Make No Mistake: Vladimir Putin Killed Alexei Navalny

Vladimir Putin
February 16, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkrainePutinVladimir PutinAlexei Navalny

Make No Mistake: Vladimir Putin Killed Alexei Navalny

Putin may not have pulled the trigger, but he ordered the contract and bears full responsibility for Navalny’s death. Everyone knew that the Russian opposition leader would not survive the harsh conditions of his incarceration in Russia’s inhospitable north.


Let there be no mistake: Vladimir Putin killed Alexei Navalny.

Everyone knew that the Russian opposition leader would not survive the harsh conditions of his incarceration in Russia’s inhospitable north.


And yet Russia’s illegitimate president sent him there, knowing what everyone knew. Putin may not have pulled the trigger, but he ordered the contract and bears full responsibility for Navalny’s death.

Killing his opponents is something Putin has practiced for all the years he’s been at Russia’s helm. At least 13 regime critics have met their deaths on his watch. Others have survived after being poisoned or beaten. Up to a score have fallen from windows.

Putin has also killed average Russians in the pursuit of his ends. In September 1999, explosions destroyed apartment buildings in Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk, killing more than 300 innocent civilians. They were blamed on the Chechens and served as a convenient pretext for resuming hostilities against them. Experts generally agree that Putin’s minions in the security service carried out the bombings at his behest.

The violence shouldn’t surprise us. It’s part of the tool kit of every fascist leader, and Putin is simply following in the time-honored footsteps of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Killing is effective, saves the regime money, intimidates potential oppositionists, is often greeted with indifference by the broad masses, and rarely elicits international protests. What’s not to like?

Navalny dared to criticize Putin and his corrupt regime and had to be incarcerated, as he was in 2021. Once sentenced, it was clear that he would never be let go. And once sent to a camp in the north, it was obvious that he would be Putin’s next victim.

The only questions are: Who’s next? And how will Russians react?

As to the first question, it’s clear that the lives of opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza and of opposition presidential candidate Boris Nadezhdin are at stake. Kara-Murza returned to Russia in 2022 and was promptly arrested and eventually sentenced to 25 years. Nadezhdin had the temerity to launch a genuine presidential campaign that might have embarrassed Putin at the polls on March 17. Though the Central Election Commission disqualified him from running, Nadezhdin has now turned to the courts. He won’t get anywhere, of course, but he could still embarrass Putin in the coming weeks.

The second question will be a test of Russians’ mettle. Navalny probably enjoyed the unqualified support of 15 percent of the electorate. Another 15 percent probably sympathized. Whatever the exact numbers, we’re talking about millions of people, most of whom would be concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

As the Bashkirs and Dagestanis have shown, mass protests are possible in Russia (just as Belarusians have shown that they’re possible in Russia’s vassal states). As Russian women have demonstrated, repeated small protests are also possible. Back in September 2022, the death of a young Iranian woman sparked months of anti-regime protests. The shooting by police of young African Americans led to widespread protests and the mobilization of Black Lives Matter. In December 2010, a Tunisian vendor set himself on fire and triggered the Arab Spring. The killing of Medgar Evers in 1963  galvanized the civil rights movement. The shooting of scores of peaceful Russian protestors in St. Petersburg on Bloody Sunday in 1905 ignited a revolution.

The questions Russians need to consider are these: Just how angry are they at Putin for killing Navalny? Will they continue to tolerate being spat upon by his regime or will they finally say No?

The questions Western policymakers must ask are these: Can they really do business with a killer? Do they really think peace in Ukraine is possible as long as Putin remains capo di tutti capi?

Finally, the question MAGA Republicans must ask is this: Do they really want to go down in history as a killer’s accomplices and collaborators?

About the Author

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.” The author's opinions are his own. 

Image Credit: Shutterstock.