February 21, 2024 | The Washington Times

Murder in the Gulag

Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s only serious rival, has been eliminated
February 21, 2024 | The Washington Times

Murder in the Gulag

Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s only serious rival, has been eliminated

While Tucker Carlson was marveling over the opulence of Moscow’s subways, Alexei Navalny died in the “Polar Wolf” prison camp in northern Siberia.

Mr. Navalny was Russia’s most prominent dissident, the only serious opponent to Vladimir Putin who, for more than 20 years, has held this vast and troubled land in a tightening stranglehold.

Mr. Navalny’s supporters called him the “hero of the new era.” That era is now, at best, very far off.

Earlier this month, Mr. Carlson conducted a two-hour interview with Mr. Putin. What did the Russian strongman have to say about the charismatic rival he incarcerated 40 miles above the Arctic Circle in the sunless winter?

Not a word because Mr. Carlson – formerly a Fox News talk show host, now an idiosyncratic commentator on X, formerly Twitter – didn’t bother to ask.

To paraphrase a quote attributed to Stalin: A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths are a statistic.

The number of deaths for which Mr. Putin is responsible, already in the hundreds of thousands, could soon reach that mark. His forces re-invaded Ukraine two years ago this week, having first invaded in 2014.

His generals deliberately target civilians. Many of his troops are conscripted from the ethnic groups of Russia’s Central Asian possessions. He uses them as cannon fodder.

The grim statistics of the war against Ukraine do not appear to trouble Mr. Carlson.

Following his amicable interview with Mr. Putin, he filmed himself touring a Moscow subway station (where, like Bernie Sanders on his 1988 honeymoon, he was wowed by the chandeliers) and shopping at a Moscow grocery store where, he said in wide-eyed wonderment, a family of four can buy enough food for a week for only $104!

Apologies for the digression ahead but I think Mr. Navalny would have wanted you to know the facts about Mr. Putin’s Russia.

The average monthly wage for a Russian is less than $800. The average monthly wage for an American is more than six times that. Average Russians spend more than 50% of what they earn on food. Average Americans spend less than 12%.

Are grocery stores in the boondocks – say in Grozny or Irkutsk –as well-stocked as those in the capital? Mr. Carlson did not investigate. (But I bet you can guess the answer.)

Inquiring minds also might want to know that one in five households in Russia lacks indoor plumbing. In rural areas the ratio is two out of three.

And a smidgen of history: Stalin built Moscow’s subways in the 1930s to glorify Russia’s socialist dictatorship. He used slave labor from the Gulag, his archipelago of prison camps, and British engineers, some of whom he later imprisoned for “espionage.”

In this same period, Stalin manufactured a famine in Ukraine to punish “kulaks,” farmers resisting collectivization. In the Holodomor, as it became known, more than four million men, women, and children perished.

Does this atrocity help explain why Ukrainians are adamant that never again will they be ruled by Moscow? That’s another question Mr. Carlson did not raise.

Littering in a Moscow subway may be strictly verboten, but with impunity have Mr. Putin and his cronies appropriated Russia’s natural resources thereby making themselves spectacularly rich.

This corruption was one of Mr. Navalny’s major themes. The “party of swindlers and thieves,” he called the Kremlin cabal.

He opposed Mr. Putin’s war against Ukraine, and his strengthening alliance with the anti-American dictators in Beijing, Tehran, and Pyongyang.

The son of a Red Army officer, Mr. Navalny entered politics around the time Mr. Putin was rising to power.

In 2013 he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Moscow. In 2018, he attempted to run for president. Mr. Putin had him thrown in jail and then disqualified his candidacy based on his criminal record.

In August 2020, shortly after boarding a domestic flight, Mr. Navalny became ill. Poisoning by Mr. Putin’s agents was suspected.

In a comatose state, Mr. Navalny was flown to Berlin where German doctors determined that he had been exposed to Novichok, a Soviet-era, military-grade nerve agent not available in Russian pharmacies.

He was treated, he recovered, and, in January 2021, he returned to Russia where, upon arrival, he was promptly arrested.

Why did he come back? Because he was a man of unfathomable courage and conviction. The fight for a new Russia was his life’s work.

“I don’t have another country,” he once said. “I have nowhere to retreat to.”

He also was confident that, working through his lawyers and allies, he could continue his struggle against the dictatorship in ways not possible from exile abroad.

Last Thursday, a video of Mr. Navalny in a courtroom was posted on X. He appeared to be in good health and even good spirits. He was 47 years old.

On Friday, Russian prison authorities announced: “The inmate A.A. Navalny started to feel unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness at correctional facility No. 3 on Feb. 16. Medical staff arrived immediately, an ambulance was called. None of the resuscitation efforts yielded positive results.”

“He was murdered,” Bill Browder, once the most important foreign investor in Russia told a reporter. “He was murdered at the hands of Vladimir Putin” who wanted to demonstrate that he “can cross every red line and get away with it.”

There are other red lines – in Ukraine, in Europe, and beyond. So long as Mr. Putin continues to get away with murders at home and abroad, he will cross them.

Tucker Carlson is among those who doesn’t see that as an American problem. That demonstrates an astonishing lack of awareness.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.