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The death of another Putin critic

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WORLD Radio - The death of another Putin critic

Vladimir Putin reveals his weakness by silencing Alexei Navalny


A woman at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday Associated Press/Photo by Dmitri Lovetsky

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 20th of February, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Up first: the death of a Russian dissident. On Friday, Russian authorities announced that opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison after, they say, Navalny felt unwell coming back from a walk.

YULIA NAVALNY: [Speaking in Russian]

REICHARD: Navalny’s wife Yulia in a video released on Monday. She says Russian authorities have refused to release her husband’s body because they want to cover up the cause, what she suspects as another poisoning.

Navalny was previously targeted with a military-grade poison that put him in the hospital for a month.

Here is Navalny on 60 Minutes back in 2020, while receiving treatment in Germany before his return to Russia.

ALEXEI NAVALNY: I think for Putin why he's using this chemical weapon, to do both: kill me and you know terrify others.

EICHER: Joining us now to talk about Navalny’s life and death is Will Inboden. He served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. He is now a professor at the University of Florida. He’s also a regular contributor to World Opinions.

REICHARD: Will, good morning.

WILL INBODEN: Great to be with you.

REICHARD: Will, what was your first thought when you heard the news on Friday that Russian authorities reported that Alexei Navalny was dead at age 47?

INBODEN: I would say I was shocked but not surprised. Shocked in that it is appalling that Putin and the Russian state would take this step of you know, it seems very clear that he was murdered in prison. We don't know the exact means, but a day or two earlier he'd been, you know, videoed in reasonably good health. And Putin has a history of assassinating or executing or, you know, otherwise putting to death his political opponents. So in that sense, it was it was a shock that it did come to this but but not a surprise, and that this has been Putin's pattern.

REICHARD: The timing of Navalny’s death is significant…we’re now just days away from the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last year, the story was that Ukraine was surviving and pushing Russia back with Western help. Now Russia is slowly moving forward, and Putin has silenced his opponents. First it was Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, and now, Alexei Navalny. What does that tell you about Vladimir Putin’s strength in 2024?

INBODEN: Yeah, so it's a paradox where on the one hand, he is a "strong" leader in that he is eliminating his opponents and criticism and still, you know, pushing forward with his aggression in Ukraine and you know, the things that he wants. And he'll, you know, with the upcoming election, he'll almost surely, “win,” because he controls the ballot box since he's the only person, only person running. But it shows a certain weakness and that he cannot even abide or tolerate any criticism or dissent. And, yes, you know, Russia has stopped Ukraine's progress on the battlefield and is even starting to make some incremental gains and the Russian forces recently recaptured a reasonably important Ukrainian city. But again, it's come at a tremendous cost to Russia, right? Over, we don't know the exact numbers, but over 300,000 Russian troops dead or wounded casualties in the war, huge damage to the Russian economy. This is why so many Russians live in horrible poverty, as you know, Putin has really bankrupted their country in a lot of ways through his own personal corruption and through perpetrating this war. And so I think with the anniversary of the war coming up, with the elections coming up, with the recent past weekend Munich security conference in Germany—bringing together all the transatlantic leaders, many of whom have been resisting Putin's aggression in Ukraine—Putin seemed to decide that now is the time to make the move and eliminate his most prominent critic in Alexei Navalny.

REICHARD: In your WORLD Opinions column, you wrote that “Navalny’s murder should put to rest the perverse affection for Putin voiced by some on the political right.” What do you mean by that?

INBODEN: Yeah, you know, there have been some voices on the American political right—I wouldn't really even call them traditional conservatives, but you know, Tucker Carlson would exemplify this—who have had this, I think, you know, strange affection for Putin in recent years. Putin very cynically plays to this. He likes to posit himself as a social conservative defending traditional Christian values and say, you know, traditional marriage. 

But I think when we look closer, it also needs to be seen that he's a, you know, a brutal despot who hates America and hates the free world. You know, he presides over one of the highest abortion rates in the world, you know, so he's certainly not a social conservative in that respect. You know, other tyrants around the world, the leaders of Hamas, the leaders of North Korea, the leaders of Iran, you know, they're sworn enemies of America. They would claim to be traditional social conservatives, too. And so even if they may have an agreement with social conservatives on one or two areas, doesn't mean, I think, that we should give them our affection or our support, and I think Tucker Carlson really erred in that. And he, you know, in the last week or two has been kind of cynically used by Putin as almost a Kremlin propagandist. And I think he has really beclowned himself there, especially when Tucker initially seemed to kind of, you know, justify the killing of Navalny by saying, “Well, leaders just kill people.” We know that's not the standard that we have an order that we should accept.

REICHARD: Before we go, let’s turn to the war in Gaza.

Israeli forces are closing in on Hamas’s final strongholds in Southern Gaza. Along the way they’ve freed a couple of hostages and exposed more of Hamas’s underground terror network. That includes a facility underneath the Gaza City headquarters of the UN Palestinian refugee agency known as UNRWA.

Now, agency leaders deny any link with Hamas, but when your building has power cables running down into a military compound, well, the evidence just says otherwise.

Here’s the problem: UNRWA provides most of Gaza’s societal infrastructure, so if it comes undone, the community cannot operate. And yet, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said that one of the United States’ goals for the end of the conflict is for Israel to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. What do you make of that objective, given all that we know now about UNRWA?

INBODEN: I have a lot to say here. I'll try to keep it brief. I mean, the first is that many of us have suspected for some time or seen glimmers of evidence about this corruption of UNRWA, whether, you know, little corruption in terms of, you know, misallocation of resources, or deeper corruption of allowing, you know, Hamas militants to be employees there. As well as Hamas to set up, you know, an underground leadership command and control bunker underneath UNRWA’s headquarters. And so this is a long overdue reckoning and exposure of, like I said, some of UNRWA's corruptions there. But we also do have to remember that for there to be any viable, you know, future for security and peace for Israel, there needs to be some better pathway of life for the many Palestinians who aren't terrorists, right? And so that's the big puzzle here is how do we disentangle the terrorist elements from the Palestinian population from the more peace-loving ones who would want a better path forward. On a Palestinian state, I don't see any realistic possibility of that anytime soon. You don't have any of the preconditions for a state and you have too many of them who are sworn to Israel's destruction. But I have some sympathy for at least saying that, aspirationally, we hope that somewhere down the line, there can be the creation of a Palestinian state, to at least keep that hope alive. But just be clear that there's a lot of difficult hard steps that would need to be taken between now and then to get there, beginning with substantial reform of the UN and UNRWA.

REICHARD: Will Inboden is a former member of the National Security Council and a current professor at the University of Florida. Will, thanks for your time.

INBODEN: Thank you, Mary. Great to be with you.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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