satter, author of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin” (Yale, 2016). Mr. Kara-Murza was poisoned twice in the same way, and Nemtsov was shot next to the Kremlin on the most heavily guarded bridge in Moscow. These are signs that the regime is not hesitant to indicate authorship of its crimes, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

The oppositionists also face social isolation. Alexei Navalny, a prominent blogger, and Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister, have been physically attacked. A secretly filmed video of Mr. Kasyanov with his lover was shown on national television. Before he was killed, Nemtsov received death threats on social media. After his murder, images of his body were circulated on websites and social media, and posts denouncing him received hundreds of thousands of “likes.”

In fact, it’s hard to say Putin is a killer. Putin hasn’t technically killed anyone himself, analyst Julia Ioffe writes for The Atlantic:

He didn’t personally fire bullets into journalist Anna Politkovskaya and he didn’t personally drop bombs on children in Aleppo. He just issues general orders that make these things so. When it comes to eliminating domestic opposition, Putin comes from a long tradition, maintained by his native KGB and its forebears, of ensuring that political dissent remains a mortally dangerous proposition. Yet despite these roots, he is not a very bloody ruler, at least not by Russian standards. He has not sent millions to the Gulag or, like Stalin, signed in red pencil kill lists thousands of names long.

Rather, he has created an atmosphere in which his minions—like Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov or young nationalist punks or even uniformed officers of the state—can kill with impunity, she writes.

“We must never abandon someone like Vladimir Kara-Murza,” NED President Carl Gershman told the U.S. Senate Human Rights Caucus, adding that “there are many others like him in Russia today who are prepared to defend their dignity and rights in the face of the most murderous and barbaric threats.  If we forget them, our country will lose contact with its roots and values, and the result will be devastating for our national interests and moral identity.”

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