Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist


STALIN, HITLER, PAPA DOC, PINOCHET, DUTERTE. . . . PUTIN. His name will deservedly go down in infamy. Alexander Navalny is only the latest of his critics to die. We know of others: journalist Anna Politkovskaya; whistle-blowing FSB[1] defector Alexander Litvinenko; Boris Berezovsky, once the richest man in Russia turned outspoken Putin critic; Putin political opponent Boris Nemtsov; wealthy lawyer to the wealthy Scot Young; Sergei Skripal, a Russian spy turned double agent for Britain and his daughter Yulia (attempted murder); etc., etc. They had a brief few days in the spotlight and then we turned to the next drama. Most of the murders that we know of happened in Britain, though many more never made it into the U.S. news. And there were those in Russia itself, like Navalny. In the U.S., assassins took out Mikhail Lesin, one-time Kremlin henchman who was preparing to talk to the U.S. Department of Justice; also, journalist Daniel McGrory who reported on Litvinenko's death.  

Putin has an assassination program that began shortly after he took office in 1999. His assassins use various methods: guns, knives, fists, cars, throwing people out windows and blowing them up with explosives. But a favorite, especially when working abroad, seems to be chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons, designed initially for use in war against enemy states. Putin has a storehouse of chemical and biological agents that Russia pledged to have eliminated after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in the 1990s. Russia signed but kept the weapons. Putin's scientists are still developing new ones.[2] The first time Putin attempted to kill Navalny in 2020 the nerve agent Novichok was found in his tea. Putin also has nuclear weapons available to him. In 2006, Litvinenko's tea was laced with polonium-210.

Several of these agents meet Putin's two highest requirements: 1) they are extremely lethal, and 2) they are nearly undetectable, as Heidi Blake wrote in her book based on Buzzfeed's investigation and expose: "There were poisons designed to make death look natural by triggering fast-acting cancers, heart attacks, and other fatal illnesses."[3] It took weeks before the rare radioactive polonium-210 was identified as the cause of Litvinenko's illness. By then, it was too late. But Litvinenko, knowing he was dying, left a letter naming Putin as his killer:

  You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women.

  You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.[4]

He also left a trail of polonium throughout London. The Pine Bar where he'd met his assassins was a nuclear disaster zone. Like Litvinenko's house, the hotel where his assassins stayed had to be sealed off it was so radioactive. His assassins also left a trail, including back to Russia where they met with the UK Ambassador to proclaim their innocence. The chair one of them sat in was so radioactive it had to be burned.

Because Litvinenko's murder was so public as were the identities of the assassins, Britain had no choice but to charge them with murder and seek their extradition from Russia. Of course, Russia refused. When Litvinenko's widow Marina sought a public inquiry, then-Home Secretary Theresa May intervened to prevent it, as she wanted to remain on good terms with Putin to secure oil, gas and investment.

The Chechens were a favorite Putin scapegoat. Shortly after he assumed the presidency at the end of 1999 four apartment buildings in Moscow were blown up and blamed on Chechen rebels. Three hundred people died. Human Rights activists, including Litvinenko and journalist Anna Politkovskaya among them, later linked the Chechins who were involved to Putin's FSB.

Putin's assassins also used poisonous gas and blamed Chechen rebels for the 2002 Dubravka Theater siege, when 40 Chechen extremists stormed the theater and held the audience and cast hostage for three days. The FSB surrounded the theater and pumped in a lethal opiate gas killing 130 men, women, and children. Their leader, Khanpash Terkibaev, was the only attacker who survived. In an interview, he told Politkovskaya that he was an FSB agent and admitted that he led the attack then ducked out. Eight months later he was killed in a car crash.

Sergei Yushenkov, a Russian MP who also revealed Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, said his legislative committee would be investigating possible Kremlin involvement in the theater siege. He was gunned down in front of his Moscow apartment building. 

Similarly, when Chechen Islamists occupied a school in Beslan with a thousand people inside, Russian troops stormed the school with tanks, rockets, and grenade launchers, killing more than 300 people. Politkovskaya, who had been reporting on Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya as well as Putin's connections to the apartment bombings and the theater siege, was poisoned on her way to report on Beslan. She recovered that time, but not for long. In 2006, on the verge of publishing an expose of the systematic torture of prisoners in Chechnya by Russian troops, she was shot at point blank range on her own doorstep.

Litvinenko's "sins" included investigating Russia's actions in Chechnya and speaking out about them. He also published two books:  Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror and Allegations: An Insider's Fatal Claims about Putin's Russia.

Only a decade later in 2016 did a British court bring a verdict in Litvinenko's case. Judge Sir Robert Owen ruled that the assassins (he named them) were acting at the direction of the FSB, which was acting under orders from Putin. In his 328-page opinion, the judge included the evidence Litvinenko had so painstakingly gathered showing that the apartment bombings and the Dubravka theater gassing were FSB projects at Putin's behest. The apartment bombings, he wrote, "were designed to provide a justification for war in Chechnya and, ultimately to boost Mr. Putin's political prospects."[5] And he concluded that Anna Politkovskaya was murdered because she was investigating the state's connection to the atrocities. Moreover, these were not isolated incidents, he found. "Leading opponents of President Putin, including those living outside Russia, were at risk of assassination."

While Judge Owen's decision plus thousands of pages of transcripts and evidence were published on the internet, the British government played it down. They needed Putin's help finding a solution to the Syria crisis and with ISIS, Home Secretary Theresa May and Prime Minister David Cameron said.

By 2019 Buzzfeed's investigation counted 14 suspected Russian-ordered assassinations in the UK and one in the U.S.[6] There have since been more. Dan Rapaport, former Mosow Businessman and vocal Kremlin critic, fell from a D.C. building and died in 2022. Local police concluded it was suicide, but those familiar with Putin's assassination program suspected he had a hand in it. Just recently, in February 2024, Russian pilot Maksim Kuzminov, who defected to Ukraine, was killed in a barrage of gunfire and run over with his own car in Spain.[7] Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner mercenary who attempted a coup, died when the plane in which he was flying exploded in August 2023.

Ms. Blake's book is an excellent source of information on Putin's assassination program -- and the impunity granted him by international diplomats seeking to ingratiate themselves with Putin to obtain oil and gas concessions as well as opportunities for investment. Because many of the murders happened in Great Britain Ms. Blake particularly takes the British to task. But the U.S. isn't free of responsibility. 

No one has stopped Putin. He just keeps on killing -- individually or en masse as in Ukraine. Sanctions to date haven't stopped him. And the Republicans in the U.S. House are withholding approval of more funding for Ukraine. Democrat Representative Adam Schiff and eminent Harvard professor Laurence Tribe wrote an Op Ed entreating President Biden to confiscate Russia's frozen bank accounts and send the money to Ukraine to defend itself and rebuild when it can. Biden has the authority to do this without the Republican House.[8] He should. To date, Putin has experienced few consequences. He continues with his assassination program -- as well as his war against Ukraine. As well as his war against The West. 

If Russia wins in Ukraine, Putin will not sit back to enjoy his victory. He will send troops into Poland or Latvia or any one of the other former Soviet Republics which he wants to regain to make part of his Russian Empire. And he will not stop his war against The West. It is likely he is helping Donald Trump regain the White House as he did in 2016 through disinformation and cyberwar. There's no question that Trump admires Putin and wants to be like him. He will certainly support Putin's plans for Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

Please urge President Biden to confiscate and release Russia's frozen bank assets to Ukraine. How else can our consciences survive?


[1] Russian Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB.

[2] U.S. State Department 2023 Annual Chemical Weapons Convention Compliance Report: "Russia retains an undeclared chemical weapons program and has used chemical weapons at least twice in recent years: in assassination attempts with Novichok nerve agents . . . against Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny on August 20, 2020, and UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal on UK soil in March 2018."

[3] From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin's Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin's Secret War on the West, New York, Boston, London: Mulholland Books, Little, Brown & Co., 2019.

[4] Id. 179-80.

 [5] Id. 296.

[6] Id. 295.

[7] Miller, Greg, "A killing in Spain points to Russia and Putin's sense of impunity," The Washington Post, February 21, 2024.

[8] Schiff, Adam B. and Laurence H. Tribe, "Use Seized Russian Assets to Honor Navalny and Empower Ukraine," Newsweek, February 24, 2024.

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