The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


Say his name

The United States must avenge fallen dissident Alexei Navalny, strike back against Russian President Vladimir Putin
The current map of Russia is superimposed over a map of the USSR, its past incarnation
Will Gonsior
The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after Navalny’s sentence to a prison camp has Russia echoing their Soviet past. The tactics of Russian President Vladimir Putin convey that he views his country as an expansionist dictatorship, similar to the former Soviet Union. “[Navalny’s death] sets a precedent that [Russia], as a country, [is] unstable and [that] they will continue this dictatorship route for a long time if we don’t do anything,” Diplomacy Club President junior Amie Geistler said.


A fallen hero

As of April 27, U.S. intelligence has determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably didn’t order the Feb. 16 death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — but that doesn’t mean he’s not responsible. Navalny had a long history of contesting Putin’s iron grip on power and died in prison after having been jailed unfairly for extremism. Russian officials claim that Navalny lost consciousness during a walk due to vaguely defined cardiac issues and that attempts to resuscitate him failed. Such “heart problems” tend to be a euphemism for succumbing to abuse in Russian penal colonies.

These prisons have changed very little since their days as Stalin-era gulags; they remain so awful that fighting Ukrainians is often preferable to serving a prison sentence. Healthcare is nonexistent in these jails, and officials specifically targeted Navalny to sabotage his bodily health. Hit job or not, it was Putin’s system that killed Navalny.

“[Navalny] was on borrowed time from the very beginning. When you criticize an authoritarian leader and you stay within that country, [you] expect [retribution]. [Navalny] was in prison for years before he died; he knew something was coming. After the war in Ukraine, almost nothing Putin [could] do [would] be shocking,” alumnus Will Brown said.

Navalny’s crusade against his government started in his days as an online blogger exposing Russian corruption. As his profile rose, he became unwaveringly committed to bringing his country a beautiful future of freedom and democracy by fighting Putin’s regime whenever he could, gaining recognition as an international hero. His successes include unifying Putin’s opposition with his Smart Voting system, devising a safe way to express support for candidates in rigged elections, running for mayor of Moscow and even unsuccessfully applying to run for president.

These small democratic victories did not go unchallenged by Putin. In 2020, Russian spies used a nerve agent on Navalny in an attempt to neutralize his symbolism of democratic ideals. After the attack, Navalny’s dedication to these ideals helped him steel his resolve and return to Russia from exile. This meant facing the brutal torture of a Russian prison sentence. A prison swap was close to securing Navalny’s freedom, but Putin clearly didn’t care enough about the deal to ensure that Navalny survived for it. Putin’s regime has since arrested many of those who publicly mourned Navalny, funneling them too into the system that he uses to control the populace.

“[Navalny] could have lived out his life with his wife and kids in freedom, [but] he went back [to Russia], knowing he was going to be imprisoned, to represent the voices of the people that are persecuted in Russia. He died for that. That is heroic,” history teacher Kristen Collins said.

A worldwide threat

U.S. President Joe Biden once pledged to strike back against Putin if Navalny were to be murdered. Navalny was and is beloved in the U.S., and Biden’s commitment to avenging him suggested that the dissident was considered to be under American protection. The mistreatment that Navalny faced is an escalation of tensions that requires a response. However, Putin doesn’t see it that way. 

Russia’s interpretation of multipolarity, the belief in multiple competing axes of global power, is often used to justify flying in the face of world order. Empowering foreign states to achieve material influence decreases great-power conflict and thereby increases global peace and problem-solving efforts, so such a system is not inherently harmful to the U.S. However, Russia conceives of multipolarity differently than the West, seeking the ability to self-govern and set norms rather than prioritizing the common welfare of the world. They hope to avoid responsibility for violating Western human rights “norms” rather than actually uplift countries they see as being marginalized by the West.

The abuse of Navalny fits in with Putin’s long history of disregard for individual rights, which has spillover effects the world over. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has brought a proliferation of war crimes committed by Russian troops, and his attempts to justify the war amount to calling Ukrainians “Nazis.” Putin has also falsely claimed that Western countries planned to invade Russia through Ukraine and repeatedly denied the history of Ukrainian nationality. Therefore, it’s fair to wonder whether Navalny’s death is yet another illegal tactic meant to remove opposition to his war.

“Russia is autocratic [and] anti-democratic, and Putin is trying to rebuild the old Russian Empire to reassert its authority in that region. [He] is certainly a threat to democratic states in Eastern Europe and [American] values,” Collins said.

Recently, the Islamic State terrorist group claimed responsibility for the March 22 attack on a Moscow concert hall that killed over 130 people. However, Putin has deflected much of the blame for the attack to Ukraine instead. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was outraged, denying the baseless claims and alleging that Putin was the one engaged in state-sponsored terrorism.

In actuality, the concert attack seems to have been motivated, not by anti-Putin sentiment in the West, but as a response to Putin’s consistent moral failings. These include Russia’s illegal and  ineffective counterterrorism operations and Putin’s weaponization of Islamophobia. Seeing as Putin once committed terrorism against his own people and blamed it on Muslim Chechen insurgents to start a war that guaranteed his rise to power, ISIS — as wrong as their actions were — are exactly right about who Putin is.

“The root causes go back to when Putin staged his arrests because of the Chechen war. Chechnya has always been a problem for Russia. Russia has always had a problem with their Muslim citizens and satellite states; [these attacks are] just an extension of that issue,” history teacher Mel Trotier said.

Once again, Putin has blamed his enemies — this time in Kyiv — for problems he caused himself. He has no willingness to play by U.S. rules like justice, freedom or rule of law. If he is not deterred, he will continue to act with impunity in violating human rights across the globe. This is especially concerning as Russia continues to gain ground in its attempts to position itself as an alternative ally to the U.S. for other countries.

Putin was willing to fight an unjustified war in Ukraine; we cannot assume that he will be satisfied to stop there. Navalny’s death takes its place in a series of wake-up calls that have gone mostly unanswered. It is time for the U.S. to take up the fight Navalny left behind and raise the temperature on Putin’s regime.

“We seem to have forgotten about other Americans [who] are still being detained [in Russia] as [Putin’s] political pawns. Pressure still needs to be brought to bring other Americans home that are being wrongly imprisoned,” Collins said.

Military pressure

The most direct way to hit back at Putin is through Ukraine. It’s what Navalny would want; he hated Putin’s abominable invasion. It’s past time that the U.S. uses seized Russian assets as a part of Ukraine’s war effort so that the ill-gotten gains that supported Putin’s kickback system go to fighting the corrupt regime they propped up.

If America wants to send the message that we mean business, however, Ukraine will need more than Russian money. We have to send our own funds, too. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine on April 20, but not without a long delay beforehand. Keeping the aid pipeline flowing is crucial; Central Intelligence Agency directer William Burns believes it could be the difference between Russian victory and Putin’s defeat.

Of course, support for foreign aid is never universal, and aid to Ukraine is no exception. Many have voiced concerns that Ukraine may turn into a ‘forever war’ that drains U.S. resources for no real benefit, but such worries are unfounded. These analyses ignore that the war has rapidly eroded Russia’s stability, which will force Putin to choose between ending the war and risking his grip on power. Additionally, unlike previous ‘forever wars’ like the one in Iraq, Ukraine has an actual plan  — recovery of previous Ukrainian borders under the current government — for how the war will end.

Claims also abound that Ukraine is a burdensome responsibility unfairly placed on the U.S., but this characterization is wrong. Many countries have actually been pulling their weight in Ukraine aid better than the United States has been. Because the U.S. has taken on the role of the main arms dealer to the world, the expectation exists that we will lead the charge any time an ally needs weapons. That expectation needs to be fulfilled.

Aid can be directly helpful for the country that sends it, too: American military aid money is usually spent within the U.S., boosting our economy. The benefits of weakening Putin’s resolve far outweigh the costs, and Ukraine is in dire need of American munitions only we can procure. We cannot allow our enemies to act with impunity against U.S. allies, whether that means letting Navalny die or letting Putin march through Ukraine without putting up a fight.

“The humanitarian [crisis] in Ukraine [is concerning]. [Russia] are not protecting their troops properly, and they’ve been using tear gas [on Ukrainians]. It’s just not getting enough coverage,” junior Matthew Hawver said.

Diplomatic pressure

Helping fund Ukraine’s war effort is a great way to pay respects to Navalny, but fighting back against genocide is more of an obligation on our part than it is a punishment of Russia. To send a strong message to Putin, the U.S. must find other ways to target Putin’s regime. 

A significant step has been taken recently with the addition of Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in an attempt to create a “NATO lake” committed to defending the Baltic Sea against Russian aggression. Former President Donald Trump has threatened to remove the United States from the alliance due to NATO’s overreliance on U.S. support. Though seemingly innocuous, this statement may have contributed to the death of Navalny by emboldening Putin. It’s vital that leaders recognize that NATO is worth the money; it’s the best method for Russian deterrence that the U.S. has in its toolbox.

“The best way to put a foot down with [Russia] is voicing [an] opinion through the United Nations. We’ve [also] already put a ton of economic restrictions on them, and keeping that going is a great way [to pressure Putin]. [Lastly], putting a presence right next to him saying ‘we’re right here, stop it’ [is important],” Hawver said. 

Navalny’s death suggests that we will require other methods of fighting back, not just NATO. However, nuance is required. Biden recently called for Putin to be removed from power altogether, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly walked that back, making it clear that Russia is too powerful for the U.S. to risk military aggression. A classical force-based regime change out of the Cold War era is off the table, but there are other ways to destabilize Putin’s iron grip on Russia.

“[Dispute with Russia is] a diplomatic issue [that doesn’t require] aggression. Because the conflict is within Russia, the U.S. can’t really do anything about it [or] go to Russia [in] aggression,” former Public Forum debate captain alumna Riya Ashok said.

The threat of retaliation means that military force is not the solution. The solution to Putin instead lies in turning Russia against him.

The first step to doing that is extending sanctions, which are currently not sufficient to destabilize the Russian economy. For maximum effect, sanctions must target the Russians who have the most power to make a change. The oligarchs who control the means of production should know that allegiance to Putin and the severity of Western punishment are closely tied. Destroying the Russian currency, the rouble, would also threaten Putin’s economic legitimacy. Though speculation abounds that sanctions regimes may threaten the “dollar dominance” that the U.S. enjoys, the only real alternative from a non-U.S. ally is the relatively weak renminbi, which is also heavily manipulated. The benefits of sanctions clearly outweigh the harms.

“Put more sanctions on [Russia]. We’re not cool with [the status quo]. We don’t want to start a nuclear war, but there should definitely be more [international] discussion,” Diplomacy Club President junior Amie Geistler said.

Putin thinks he can get away with Navalny’s death. We in the U.S. must send the message that we will not rest until we can say that those he has arrested, tortured and killed did not suffer in vain. As long as tyrants reign in Russia, Navalny’s story must continue to be passed on.

“Stories about Russia and the war in Ukraine [have left] the forefront of the American public’s attention because now [there is conflict in] Gaza and Israel. It is important to continue to tell the stories of Russia and [their] war crimes, and it is also the public’s job to pay attention,” Collins said.

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Will Gonsior
Will Gonsior, Staff Writer
Pronouns: he/him Grade: 11 Years on staff: 2 What is your favorite piece of literature? "The Count of Monte Cristo." Who is your hero? Borgs. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Lowkey apples tho.
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    AlishaMay 28, 2024 at 2:20 pm

    Such a well researched article+common Will w