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Trump G20 US Russia

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greet each other during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

Friday, June 28, 2019. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The apparent poisoning of one of Russia’s most prominent dissidents underscores the lengths to which President Vladimir Putin will go to silence anyone who dares to challenge his dictatorial authority or to advocate for dangerous Western concepts like democracy and free speech. Putin is the antithesis of everything this country stands for, which should make any freedom-loving American cringe whenever President Donald Trump defends him.

Alexei Navalny, 43, was hospitalized with what his doctors suspects to be chemical poisoning just a few days into a 30-day jail sentence imposed on him for organizing what Russian authorities termed “unauthorized protests.” The protests were specifically against Putin and his increasingly harsh treatment of people who publicly criticize his authoritarian rule. Despite Navalny’s jailing, mass protests in Moscow on July 27 led to more than 1,300 arrests.

Navalny required hospitalization after his face suddenly swelled up and his skin turned red from what authorities dismissed as an “allergic reaction.” His doctor later said Navalny has no known allergies and ordered tests for potential chemical poisoning. Since the government controls the testing results, the doctor’s suspicions are unlikely to be confirmed. But such an attack would hardly be the first time. Russian officers have beaten and arrested Navalny several times before. A 2017 chemical attack caused him to lose nearly all his sight in one eye.

So typical are such attacks of Putin’s responses to his opponents that he should consider trademarking them. Here’s a little recap of the fate suffered by others who dared to challenge Putin:

  • Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian Communist Party member, fled to Ukraine and publicly criticized Putin in 2016. He was shot to death in Kiev, labeled by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as an “act of state terrorism by Russia.”
  • Boris Nemtsov was a post-Soviet reformer who led a series of protests in Moscow against election irregularities and official corruption. After criticizing Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2015, Nemtsov was shot four times near the Kremlin.
  • Boris Berezovsky blamed the Kremlin under Putin of organizing the radiation poisoning in 2009 of whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko, who was exposed to a lethal dose of polonium-210. Berezovsky was found dead inside a locked bathroom in the United Kingdom in what was initially declared a suicide but was later declared an indeterminate cause.
  • Britain says Russia attempted to kill a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, using a highly toxic nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter were hospitalized. Two Britons who inadvertently were exposed later died.

Putin has ensured he can never be traced directly to these attacks, just as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has evaded responsibility for his government’s murder of a Washington Post op-ed contributor. The blood is undeniably on their hands — the same hands that Trump grasps warmly as he sings their praises.