Under Russian Terror, All Exiles Are Fearful and All Deaths Are Suspicious

Under Russian Terror, All Exiles Are Fearful and All Deaths Are Suspicious, by Masha Gessen.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental authority, has confirmed that the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were hospitalized in England last month, were poisoned with Novichok, a Russian-made nerve agent. What’s more, the form of the gas was pure enough to suggest that it was deployed by a state actor. “They practically wrote that it was Russia,” an anchor on a Russian state-television news show concluded. “Though, of course, it’s not so.” …

The practice of committing — or in this case, attempting — blatant murder and following it with a series of equally blatant denials is nearly as old as Soviet state terror. During the Great Terror of 1937–38, the secret police killed thousands of people every day, but hid this fact from the victims’ families. Soviet terror abroad worked similarly, if more selectively. …

Ramón Mercader, who killed Trotsky with an ice axe, denied any connection to the U.S.S.R. — he claimed that he killed Trotsky over a woman. But, once he completed his twenty-year sentence in Mexico, he moved to the Soviet Union, where he was promptly awarded Hero of the U.S.S.R., the highest military honor. Mercader lived out his days in Cuba but is buried in Moscow, with a pseudonym on his gravestone. …

Leon Trotsky

To Russians living — and dying — abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, any number of other deaths appear suspicious. A BuzzFeed report last year identified fourteen deaths that might have been hits. …

Hundreds of the Kremlin’s active opponents have left Russia in the last six years, moving the intellectual center of the opposition abroad, much as it happened in the seventies. In London, New York, and the Baltic republics, they continue to meet, organize, and plan a post-Putin future; in fact, the former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who moved to New York five years ago, chaired this week the Forum for a Free Russia, the fifth such gathering he has organized, in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Every person at the gathering, and scores of other Russian activists who are not there, have watched the unfolding Skripal investigation and wondered, at least occasionally, if they might not be next.

Some historical perspective on Russia and the Skripal poisoning.

hat-tip Bob