“Putin is not a politician but a gangster and a murderer”

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Navalnya arrives to vote at the Russian Embassy in Berlin [צילום: איברהים נורוזי, AP]
Yulia Navalnya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, calls in the Washington Post for the West not to recognize Putin as the legitimate president of Russia and to financially harm his close associates and henchmen as a way to bring the collapse of his regime closer

  • Yulia Navalny is the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who took his place after his death in prison. Her article in the Washington Post was written in the first person and so its main points are presented here.

On February 16, a month before the “presidential elections” in Russia, my husband, Alexei Navalny, was murdered in prison on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin. I never wanted to be a politician, but Putin left me no other option. Therefore, I would like to tell you some important things that Alexei tried to say over the years.

To defeat Putin, or at least to punish him severely, one must understand who he is. Unfortunately, too many in the West see him as a legitimate political leader, debate his ideology and seek political logic in his actions. This is a big mistake that begets new mistakes and helps Putin repeatedly mislead his opponents. Putin is not a politician but a gangster. Alexei became famous in Russia and Putin hated him because this is what he said from the first moment about him and his allies: they are gangsters who have seized power and are using it to get rich and realize their personal ambitions.

Look at Putin as a mafia leader. Understand his cruelty, his cynicism, his violence, his love of luxury – and his willingness to lie and emigrate. All his talk about religion, history, culture and politics mislead the people of the West. But in Russia, everyone knows that gangsters have always liked to wear large crosses, show up in churches and present themselves as fighters for higher values ​​of justice and tradition. The Russians understand that this is the behavior of professional criminals.

Look at Putin as a mafia leader and you will understand how to punish him and bring about his end. Status is very important to crime leaders, both in their gangs and in the world outside. Putin can crown himself Tsar, but why do democratic countries continue to recognize his criminal rule as legitimate? Why do honestly elected leaders put themselves in the same line with someone who for decades rigged elections, killed his critics, imprisoned them or forced them to go into exile, and is now waging war in the heart of Europe?

I do not guarantee that refusing to recognize the results of the elections held this week will immediately lead to the fall of Putin’s government. But it will be an important signal to civil society in Russia and the elites who are still loyal to Putin, as well as to the world, that Russia is not ruled by a recognized president but by one who is widely condemned. Only then will those who remain loyal to Putin begin to understand that the only way to return to a normal economic and political life is to get rid of him.

Three times more political prisoners than in the Soviet Union
Thousands covered the grave of Alexei Navalny with flowers [צילום: AP]

Money is essential to crime leaders. Putin does not care about the suffering of ordinary people in Ukraine and Russia. He doesn’t care about the Russian economy, as long as there is enough money to sustain the military and security services and fill his and his cronies’ pockets. The only thing that will really hurt Putin is a loss of revenue. At this stage it is difficult to harm him directly, but it is possible to deprive his inner circle, his representatives and the decision makers of the money they stole.

Steal their wealth from gangsters – and they will lose their loyalty to their leader. That’s why I call for the maximum expansion and strict enforcement of the sanctions on the politicians, the “businessmen”, the civil servants and the members of the enforcement authorities loyal to Putin. Through the denial of capital and assets from many influential personalities, the ground is prepared for internal disputes and finally for the fall of the regime.

Extensive support for Ukraine and its army is the moral choice for Western countries. A military defeat for Putin in Ukraine will bring his government closer to the brink of collapse. However, there have been cases in history where defeat does not lead to the downfall of a ruler. To ensure that Putin’s rule does not survive another crisis, including due to defeat in Ukraine, it is essential to support the forces that continue to oppose him inside Russia.

Don’t believe that everyone in Russia supports Putin and his war. Russia is under severe tyranny. The number of political prisoners in Russia is three times greater than in the communist period. Human rights are trampled and there is no freedom of expression or protest. But even in these difficult conditions, the Russian people find ways to protest against the oppressive regime. Any opportunity to express legal objection turns into a mass protest. My husband’s funeral in Moscow was like this. Despite all the efforts of the authorities, thousands visited his grave and covered it with flowers. They know that the regime is following them and that they may be punished, but they appear in Moscow and all over Russia.

My husband’s last appeal to the Russians was to participate in the “lunch against Putin”. He asked all of Putin’s opponents to go to the polls at 12:00 on March 17. The goal was not to influence the results, which would be rigged anyway, or to support Putin’s puppet candidates who were allowed to run against him. Alexey wanted it to be a nationwide protest, which would highlight the illegitimacy of the elections and the opposition of civil society.

I call on the leaders of the West to help Russian citizens standing up against Putin’s gang. I implore you to hear the voice of free Russia and stand against him in principle: not to recognize the results of the fake elections, not to recognize Putin as the legitimate president of Russia. The world must finally recognize that Putin is not who he seems. He is a usurper, a tyrant, a war criminal – and a murderer.

date: 19/03/24 | Updated: 19/03/24

Itamar Levin

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