The Ides of March, Russian Style

As we are now on the eve of Russia’s latest fake election — which will, amusingly enough, be held on the Ides of March — I would like to recommend a short opinion piece written by journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, whose mentor Boris Nemtsov was murdered by Vladimir Putin in 2015, and who is himself currently in prison on a charge of treason, which is the standard dictator’s euphemism for publicly criticizing the dictator or his policies.

Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most visible and only plausible electoral opponent, was of course also imprisoned for a long time, until he recently died in captivity, in a manner perfectly timed to chill all thoughts of political opposition before Russia’s “election,” and indeed for the forseeable future. Mr. Kara-Murza, probably suspecting with good reason that his own days are numbered, and understanding better than any of his readers that playing it safe is not a rational option in today’s Russia, offers a nice clear statement of the meaning and nature of Putin’s tyranny, and of the West’s culpability in refusing to deal with him on the terms he deserves, which are no different from the terms Kim Jong-Un deserves — which were also the terms Kim received, before Donald Trump, every dictator’s favorite shoeshine boy, granted him rhetorical and diplomatic legitimacy on the world stage. Therein lies the problem: Trump, as he reminds us continually, has every intention of granting the same legitimizing sympathy to his primary beloved, Putin, should America be insane enough to return him to the White House. And since the Republican Party has been completely revamped over the past eight years into an extension of and mouthpiece for the Kremlin, while Trump’s presidential opponent, Joe Biden, might not be able to make it all the way to the U.S. election without forgetting his own name, there is a reasonably good chance that Putin’s own personal Agent Orange will indeed become president again, just in time to save Putin’s Ukraine folly before his entire military has been killed, and to give him the green light of non-interference as he sets his sights further west and south in the coming years.

Defining the true nature of this Russian election, and the complicated necessity of tyrannies holding elections at all in this age of democratic norms, Kara-Murza writes:

In 2020, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko allowed opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on the ballot to make his term extension look more credible. The result, by most independent accounts, was an overwhelming victory for Tikhanovskaya that had to be undone by fraud. This, in turn, triggered the largest street protests of Lukashenko’s rule.

Vladimir Putin learned his neighbor’s lesson. His strongest opponents have been eliminated — not figuratively but literally: Boris Nemtsov was murdered in February 2015, Alexei Navalny in February 2024.

Notice the complete lack of pseudo-journalistic reticence in Kara-Murza’s description of Navalny’s death. It was a murder, plain and simple. Whether he was actually beaten to death by Putin’s thugs, or merely died as a result of long imprisonment and mistreatment that his body and spirit could no longer withstand, the ultimate cause of death is unambiguous, and therefore requires no autopsy report, as though such a thing could be trusted coming from such sources. He died while serving an absurdly long prison sentence under false pretenses, a few years after being nearly poisoned to death, and shortly after being sent to a harsh Arctic outpost. That is all we need to know in order to pin his death on the regime. That Tucker Carlson, who (like his fellow Putin lackey Trump) is infinitely closer to meeting the literal definition of a traitor than Kara-Murza will ever be, claims to have no idea how Navalny died, only reminds us of what Carlson is, what his intended audience is, and — by way of the starkest contrast — what a man is.

More from Kara-Murza’s op-ed from prison:

But even cautious opposition was assessed by the Kremlin as too risky. When Boris Nadezhdin, a lawyer and a former member of parliament who had criticized the war in Ukraine, decided to run for president, his campaign got an instantaneous liftoff: long lines of (mostly young) people formed in cities and towns across Russia to sign petitions for his nomination; his campaign received tens of millions of rubles in individual donations; and his support in the polls shot up into double digits. Not surprisingly, the Central Election Commission barred Nadezhdin from the ballot, using the usual technical pretexts.

“The usual technical pretexts.” That phrase sums up quite well not only the current electoral situation in Russia, where a man whose mere candidacy is a direct violation of his country’s constitutional limit on presidential terms is about to “win” another rubber-stamp fraud. Sadly, it also captures the essence of most of what passes for politics, public discourse, and self-determination today, throughout most of the supposed free world. Men like Kara-Murza always tend to rely too much on the outside world, and to place too much trust in the world’s institutions and traditions as a shining light in the midst of spiritual darkness in their homeland. What brave men like this commonly fail to see, or perhaps lack the heart to admit to themselves from their literal or figurative prison cells, is that their predicament, though more urgent and involuntary than ours, is no longer as radically different as they might wish to believe. For we are all living under the global hegemony of “the usual technical pretexts.”

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