Russia: Putin’s foes in the crosshairs
Vladimir Putin’s critics keep ending up “dead in mysterious circumstances,” said Dan Peleschuk and Tom Parfitt in The Times (U.K.). The latest troublemaker to have his name permanently scratched off the Russian president’s enemies list was Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian politician who had repeatedly spoken out against Putin since fleeing to Ukraine last October. He was shot dead last week by a gunman outside a luxury Kiev hotel, in a brazen daytime hit that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a “Russian state terrorist act.” The Kremlin denied any involvement, but a number of Putin foes have seemingly been targeted in recent years. Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead while taking a nighttime stroll near the Kremlin in February 2015. Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet died when his car exploded in Kiev last July. And earlier this month, Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer representing the family of a dead Russian whistleblower, was hospitalized after tumbling from the fourth floor of his Moscow apartment building. Russian state media described the fall as an accident, but Gorokhov’s associates said he was pushed.
There should be no mystery in why Voronenkov was murdered, said Vitaliy Portnikov in the Kyiv Post (Ukraine). Western sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its war in Ukraine are wrecking Russia’s economy and undermining Putin’s grip on power. “This means there will be more defectors” like Voronenkov—a former regime insider who knew many of the Kremlin’s dirty secrets. His “show execution” was a mes-sage from Putin to other would-be turncoats: Don’t think you’ll ever be safe. Voronenkov knew his former employers would come for him, said Shaun Walker in The Guardian (U.K.). In an interview with The Washington Post three days before his murder, Voronenkov, 45, said he and his wife were considered traitors in Russia. “It’s hard to imagine we will be forgiven,” he said.
Voronenkov’s killing comes at a very convenient time for Ukraine’s government, said Alexei Martynov in Izvestia (Russia). The West is fast losing interest in the country and its petty internal squabbles, so “Ukrainian authorities have to invent new plots” to grab the world’s attention. Voronenkov had long served as a “puppet” for Kiev, spouting anti-Russian propaganda on Ukrainian talk and news shows. This “puppet” played its final role perfectly.
Putin’s attempts to scare his domestic foes into silence have failed, said Max Seddon in the Financial Times (U.K.). Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in more than 80 Russian cities this week to protest corruption—the biggest anti-government rallies since 2012. Authorities reacted with a fierce crackdown: At least 1,000 demonstrators were arrested in Moscow alone. Many protesters were under 25 and too young “to remember any ruler other than Putin, who has been either president or prime minister since 2000.” But now they’re hungry for change. “We don’t know what’s next,” said Sergei Chaikovsky, 17, who helped organize a rally in Tomsk, in Siberia, “but everyone wants a new protest.”