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‘Kill List’

Bill Browder testifying on Capitol Hill, July 27, 2017 (Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

My piece today is on Ethiopia — where civil war is taking place in a northern region, Tigray. Worse than war, if such a thing is possible, there are war crimes and crimes against humanity. The head of state in Ethiopia is Abiy Ahmed — who in 2019 won the Nobel Peace Prize. Should he have?

These are interesting subjects, if grim and sickening ones. To read my piece, go here.

Rather than publish reader mail in the Corner, I thought I would comment on a story that came out yesterday: The Kremlin has a “kill list,” which includes six people living in Britain. I have interviewed and written about two of them: Bill Browder and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Browder was a financial investor in Russia. His lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky. Blowing the whistle on official corruption, Magnitsky was imprisoned in 2008 and eventually tortured to death. Browder then dedicated his life to the cause of “Magnitsky acts.” These acts enable a government to sanction individual human-rights abusers. The European Union adopted a Magnitsky act last December, as I discussed in a column last week.

I wrote about Browder — and his extraordinary family — in 2018 (here). In a passage about his bravery, I said,

He could have walked away, tending his millions, but instead he has put himself in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful and ruthless governments on earth.

“It’s interesting,” says Browder. “I live a normal life in that I still take my kids to school and try to go on the treadmill and try to make sure everyone’s got their birthday present on time and all that. Life goes on in a normal way — 95 percent of the time.” The other 5 percent is hair-raising.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as you know, is the ex-oligarch who was a political prisoner for ten years and is now doing what he can for Russian human rights through his organization, Open Russia. I wrote about him in 2019, in two parts: here and here. This is how Part I begins:

I can’t help noticing that security around Mikhail Khodorkovsky seems very light. I tell him I have known people in the crosshairs (including Russians): Some are fatalistic about their security, others are vigilant. Where does he fall on that spectrum? On the fatalistic end, he says. If a decision to kill him is made in the Kremlin itself, there is very little he can do to defend himself.

But there is this consolation, he says, with a smile: “I know how unprofessional everybody in Russia is.” By tradition, every Russian seems to be an expert in everything, Khodorkovsky continues. “You would never hear a Russian say, ‘Oh, I’m not an expert in this field, so I cannot answer your question.’”

If a team of assassins came to get him? “With some basic security measures in place, and a bit of luck, I could make their lives difficult.”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky has a sang-froid, and a dark sense of humor, not unknown to Russians . . .

Men such as Bill Browder and Mikhail Khodorkovsky have their necks on the line. What do people like me risk, in the work we do? “Mean tweets”? Nasty “comments”? The loss of a cable-news “hit” or two? As I see it, civilized governments, and civilized people, should throw their arms around the likes of Browder and Khodorkovsky, to protect them as much as possible.

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