Kara-Murza was detained Saturday during a brazen roundup of about 200 democratically elected municipal legislators, opposition politicians and journalists who had gathered in Moscow for a conference. In an interview from Moscow after his release pending trial, he said that the arrests show the fragility of the Putin regime. “I’ve been in Russian politics for quite a while now,” he said, “but ... what happened on Saturday was actually unprecedented.” In the past, he explained, when the authorities tried to sabotage opposition events, a pipe would suddenly burst in the host hotel, or the electricity would go off, or there would be a bomb scare. If members of the regime arrested opposition activists, they would always make up a pretext — such as planting drugs on them or charging them with tax evasion. Now, he said, “they are no longer keeping up the appearances. ... The whole conference of municipal lawmakers was arrested because it was a conference of municipal lawmakers. This is it.”
Kara-Murza, a Post contributing columnist, said that the regime is increasingly afraid because a new generation of Russians is fed up with Putin — and the old tactics that the government used to suppress the opposition are no longer working. “Even when the regime disqualifies real opponents from the ballot, pro-Putin candidates are still losing to literally anybody,” he said. He pointed out that when his friend Alexander Solovyov ran for a seat on the Moscow city council in 2019, the regime arrested and disqualified him — and put another Muscovite with the same name on the ballot to mislead voters. It was a “classic spoiler tactic.” A few days before the election, opposition leader Alexei Navalny asked Muscovites to send a message to the Kremlin by voting for such random nobodies. “And in nearly half of the districts this happened,” Kara-Murza said. “Those nobodies won in a landslide” — including the fake Solovyov. “He won in a landslide against the pro-regime candidate. And the electoral commission spent three days trying to locate where this guy was to tell him that he’s now an elected member of the Moscow city council.”
The Russian people sense the government’s fragility and are increasingly losing their fear. Kara-Murza pointed out that in January, hundreds of thousands of people went out onto the streets across the country to protest Navalny’s arrest upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering from his own attempted assassination by poison. They did so “knowing that they will be beaten up, they will be arrested, they will be detained. They may be sacked from their jobs or expelled from universities,” he said. “The regime sees all that. And that’s why they’re so afraid of their own people.”
All this belies the impression many have in the West that, as bad as Putin is, he remains popular at home. “I only have one question to that,” Kara-Murza said. “If he was really as popular as you said, why didn’t he allow a single free election in the 20 years he’s been in power? Wouldn’t he win it if he [were] so popular? Why does he feel the need to disqualify opponents, imprison opponents, murder opponents? Why does he feel the need to control every single major media outlet? Why does he feel the need to rig elections and stuff the ballots and beat up peaceful protesters who try to demonstrate against that fraud?” That’s not the behavior of someone who’s popular, Kara-Murza said. “That’s the behavior of someone who is weak and insecure.”
The best antidote to a regime built on lies is the truth. After Kara-Murza’s second poisoning, in 2017, his wife traveled to Washington, where, with the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), she provided samples of her husband’s blood to the FBI for analysis. “They did test them. And then they classified the results,” he said. He sued under the Freedom of Information Act and received several hundred pages of highly redacted documents. The papers show that the U.S. intelligence community thinks he was a victim of deliberate poisoning, but officials withheld the proof — the actual test results.
Kara-Murza said he thinks that the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian security service chiefs during a meeting in Washington in which they agreed not to make the test results public. If Biden wants to send a signal to Moscow that he’s taking a tougher line, there’s a simple way to do it: Declassify Kara-Murza’s test results.