The Russian State of Murder Under Putin

A British inquiry into the polonium poisoning death of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 implicated Russian President Vladimir Putin in the murder. The announcement was the first step toward justice not just for Litvinenko but for all of the victims of Russian state terror. The evidence that Litvinenko was killed by the Russian regime was overwhelming from the beginning. The inquiry’s conclusion that Mr. Putin “probably” approved the murder beforehand is the first instance of an official body connecting Mr. Putin personally to the murder of a member of the Russian opposition.

The Litvinenko murder was a dramatic example of the Russian regime’s criminal methods, but it was far from unique. Provocation and political assassinations are the hallmark of post-Soviet Russia and led to the Putin dictatorship. The first unexamined episode was the massacre at the Ostankino television tower in 1993, in the wake of Boris Yeltsin’s illegal order abolishing the Russian parliament. Thousands of unarmed pro-parliament protesters near the tower were fired on with automatic weapons, leaving 46 dead and 124 wounded. The second unexamined episode was the series of Russian apartment bombings in three cities in 1999, claiming more than 300 lives. The bombings were used to justify a second Chechen war, directed by Mr. Putin, who was then prime minister, and helped him win the presidency in 2000.

This is why the Litvinenko inquiry’s outcome is so important. The truth about Russia’s recent history is knowable, but not through the controlled institutions of the Russian state. Examining the many crimes of the Yeltsin and Putin eras is therefore an international obligation. Such an effort may spare the West from uninformed policy but its real value is the help it can give to the Russian people, who cannot begin to build a better future without freeing themselves from a carapace of lies.

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