Revisiting Putin’s Soul
The fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, along with all the other suspicious murders and attempted murders of Kremlin critics in recent months, poses fundamental questions about Russia, and how the West should treat it.
Since most of these crimes remain unsolved, we can only speculate about who is behind them. We would certainly prefer not to suspect that anyone connected to President Vladimir Putin is involved, even if the attacks have the hallmarks of professional assassinations. The West needs a good relationship with Russia and its cooperation in containing nuclear proliferation and fighting terrorism. No one wants to return to the time when Russia was seen as an enemy.
Yet the recent events — a Russian defector is killed by a radioactive element, a Russian economic reformer suddenly is sickened in Ireland, a crusading Russian reporter is shot down in her doorway — cannot simply be dismissed as unrelated occurrences, as Mr. Putin would prefer.
What is indisputable is that a culture of lawlessness is spreading throughout Russia, and Mr. Putin has done little to stop it. On the contrary, he has weakened Russia’s democracy by stuffing his administration with shadowy fellow veterans of the old K.G.B. and by fanning Russians’ deep-seated feelings of insecurity and mistrust of the outside world.
Under the guise of restoring Russian honor, Mr. Putin’s government is quashing the freedoms won by the post-Soviet press, judiciary and legislature. Government critics have been branded “enemies of Russia” on lists that circulate openly in government circles. The Kremlin claims to see American wiles behind every real or perceived setback.
The West has no choice but to continue dealing with Russia, and with Mr. Putin. But when Kremlin critics are attacked or murdered, the West must demand a full, transparent investigation and punishment for the criminals — no matter who they are. It is time to let Mr. Putin know that we are looking hard into his soul, and we don’t like what we see.