18 February 2024

The Triumph of Evil

Putin’s regime finally murdered Alexei Navalny, a Russian patriot and freedom fighter. Regardless of how the events on 16 February unfolded, his death is a direct result of the actions of Russian state agents who had long been working towards his death.

Navalny was 47 years old. He survived an assassination attempt involving a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020 thanks to Russian and German doctors, as well as extraordinary efforts of Angela Merkel’s government. Since his return to Russia in January 2021, he has been illegally imprisoned, subjected to multiple kafkaesque trials, and ultimately sent to one of the worst penal colonies. During his two years in prison, he was put in solitary confinement 27 times, spending over 300 days in these horrific conditions. Despite credible concerns over his health, he was denied proper treatment.

There were many signs on the way to this end. In October, three of Navalny’s lawyers were arrested and charged with “extremism”; the rest of his legal team was forced into exile. Shortly before his death, Navalny was transferred to a remote penal colony with the harshest regime possible, which ultimately became the site of his murder. Navalny was ex-communicated during his ten-day transfer, raising concerns about his life. The penal colony in Kharp, Yamal, selected by the authorities, was extremely remote and inaccessible.

Navalny’s death opens a new dark chapter in Russia’s history. For many, it is the end of all remaining hopes for a better Russia. Navalny was a towering figure in the country’s political opposition to Putin. His courage and determination inspired many people in a seemingly hopeless struggle against the dictator.

Navalny liked to quote a well-known phrase of unknown authorship: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The quote was included in his specially recorded video message, his “political will”. In his interview with renowned Russian writer Boris Akunin, Navalny elaborated on this phrase, stating: “The hypocrisy of neutrality, ‘apoliticism’, and self-removal, masking laziness, cowardice, and meanness, is the main reason why a bunch of well-organized villains have been able to oppress millions throughout human history.”

Indeed, Alexei’s tragedy and Russia’s tragedy stem from the inaction or insufficient action of many good people in the face of evil. A large part of Russian society is indeed apathetic and submissive. Despite many brave people among us, very few possess the determination that Alexei demonstrated. Ultimately, it is up for Russians to “fix their own country” and change it for the better. There are, however, many “good people” in  state offices worldwide and within international organizations, who, unlike “ordinary Russians,” had access to specific political, economic, and, legal mechanisms to do something. Yet, despite their moral or even legal obligations, they did not act. They too bear responsibility for allowing this tragedy to happen.

It should be remembered that Navalny’s death was a direct consequence of a series of actions of the Russian state, each of which was a violation of international law. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly found violations of Navalny’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights by the Russian state. Critically, the Court found that Navalny’s criminal convictions, which ultimately led to his imprisonment upon his return to Russia (the so-called Yves Rocher case), were not based on law and constituted a denial of fair trial. Moreover, the Court found a rare violation of Article 18 of the Convention, concluding  that the criminal case against Navalny was “pursued . . . to suppress political pluralism.”

In 2019, when the decision was rendered, Russia was a member of the Council of Europe and a contracting party to the ECHR. Russian judicial authorities ignored Strasbourg’s critical findings by refusing to quash the conviction. In January 2021, Russia also refused to implement the interim measures by the Court and ignored “grave concerns” expressed by the Committee of Ministers. Despite Russia’s non-compliance and ongoing aggression against Ukraine, the Council of Europe as a whole preferred to continue “dialogue” with Putin. This imaginary “dialogue” with the Russian authorities contributed to the slow killing of Navalny. In 2023, the Court found that Russia violated Article 2 of the Convention by failing to investigate his poisoning. By this time, this judgment had merely symbolic meaning.

Navalny’s arbitrary convictions effectively barred him in 2018 from participation in what is called the presidential election. Putin’s current authority, which still rests on the “presidency”, is based on those “elections”. Navalny was poisoned shortly after the sham plebiscite on the constitutional amendments, which allowed Putin to remain formally in office until 2036. Against the backdrop of the upcoming “elections”, it appears that the international community, including many EU member states, is preparing to acknowledge another “extraordinary victory” for an individual suspected by the ICC of committing war crimes.

Following the tragic news on Friday, state leaders issued  numerous intense and emotional statements. Many of them correctly attributed responsibility to the Putin regime (although depersonalizing it as “Russia”) and warned of the grave consequences that await. The statements, however, should be accompanied by direct political, economic, and legal actions confronting the Putin regime.

Firstly, all possible measures, including extra diplomatic efforts, must be taken to prevent a similar fate for other political prisoners currently in dire health situations. Navalny’s fate also serves as a lesson for states handling asylum claims of citizens of Russia and Belarus. It is astonishing to witness European politicians who simultaneously condemn the repressions in Russia and support blanket visa bans and other discriminatory measures against Russian citizens. The harsh reality right now is that a growing number of individuals, including not only political activists but also LGBTQ people, journalists, and lawyers, may face grave danger in Putin’s Russia.  They should receive international protection and support.

Secondly, Navalny fell victim to an inhuman system involving multiple state organs, including the courts and prison administration. This system should be unmasked and named for what it really is. It is inexplicable that states, including contracting parties to the ECHR and even EU members, persist in providing routine legal assistance to the Russian Federation and extraditing individuals to Russia, thereby legitimizing and normalizing Russia’s inhumane and lawless practices. The Russian regime also continues to use Interpol, an international police organization, to intimidate its political opponents. The abuse of Interpol by Russia is well documented and continues to this day. The malicious use of international legal mechanisms poses a real danger to numerous individuals who fled Russia due to looming repressions. Such cooperation with Russia must be halted until Russia complies with international law.

Thirdly, as far as Russia’s state responsibility is concerned, all legal avenues should be considered to hold the Russian state internationally responsible for this murder and other violations, including publicizing its transgressions to the world audience. States have limited jurisdictional options to initiate proceedings against Russia. However, one such option relevant to Navalny’s case is the compromissory clause in Article 30 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984). Under certain conditions, states parties to the Convention may resort to the International Court of Justice to resolve disputes concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention, as was recently demonstrated by The Netherlands and Canada.

Finally, under international criminal law, Putin’s killing of Navalny can be characterized as murder, torture, and persecution, constituting crimes against humanity. The actions leading to his death were part of a widespread and systematic state-sponsored attack directed against a civilian population with knowledge of the attack. Although there is currently no international criminal tribunal to deal with the crimes committed by the Putin regime within Russian territory, states may investigate and, under certain conditions, prosecute crimes against humanity under the principle of universal jurisdiction. All efforts to establish individual criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity would be of paramount importance, both legally and politically.

Putin’s belief in his absolute impunity, reinforced by appeasement, was a decisive factor that facilitated Alexei Navalny’s murder. However, what happened to Navalny must not happen to Vladimir Kara-Murza, Aleksei Gorinov, Ilya Yashin, and many others. Putin jailed all those people for their anti-war statements and expressions of sympathy towards Ukraine and Ukrainians. In the case of Gorinov, Russian authorities openly disregarded the decision of the UN working group on arbitrary detention, the authority of which was recognized by Russia’s Constitutional Court.

Amid the expressions of sympathy for Navalny, Ukrainian voices are scare. Undoubtedly, many of Navalny’s prior statements are still deeply upsetting for Ukrainians. However, it is worth to remember that Navalny never “supported” the invasion of Ukraine, including Crimea, and openly denounced its international illegality. In 2022, while imprisoned, he unequivocally condemned the full-scale war. Putin’s war on Ukraine was prepared by cementing the dictatorship, destroying the weak Russian democracy, eliminating the political opposition and anti-war resistance, and even murdering bright politicians such as Boris Nemtsov, and now Alexei Navalny.

Navalny’s death is a huge loss for all Russians who believe in a free and peaceful future for their country, but also for Europe and the world. May his soul rest in peace.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Bogush, Gleb: The Triumph of Evil, VerfBlog, 2024/2/18, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-triumph-of-evil/, DOI: 10.59704/95b78715df27076e.

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