The Kremlin has sentenced Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in jail for speaking the truth about the invasion of Ukraine. This is not the first long prison sentence handed out by the Kremlin authorities to opponents of the war, but it is by far the harshest act of retribution so far. The sentence represents another significant milestone in Russia’s retreat into Stalinism.
I know Vladimir Kara-Murza personally. He is a man of remarkable courage. He stood up against the criminal invasion of Ukraine knowing that his principled position would inevitably have grave consequences. At a time when the absence of anti-war protests in Russia shames the country, Vladimir Kara-Murza chose a different path.
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The verdict and sentencing of Vladimir Kara-Murza was not unexpected. On the contrary, modern Russia has been heading steadily in the direction of totalitarianism for many years. The list of regime victims is long and stretches back more than two decades to the very beginning of Putin’s reign. Some are familiar names whose deaths led to public outcry. Others are forgotten. Russia’s descent continued regardless.
The Russian people have now reached a new point in this grim journey. Almost seventy years since the death of the Soviet dictator, Stalinism has returned to Russia. The ruthless attacks on today’s political opponents and dissidents offer chilling echoes of the purges and show trials of the totalitarian Stalin era.
Even in this increasingly lawless climate, the 25-year sentence handed down to Kara-Murza stands out. It is a very deliberate and very public demonstration of the Kremlin’s determination to crush any sign of domestic dissent. The Putin regime is sending an unambiguous message to every single person in Russia that nobody and nothing is safe. From now on, the Kremlin will tear its opponents apart without any sense of restraint whatsoever.
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By condemning Vladimir Kara-Murza to a quarter of a century in jail, the Kremlin has made clear that it no longer feels constrained and will freely trample on the last surviving vestiges of individual rights. Kara-Murza’s sentence is a verdict against all Russians.
There are virtually no anti-war protests in today’s Russia, despite widespread awareness of the monstrous crimes being committed in Ukraine. Everyone in Russia has seen the destruction of Mariupol, Bakhmut, and dozens of other Ukrainian cities, albeit through the distorting lens of Kremlin propaganda. They all know their president has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. And yet only a relative handful of brave souls like Vladimir Kara-Murza dare to speak out.
With the sentencing of Kara-Murza, the Kremlin is now informing every single person in Russia that they are nothing. The Putin regime loves to spread fear among Russians. It wants more blood. I have no illusions that the Russian people will stand up for their freedoms. But they must now understand that unless they rise up to oppose the Kremlin, they will pay for it for the rest of their lives.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is the former Prime Minister of Ukraine (2014-16). He currently serves as Chairman of the Kyiv Security Forum.
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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.
The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.