You may have heard the reports yesterday and today about the assassination of Denis Voronenkov in Kiev. He was shot and killed outside a hotel. Mr. Voronenkov, a former member of the Russian Parliament, was a critic of Vladimir Putin who had fled to the Ukraine with his wife (a former Bolshoi opera singer) to escape Putin’s “political prosecution” for his willingness to serve as a witness (in European and U.S. cases) to Russian corruption and the illegal invasion of the Ukraine. Needless to say, Mr. Voronenkov will not be testifying. What is most distressing about this assassination is that it occurs only days after another Russian, Nikolai Gorokhov, also died under “questionable” circumstances. As reported by The World Post on March 21, 2017:
A Moscow lawyer who represents the family of a now-deceased Russian whistleblower was severely injured Tuesday after falling several stories, just one day before he was scheduled to appear in court.
The lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, represents the family of Sergei Magnitsky, another Russian attorney who mysteriously died in custody in Moscow in 2009 after accusing law enforcement and tax officials of a massive fraud worth $230 million. Magnitsky’s death sparked international outrage and led to U.S. legislation in 2012 imposing sanctions on several Russian officials.
Magnitsky died in a Russian prison, denied medical care for organ failure, with evidence that he had been tortured. Gorokhov was supposedly using a pulley to raise a bathtub up to the fourth floor when he “accidentally” fell. It should be noted that Mr. Gorokhov was on a witness list drawn up by Preet Bharara involving a Cyprus money-laundering scheme (which may also name Paul Manafort). This is how Vladimir Putin deals with his “problems.” He runs Russia the way Tony Soprano ran his “crew.”
On the surface this is disturbing, to say the least, but it is all the more horrifying if you consider our President’s recent interview with Bill O’Reilly.
President Donald Trump waved off Bill O’Reilly’s description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "killer" in a recently taped interview, telling the Fox News host that "there are a lot of killers.
We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?
He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. “
In Trump’s world, which is a reality television show (where he can “send in the feds”) it’s no big deal if Putin kills some of his own people --- apparently the President believes the U.S. does that, too. Yet it would be hard to provide a list of U.S. victims of “unsolved” murders that even comes close to the one Putin has racked up over his years as the “leader of his country.”
We know, of course, that Putin became a KGB agent in 1975, at the age of 23 and in 1999, under Boris Yeltsin’s leadership, was appointed “Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the primary intelligence and security organization of the Russian Federation and successor of the KGB.” (Wikipedia) It would be naïve to believe that “President” Putin has not kept tight control over the FSB in his years as President and Prime Minister of Russia --- and political dissenters have borne the brunt of his wrath.
In 2006 Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist critical of Russia’s involvement in Chechnya and a human rights activist was the victim of a contract killing. While five men were convicted in 2014, none divulged who put the contract out on Polikovskaya. She is just one in a list leading up to this week’s two killings. Boris Nemtsov, a physicist and statesman credited as one of the prime movers to bring capitalism to Russia, was an extremely vocal public critic of Putin. On February 27, 2015 he was shot four times in the back on a bridge near the Kremlin and Red Square. No one has been charged in his murder. Sergei Yushenko was another former Russian Parliament member who, in 2003, registered a political party to run in opposition to Putin. He was behind an inquiry into the FSB for some apartment building bombings that supposedly were perpetrated by “Chechens.” He also investigated the Moscow Theatre “hostage crisis, “ hoping to prove the FSB was also behind that (again, laid at the feet of the Chechens). Hours after registering his opposition party for the Parliamentary elections, he was gunned down in front of his home. No one has been charged in the murder. An ally of Nemtsov, Boris Berezovsky, a businessman (oligarch) fled Russia that same year and received asylum in the U.K., which refused to extradite him to Russia. He was found hanged in his home in March of 2013 --- a coroner’s inquiry would not rule it suicide but, rather, an “open verdict.”
The list goes on. In 2004, Paul Klebinov, the American editor of the Russian version of Forbes, had been doing investigative reporting in Moscow (exposing Berezovsky as a crooked businessman and pursuing stories about Chechnya) when he was gunned down leaving his Forbes office. He was shot “by unknown assailants who fired at him from a slowly moving car.” (Wikipedia) Those charged in the murder were acquitted. One of the most incredible Putin era stories, though, involves Mikhail Lesin, a close advisor to the Russian President who, in 2015, was coming under intense scrutiny by the U.S. government under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Statutes. On November 15, 2015 Lesin was found dead in his Washington, D.C. hotel room --- initially declared a “heart attack,” but we later learned he died from “blunt force trauma.”
Our last two cases involve Alexander Litvinenko and Vladimir Kara-Murza because of the similarities between the two, even though they are a decade apart. Litvinenko was a former FSB officer who became a whistleblower, accusing his FSB superiors of planning an assassination of Berezovsky, as well as also accusing the Putin-led FSB of the apartment bombings and other terrorist acts. On November 1, 2006, Litvinenko was suddenly struck ill, diagnosed with radioactive polonium-210 poisoning. He died on November 23rd. Regarding Kara-Murza, on February 6, 2016, The New York Times reported:
A leader of the Russian opposition who has been a vocal critic of what he calls a Kremlin policy of assassinating political enemies has fallen into a life-threatening coma caused by an unknown poison, his wife said on Monday.
The diagnosis of what ailed Vladimir Kara-Murza came at a delicate political moment for the United States and Russia, as President Trump had just brushed aside criticism of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, as a “killer.”
Kara-Murza had been hospitalized in 2015 for poisoning, too --- by a “mystery toxin.” (NY Times) Presently, the journalist had been traveling to Russian provincial cities screening a documentary about the Nemtsov killing. “Last month, Mr. Kara-Murza submitted a letter critical of Mr. Putin’s government to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during cabinet confirmation hearings for Rex W. Tillerson, the Secretary of State. ‘There are higher risks than slander or imprisonment for those who oppose the regime.” (NY Times) Whether Mr. Kara-Murza survives or not remains to be seen but he is yet another on the list of Putin critics (or too-close advisors under investigation) who has clearly been targeted.
One last note about Mr.Voronenkov, the man who was gunned down in Kiev two days ago: he was helping prosecutors in the Ukraine build a case against former Ukrainian President and Vladimir Putin ally, Victor Yanukovich. If that name strikes you as familiar, it may be because it has been in the U.S. news quite a bit this week. Yanukovich is the person who, starting in 2006, hired Paul Manafort, as a $10 million per year lobbyist to promote Putin’s Russia to U.S. businesspeople. Yes, indeed, that Tony Soprano’s got nothing on Vladimir Putin.