The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Vladimir Kara-Murza’s arrest is spurious. The dictatorship is real.

Vladimir Kara-Murza on Capitol Hill on March 29, 2017. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician who has been a strong critic of President Vladimir Putin and his disastrous war against Ukraine, arrived at his Moscow apartment building Monday evening, hours after saying in a CNN interview that Mr. Putin’s government is “not just corrupt, it’s not just kleptocratic, it’s not just authoritarian, it is a regime of murderers.” He added that he felt “it is important to say it out loud.”

Mr. Kara-Murza, a Post opinion contributor, didn’t make it as far as his front door. He was still in his car at about 6:30 p.m. when five policemen approached him. He asked them to show identification, which they refused, at which point he was immediately detained on charges of disobedience of the police. On Tuesday, Mr. Kara-Murza was taken to court and sentenced to 15 days in jail on this spurious charge. What is abundantly clear is that Mr. Putin has once again put a critic in his crosshairs, every day sinking Russia deeper into totalitarianism, intolerant of free thought or dissent. The word “totalitarian” was coined in the 20th century, but the practice lives on.

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In the interview broadcast shortly before his detention, Mr. Kara-Murza, a longtime journalist and political activist, said Mr. Putin has often used violence against his opponents, including poisoning them, as was attempted in 2020 against prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was nearly killed by a military nerve agent and now remains imprisoned on phony charges. Mr. Kara-Murza himself knows about that brutal means; in 2015 and 2017, he was subjected to apparent poisoning attempts. “This is not the only method,” he added in the interview, recalling how his mentor and Russian opposition democrat Boris Nemtsov was fatally shot in the back near the Kremlin walls in February 2015. Nemtsov had been surveilled for months by the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB that Mr. Putin once headed, and by a squad of Chechen thugs. Anna Politkovskaya, another journalist and critic of Mr. Putin, was gunned down, too, while Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium in his teacup.

Three decades ago, Russian society blossomed into an irreverent democracy, emerging from seven decades of imprisonment by Soviet dictatorship. With good reason, Russians hoped and believed they were finally free from secret police who seized people in the middle of the night, arrested them for placards in the square, suppressed public displays of dissent and encouraged them to inform on each other. But now Russia under Mr. Putin is becoming more and more like that nightmarish past.

Mr. Kara-Murza has often displayed the courage necessary to keep dreams alive for an opposition movement that Mr. Putin has mercilessly hounded. Many had gone into exile, but Mr. Kara-Murza stood his ground, despite the risks. In his columns for The Post and in public appearances, he spoke out fearlessly. He must be released, and given liberty to go on telling the truth: The war is wrong, speech must run free, and Russians must fight the deepening totalitarianism.