Vladimir Kara-Murza | Voice of dissent

The Kremlin critic has been sentenced for 25 years by a Russian court over his criticism of the Ukraine war, the harshest punishment handed to any opposition leader since Putin rose to power.

Updated - April 24, 2023 11:48 am IST

Published - April 23, 2023 02:24 am IST

“This day will come as inevitably as spring follows even the coldest winter. And then our society will open its eyes and be horrified by what terrible crimes were committed on its behalf. From this realisation, from this reflection, the long, difficult but vital path towards the recovery and restoration of Russia, its return to the community of civilised countries, will begin,” said the 41-year-old Vladimir Kara-Murza, defiant from his glass cage inside a Russian courtroom, on April 10.

The journalist and Opposition leader was being tried on charges of treason and “knowingly spreading false information” about the Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He was sentenced for 25 years in prison – the harshest to any Kremlin critic since President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 1999.

Mr. Kara-Murza possesses dual citizenship of Russia and Britain. He was arrested in April last year in Moscow after, in an interview with CNN, he alleged that Russia was run by a “regime of murderers”. Notwithstanding friends asking him not to visit Moscow during the time, he chose to campaign against the war. According to him, he had no moral right to engage in Russian politics while staying abroad.

Mr. Kara-Murza is from a family of renowned journalists, academics and dissidents. His father, Vladimir Kara-Murza Sr., was a Soviet-era dissident, who began his career on Channel One before moving to Russia’s NTV in 1993. Particularly known for hosting ‘Today at Midnight’, Kara-Murza Sr. resigned from the channel when it was bought by state-owned Gazprom. According to Moscow Times, Mr. Kara-Murza’s grandfather Alexei was a historian who survived a Soviet labour camp in the 1930s before going on to cover the Battle of Stalingrad in the early 1940s. His maternal great-grandfather was a Latvian revolutionary and was executed at the height of Jospeh Stalin’s purges.

The Muscovite moved to the U.K. with his mother while he was a teenager. He would later attend the Cambridge University to study history. However, he kept returning to Russia. His initial schooling was in Moscow where he also attended music school and learnt to play the clarinet. 

Having once pondered about a professional career as a musician, he made a “conscious decision” towards politics and public life. This partly emanated from his family legacy and the events unfolding in the 1990s’ Russia. Mr. Kara-Murza once mentioned at a forum about his first “conscious political memory” being the 1991 coup attempt in the last days of the Soviet Union, when unarmed Muscovites turned away Army-tanks. The 10-year-old then learnt, “However strong a dictatorship, when the people are ready to stand up for their freedom, all that strength becomes meaningless.”

Electoral politics

He forayed into electoral politics with the “free but unfair” Duma elections of 2003. Jointly backed by the two largest Opposition parties — the SPS and the Yabloko — he contested as the parliamentary candidate from Chertanovsky district. The support was particularly interesting because the two had decided to contest the election separately, having failed to establish a combined front. According to him, this was a “serious mistake”.

The election, he adds, witnessed “the merger” between United Russia (Mr. Putin’s party) and the state bureaucracy. Advertising agencies refused to take his campaign posters and his appearances on local TV were disrupted citing “technical reasons”.

“The year 2003 was a turning point in the evolution of Vladimir Putin’s regime from a ‘hybrid, semi-authoritarian political system’ to one marked by ‘full-fledged authoritarianism’,” he later said.

But Mr. Kara-Murza stands proud of his political activism. “I am proud that Boris Nemtsov brought me into politics. And I hope that he is not ashamed of me.” Nemtsov was among the founding members of the Opposition party, Union of Right Forces. They first met during the 1999 Duma campaign when Mr. Kara-Murza was a young reporter, as per Russian news website Meduza. On February 2015, Nemtsov, a physicist and an outspoken critic of President Putin, was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin in Moscow. Today, Mr. Kara-Murza, Nemtsov’s protégé who survived two poisoning attempts, has been thrown into jail.

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