An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in broad daylight in Kiev Thursday, just two days after a lawyer for the family of a slain Russian whistleblower was injured in a mysterious fall from his fourth-story apartment near Moscow.
Denis Voronenkov was a former Russian Communist Party member who’d become increasingly critical of Putin’s policies after fleeing to Ukraine in 2016.
In light of his murder, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an “act of state terrorism by Russia,” the Washington Post’s Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov compiled a list of nine other Putin critics “who died violently or in suspicious ways.”
As it has after similar incidents, the Kremlin swiftly rejected any suggestion it was involved in Voronenkov’s murder. Still, Filipov argued, the people on his list had more in common than simply disapproving of the president.
“There’s a specific group of people who have ended up dead in suspicious circumstances,” he told Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga Friday.
Whether they were journalists, oligarchs or former KGB agents, almost all of the people on Filipov’s list had either been investigating alleged human rights abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya or the suspicious 1999 Moscow apartment bombings that prompted Russia to declare war on Chechnya and ultimately paved the way for Putin to become president in 2000, or they were raising questions about deaths of other people who’d tried to investigate these things.
“Essentially, it’s all about the rise to power of Putin in the late ’90s and the Chechen [war] that provided the sort of impetus” for his presidency, said Filipov.
This pattern, he said, compounded by the fact that these cases have never been solved, creates a perception that “if you criticize the Kremlin, you’re risking your life.”
However, despite plenty of “circumstantial evidence that critics of Putin end up dead,” Filipov clarified that it’s impossible to say whether he actually ordered that they be murdered or, in some cases, even wanted them dead.
For example, Putin expressed shock and outrage over the mysterious shooting of former political ally-turned-opposition leader Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin in 2015, vowing to ensure punishment for “the perpetrators of this vile and cynical crime.”
Over the course of Putin’s presidency, Nemtsov had become increasingly critical of the government, speaking out against human rights abuses in Chechnya, corruption, and, shortly before his death, Russian military involvement in Ukraine.
Still, Filipov said he believes Nemtsov’s murder, with four shots to the back outside the Kremlin, was not orchestrated by Putin.
“One thing people have to always consider when something goes wrong in Russia: While Putin might be ultimate authority, there are people going around hoping to get Putin’s approval,” he said, suggesting that this interest may drive people who run private security companies or work for oligarchs to think, “If we get rid of this guy, it will be good for the boss.”
“The way they say it in Russia is, ‘Nothing happens until one guy makes up his mind, but there’s 10 guys standing in line with a piece of paper saying, please make up your mind in my direction,’” Filipov said. “One theory is people do things to get attention, to get [to] the head of that line.”
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