Why Are So Many Republicans Silent About Putin?

By: Lena Gill

Recently hundreds of thousands of Russians citizens risked arrest and congregated on city streets across Russia to pay their last respects to Alexei Navalny. Aged 47, a lawyer and true hero of Russia, he led the opposition to Vladmir Putin from in and out of prison for the last 10 years. He died of unknown causes in a prison camp north of the Arctic Circle where he spent 300 out of the last 365 days in solitary confinement. His opposition party is Russia of the Future.

In his first retribution against Navalny, Putin tried to assassinate Navalny in 2020 on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia. Putin’s henchmen spritzed a banned nerve agent on Navalny’s underwear. He was taken off the plane in a coma near death to a hospital in Siberia. Navalny’s wife Yulia publicly pleaded with Putin to allow Navalny supporters to take him by chartered plane to a hospital in Germany where he recovered after a year of treatment. Yet he made the courageous decision to return to Moscow to lead his opposition party. Putin had him arrested when the plane landed in Russia and sent to prison, never to leave alive.

Many other critics of Putin met with mysterious deaths. Alexander Litvinenko, a former member of Russian intelligence who defected to the UK, died there of polonium poisoning in 2006. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former friend of Putin and head of the Wagner paramilitary group, died when his private plane exploded midair last year after Prigozhin revolted with his troops against the conduct of the war in Ukraine. Boris Nemtsov was an opposition leader and deputy prime minister under the previous Yeltzin government. After the secret police shadowed Nemtsov for more than a year, he died in 2015 when Putin’s agents shot Nemtsov four times in the back. Anna Politkovskaya, one of Russia’s most prominent journalists and a Putin critic, was shot in her home in 2006. In addition, half a dozen prominent businessmen who went into exile in the UK were found dead under suspicious circumstances.

Finally, Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer exposed Putin’s corrupt seizure of $230 million in taxes paid by Magnitsky’s client, Bill Browder. Magnitsky was incarcerated and beaten to death in 2009. Browder, a successful money manager in Russia, was exiled by Putin to the UK and consequently became an activist against Putin. With the help of Senators McCain and Cardin, Browder encouraged Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which became law in 2012. It authorizes the U.S. government to freeze the assets of human rights offenders, those engaged in official corruption, and to forbid them from entering the U.S. Other nations passed similar laws. Putin issued death threats against Bill Browder.

Putin has also had Americans imprisoned in Russia for made-up crimes. Evan Gershkovich, the young foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in March 2023 and incarcerated ever since.

Putin’s rise to power is telling. He was a Soviet Communist KGB agent for 16 years, stationed in Berlin, who spied on the West until 1991. He became the chief of staff to the Mayor of St. Petersburg, and then Boris Yeltsin, first President of the Russian Federation, appointed Putin prime minister. Yeltsin, drowning in alcohol, resigned the following year and Putin became President. Since 2000, Putin suspended legitimate elections, declared himself president for life, and imprisoned or killed his opposition leaders. Putin wants to recreate the “greater Russia” of the Tsars by seizing the territory of old Russia, including Ukraine.

The question is, why does Donald Trump so admire and refuse to condemn Putin despite his outrageous crimes against Ukraine and his political opponents? Perhaps Trump, who fancies himself the master of revenge (“I am your retribution.”) against his perceived enemies, envies Putin’s record of unchecked, ruthless retribution against his opponents. There may be other dark explanations, such as the expectation that Putin will once again interfere in the Presidential election. History will tell. Inexplicably, why are many in the GOP similarly silent about Putin?

Lena Gill lives in Easton and is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum



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