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The Extraordinary Courage of a Putin Foe

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

National Review readers are well familiar with Bill Browder. “My grandfather was the biggest Communist in America, and I was the biggest capitalist in Russia.” I wrote about four generations of Browders at the beginning of this year, here. Remarkable stories come from those generations.

In March, I did a podcast with Bill Browder, here. This was during “PutinCon,” the conference on Russia hosted by the Human Rights Foundation. “I’m doing this for Sergei Magnitsky,” Browder told me. What is “this”? Browder is devoting his life to truth and justice, especially as concerns Russia. Magnitsky was his lawyer, tortured to death by Russian authorities in 2009. Browder campaigns for “Magnitsky acts,” those laws that place sanctions on Russian human-rights abusers. These laws are the bane of Vladimir Putin’s existence. Therefore, Bill Browder is the bane of his existence.

“Sergei Magnitsky died in my service,” Browder told me. “He effectively died as my proxy, and the burden of guilt, the burden of responsibility I feel to him is overwhelming, and has been since the day I learned of his death at 7:25 a.m. on the 17th of November, and I owe it to his memory and to his family and to myself to carry on with this campaign till I’ve really, truly gotten justice for Sergei Magnitsky.”

At his press conference with President Trump last Monday, Putin talked at some length about Browder. Putin had proposed a deal, which Trump called “an incredible offer,” twice. He said this with clear enthusiasm. The deal would allow U.S. officials to question GRU agents and the Kremlin to question Browder, Michael McFaul (a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow), and others who have gotten under Putin’s skin. One of those others is Kyle Parker, the D.C. staffer who did invaluable work on the U.S. Magnitsky act.

Yesterday, I talked with Bill Browder in a new podcast, here. I asked him how it feels to be singled out by Putin, and in his crosshairs. I asked him about Putin’s charges against him. And I asked about his personal security — is it more at risk than ever?

The press conference was actually helpful to him, Browder believes. “The whole world knows that Vladimir Putin hates me, Vladimir Putin wants to get his hands on me, and if anything happens to me, Vladimir Putin is going to be blamed . . . Now, he wants to do something to me. There’s no question about that. He wants to kill me. But he also wants to be able to get away with it . . . In his perfect world, Vladimir Putin would have me arrested and taken back to Russia and put in a prison and tortured to death slowly like they did to Sergei Magnitsky.”

What Bill Browder has done in the last ten years or so is nothing less than heroic. How many of us would have the courage to travel around the world, antagonizing Vladimir Putin, whose critics drop like flies (somehow)? And Browder is doing this — campaigning for justice — in the face of furious attacks, not only by Putin and the Kremlin but by Putin apologists around the world, who are legion. Again, our new podcast is here.

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