Putin’s dead critics: A journalist, a tax adviser, a politician


Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, died in an Arctic penal colony Friday, prison officials said. President Biden blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death. Navalny was seen on video joking and smiling the day before officials said he suddenly fell ill.

In a country where criticism is stifled — often forcefully — Navalny is far from the first opposition figure to die under mysterious circumstances or in captivity.

Here are four other Russians who died after criticizing or investigating Putin.

Death: Fatally shot in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building

Anna Politkovskaya was known for her searing reporting and investigations of corruption in Russia under Putin’s rule, especially in Chechnya, a Muslim-majority part of southwestern Russia. In her book, “Putin’s Russia,” she wrote that she disliked Putin for “his cynicism, for his racism, for his lies.”

Politkovskaya was shot twice, once in the head, on a Saturday afternoon in October 2006. The gun was thrown at her feet, according to Vitaly Yaroshevsky, then the deputy editor in chief of her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta. Once one of the few independent newspapers published in Russia, it is now based in Riga, Latvia.

The month after Politkovskaya’s killing, Alexander Litvinenko went to tea at a London hotel. Litvinenko, a former KGB spy who became a British intelligence agent and Putin critic, was soon hospitalized and found to have been poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive isotope, that was in his green tea. Two Russians were named suspects in the poisoning; they fled to Russia.

Litvinenko had worked covertly for MI6, the British intelligence agency, while also writing articles critical of Putin, accusing him of corruption and pedophilia.

On his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Putin for his imminent death. A British court said nearly a decade later that there was “strong circumstantial evidence that the Russian State was responsible.”

He had just become a British citizen, a move he thought would safeguard him from Putin’s henchmen. “Now they will not be able to touch me,” he had told a friend, according to the court’s report.

Death: Beaten to death in prison

A tax adviser may not seem like the most likely person to draw Putin’s ire, but Sergei Magnitsky found himself jailed after he uncovered a web of financial corruption that linked millions of fraud-tainted dollars to the Kremlin.

He died in November 2009 after he was beaten in prison, where he had been held for nearly a year. A British human rights organization alleged that “inhuman detention conditions, the isolation from his family, the lack of regular access to his lawyers and the intentional refusal to provide adequate medical assistance” led to his death. Navalny’s supporters had lodged similar complaints about his treatment in prison before his death.

Magnitsky’s name lives on in what is known as the Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law in 2012 by President Barack Obama and allows the imposition of sanctions on suspected human rights abusers.

Death: Fatally shot on a bridge in Moscow

Once seen as a potential successor to Boris Yeltsin — the first president of the Russian Federation — Boris Nemstov met his fate on a bridge in Moscow steps from the Kremlin. He was fatally shot on a Friday evening in February 2015, the day before a rally he had helped organize.

Nemstov, a physicist by training who rose from regional governor to deputy prime minister under Yeltsin, became a fierce critic of Putin, accusing him of corruption and of augmenting Russian troops to fight alongside separatists in Ukraine. He alleged that Putin’s associates were beneficiaries of graft related to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, his hometown.

Putin said the shooting was a “provocative” contract killing, a Kremlin spokesperson said at the time. Putin had in 2012 said that opposition figures might stage a false-flag operation, executing one of their own and pinning it on the Russian state.

Nemstov had said weeks before his killing that he was “a bit” scared that Putin would have him killed, telling Sobesednik magazine that if he were “very fearful, I probably wouldn’t head an opposition party.”

The stretch of road in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington was designated Boris Nemstov Plaza as a memorial to Nemstov and a jab at Moscow.

Peter Finn, Griff Witte, Michael Birnbaum and Annys Shin contributed to this report.


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