Russia and Ukraine are Mirror Images of One Another (Navalny’s death—and Gonzo Lira’s)


By Wayne Allensworth

Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny has reportedly died in a Russian penal colony. Undoubtedly, Western MSM will jump at the chance to again call Vladimir Putin a murderous dictator. Whether that’s true or not has nothing to do with us. What happens in Russia and Ukraine has nothing to do with us, as I observed earlier. Our interests are elsewhere. What’s more, Washington’s efforts to portray Ukraine as a model democracy are as cockeyed as its claims that it is defending American “national interests” in Ukraine, actually part of a vain attempt to defeat Russia and overthrow Putin. Ukraine and Russia are mirror images of one another in many ways. Washington’s hypocrisy is truly a sight to behold.

Let’s start with Navalny. He was a tragic figure, a man whose ambitions out-distanced his real political capabilities. At one time, much to the consternation of the pro-Western opposition in Russia, he attempted to forge an alliance with nationalists who were disenchanted with Putin. He even bluntly slammed the wave of Central Asian “migrants” in Russia, saying he favored their deportation — what he called the “full sanitization” of Russia. For years, it was apparent to watchful observers that Navalny had sponsors in the Russian elite. He was sometimes a player in the Byzantine games of Russian politics. Navalny had plenty of leeway in 2013, for instance, to run for mayor of Moscow, most likely as a means for Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s opponents to exert pressure on him. He stayed healthy a lot longer than one might have expected.

As Russian commentator Mikhail Rostovsky wrote today, Navalny’s critical error was to return to Russia after he was poisoned, no doubt on the order of Russian vlast, the-powers-that-be, back in 2020. Navalny was released from a Russian hospital and sent to Germany for treatment. At the time, Russian language sources speculated that the whole point of the poisoning, assuming it was not intended to kill him, had been to frighten Navalny into leaving Russia. Navalny then did something that in the eyes of vlast was unforgivable, as Rostovsky noted: He formed a “political alliance with the West,” garnering the support of Western elites and MSM, and returned to Russia thinking he had enough popular support to seriously challenge Putin.

Like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Aleksey Prigozhin, Navalny overestimated his political potential and, unsurprisingly, landed in jail. He was a brave man who made a serious miscalculation. As noted in this space earlier, Putin can bargain with and tolerate an opponent within certain parameters, but he will not tolerate a traitor. Navalny had become, in the Kremlin’s eyes, a traitor. I doubt that Navalny was assassinated outright. Initial reports claimed that the cause of his death was a blood clot, though we await more details as of this writing. Russian prisons are not known for their health and sanitation standards, and the poisoning probably seriously undermined Navalny’s health. His supporters and friends had long feared that a prison term would be a death sentence.

That’s hardly a uniquely Russian state of affairs.

Ukraine and Russia share more than historical ties. In many ways, particularly in their shadowy political cultures, they mirror one another. Corruption and the maneuverings of their political-economic “clans” are much the same. Political opponents run the risk of being designated as enemies who must be dealt with in the harshest manner.

The death of American citizen Gonzo Lira in a Ukrainian prison earlier this year is a case in point. Lira lived in Ukraine, and since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, had harshly criticized the Ukrainian authorities on social media, repeatedly stated that Russia was winning the war, and highlighted corruption and incompetence among Ukrainian elites. He was arrested in May, then released. Lira made for the Hungarian border to seek political asylum. But, noting that he suffered from a serious heart condition, he predicted that if he was rearrested before he escaped, he would die in prison. Lira died of pneumonia in a Ukrainian prison after being arrested again last summer. Citing a handwritten note from his client, Lira’s attorney claimed that the prison authorities failed to medically treat Lira. Cort Kirkwood ably covered Lira’s saga here and here. They make for informative reading. Lira’s case did not attract much attention in the American Mainstream Media, nor did the US administration fuss about his arrest and imprisonment. He did not attract their attention in the same way that the case of The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, in prison in Russia on an accusation of espionage, has.

Such is the cold, manipulative nature of power politics.

Americans love narratives with clear-cut bad guys to boo and good guys to cheer. And they have never lost the bad habit of mistaking the authorities in Washington as a perpetual “good guy” in world affairs. The actual interests of the American Remnant are not connected to Ukraine, Yemen, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or any crusade against designated “bad guys.” In any case, most conflicts aren’t easy to classify in such terms. Maybe there aren’t any simon-pure “good guys.” 

The only people we are responsible for are ourselves.

Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood

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