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Putin’s revenge

Putin’s revenge

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Putin visited Russian troops in occupied Ukraine, which Kyiv calls a crime scene.
  • NHS England said nearly 200,000 hospital appointments had been rescheduled because of last week’s doctors’ strike.
  • A “scientific” survey by the Telegraph found Sicily to be the Mediterranean’s greatest island.

Putin’s revenge

One of Putin’s bravest critics was jailed yesterday for 25 years in what supporters said was an act of personal revenge for efforts to sanction Russian human rights abusers.

So what? Vladimir Kara-Murza’s long sentence is a minor injustice compared with Russia’s mass murder in Ukraine, but it underlines how the war has ratcheted up paranoia in Moscow to levels not seen since the 1930s. In particular the Kara-Murza case

  • serves as a warning to to anyone else considering public opposition to Putin that they now risk – at best – being jailed for life; 
  • shows that in Putin’s deepening isolation, hostage-taking may be his only remaining means of meaningful communication with the West; and
  • raises urgent questions about why the UK has not done more to help him.

In his time. Kara-Murza is a Cambridge-educated historian brought to the UK by his parents. He holds British as well as Russian citizenship and worked as a London-based correspondent for multiple Russian outlets before devoting himself to opposition politics.

He infuriated Putin mainly by working with the former Moscow-based financier Bill Browder to win US congressional support for the Magnitsky Act, in memory of Browder’s murdered lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The act allows Congress to impose sanctions and travel bans on individually named human rights abusers – among them Sergei Podoprigorov, the judge in his own case and Magnitsky’s.

More recently Kara-Murza

  • drew attention to Putin’s habit of assassinating political enemies while Donald Trump was trying to curry favour with the Kremlin;
  • survived two attempts to poison him, the second of which left him in a coma in 2017; and
  • gave a speech to the Arizona House of Representatives condemning Putin for dropping cluster bombs on schools and hospitals in Ukraine.

In his own words. Kara-Murza’s final statement to Podoprigorov’s court was an eloquent study in regret. He said his trial’s contempt for legal norms surpassed even that of Soviet dissidents’ trials in the 1960s and declined the court’s invitation to express remorse:

“I blame myself for only one thing: that over the years of my political activity I have not managed to convince enough of my compatriots and enough politicians in the democratic countries of the danger that the current regime in the Kremlin poses for Russia and the world. Today this is obvious to everyone, but at a terrible price – the price of war.”

In his defence, Browder told Tortoise last night that Kara-Murza was “one of the most beloved activists in Washington,” where supporters are trying to get him officially designated as unlawfully detained to make him eligible for a prisoner swap.

“This was an act of revenge against Vladimir for his work on the Magnitsky Act, and a warning to other human rights activists that if you do this sort of work you will go to jail for the rest of your life,” Browder said.

In London there is little sign of action on Kara-Murza’s behalf despite his UK citizenship. The government has joined the US in sanctioning Podoprigorov but David Rutley, a foreign office minister, said he was “not familiar” with Kara-Murza’s name when asked last month what was being done to secure his release. The FCDO did not respond to a request for comment.

In Moscow on Sunday the new Chinese defence minister thanked Putin for “promoting world peace”, while in New York Russia chairs the UN Security Council.

Orwell could not have made it up.


$40k to defer
Instead of a golden hello, how about a $20,000 safari? Or $30,000 to learn a new language? Or $40,000 to work for an NGO? For highly motivated graduates flirting with the world’s richest consulting firms, economic uncertainty has an upside. Rather than cut recruitment or renege on job offers, Bain and McKinsey are offering MBA graduates five-figure inducements to defer employment by a year. EY and KPMG announced actual job cuts yesterday, and McKinsey is letting people go from some back office functions, but in the hunt for top talent top recruiters look very unwilling to admit there’s anything macroeconomically amiss. Maybe they know something we don’t about the war in Ukraine. More likely, they are quietly reassured by China’s faster-than-expected post-lockdown return to growth rates in the neighbourhood of 5 per cent.


Donbass devushka
Last week the leaker of US defence intelligence papers on Ukraine and elsewhere was found to be a disgruntled US Air Force employee in Massachusetts. A few days later it turned out one of the most effective distributors of this material online was a former US Navy technician from Washington state. Her real name is Sarah Bils, the WSJ reported, but she blogs as Donbass Devushka (Donbass girl). She has a thing for the Russian military and especially the Wagner Group that’s doing so much heavy lifting in Ukraine, and openly admits engaging in “Russian-style information warfare”. There’s no suggestion she stole the leaked material, broke the law or violated any official clearance she may previously have enjoyed; only that the US is losing the information war in its own backyard.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Racism in NHS maternity care
Black women being cared for by the UK’s health service are almost four times as likely to die from childbirth as white women, and those from poor areas are two and a half times more likely to die than those from rich ones. The findings are in a report by parliament’s women and equalities committee, which also says a task force set up last year to examine inequalities in maternity care met only three times and not at all since last July. Caroline Nokes MP, the committee’s Conservative chair, called the inaction shameful and the unresolved disparities “shocking”. Activists aren’t surprised though. They say Black women are under-represented in healthcare data collection and policy formation, and that serious medical conditions go unnoticed because of their skin colour.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

EU climate package
The biggest climate law ever negotiated in Europe passed through the European Parliament for a vote today. The series of climate bills are part of a package known as Fit for 55 – a bad name based on the bloc’s aim of cutting CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by the end of the decade. The measures up for a vote include the EU’s plan to impose a CO2 charge on imports of goods including steel and cement, intended to put EU and foreign firms on an equal playing field. The EU will also phase out free CO2 allowances for its own steel and cement factories by 2034. The EU plans to create a new carbon market to charge suppliers of fossil fuels used in cars and buildings – as well as a separate fund to help consumers manage the extra costs. But, as Politico reports, this extra €86.7 billion in funding will flow to national governments, rather than the consumers footing higher energy bills. Plus ça change.

culture society identity and belonging

Brazilian nonsense
Russia’s foreign minister arrived in Brasilia yesterday to meet his Brazilian opposite number and thank his hosts for prioritising an end to the war in Ukraine over victory for Kyiv. Brazil’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, raised eyebrows and hackles in Washington earlier this month by suggesting the US should stop “encouraging” the conflict by sending Ukraine weapons and that Ukraine should cede Crimea to end the war. Since being sworn in as president earlier this year, Lula has declined to give lethal aid to Ukraine and has made clear his ambition to act as a peace broker between Zelensky and Putin. The White House’s national security spokesperson John Kirby accused Brazil of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda”. There may be a simple reason for Lula’s embrace of alternative facts: Brazil’s soybean industry depends on Russian fertiliser.

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Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Jess Winch and James Wilson

Photographs Getty Images

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