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The Indomitable Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s Most Charismatic Critic

In case you haven’t seen this yet, it’s an important op-ed by my agency client Amy Knight’s in the LA Times today about Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s popular and charismatic critic. If you don’t know about him yet, you ought to because he’s got a chance to mount a credible challenge to Russia’s political status quo, and is making some headway despite an autocratic environment. The piece reports he has 80 campaign offices and more than 130,000 volunteers. Putin and his government are trying to sideline Navalny and scuttle his candidacy in next year’s presidential election by using the courts to keep him off the ballot. The piece is about 1000 words, so a 5-7 minute read and drawn from reporting for her book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime & Political Murder. It went on sale this past Tuesday, from St Martin’s Press (ordering info here). I believe it is going to be very widely read and discussed. Thanks for sharing word about it if you have friends keeping any eye Russia’s ongoing politics, not just for what they’ve done in recent years and months, but for what is still to come. The book will help readers understand the Putin system, so necessary for us going forward since his displacement—by Navalny, or anything or anyone else—is unfortunately way more than a long shot. Note that with Russian law mandating 6-year presidential terms, if re-elected, Putin could be Russia’s leader till 2024, a worrying thought for the West. Still, if anyone could do it, Navalny is the one to watch most closely, for his canny maneuvering which includes a fed-up anti-corruption message that could stand alongside Trump’s failed promise to “drain the swamp.” In Russia, with the economy flat, and ordinary people falling behind, and businessmen and bankers cleaning up, Navalny rails against privileged plutocrats and means it. Navalny also bears watching because of the uncomfortable conclusion that his personal security could be at risk. Amy concludes her piece with a quote from the dissident:

“In an interview with the BBC in January, Navalny, who is married with two children, was reminded of what happened to Nemtsov and asked if he realized the danger he faced. Navalny, whose political support far surpasses [the late Boris] Nemtsov’s popularity, assured his interviewer that he was fully aware of the risks of opposing Putin. As to his motivation, he added: ‘This is my country and I am going to fight for my country. I know that I am right.’”

Endorsements for “ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder”

As mentioned on the blog last month, on September 19, 2017, St Martin’s Press will publish my agency client Amy Knight’s new book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder.  To date, we have received these five blurbs

1) “Amy Knight is our foremost expert on Russian spycraft. This incisive, deeply researched account of the Kremlin’s murderous dark arts should
be an electrifying wake-up call to the West about the danger we face from Putin’s gangster state.” —Edward Lucas, Senior editor, The Economist

2) “Amy Knight’s Orders to Kill builds a compelling case against the Putin regime for its complicity in the violent deaths of many of its critics—political opponents, muckraking journalists, and reform advocates. It also destroys the myth that we in the West can appease Putin to get him to behave himself.”—Bill Browder, author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

3) “A brave and important book. Amy Knight has an expert understanding of Russia, its spy agencies, and the dark state created by Vladimir Putin and his KGB cronies. Putin’s critics have an uncanny habit of falling dead and Knight tells this story with rare skill. Compelling.”—Luke Harding, author of A Very Expensive Poison: The Murder of Alexander Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West 

4) “Putin’s regime kills. It goes after its enemies at home and abroad and has created the environment in which powerful figures close to the Kremlin can also prosecute their own feuds with impunity. In this powerful and detailed account, Amy Knight tackles a series of individual and collective killings and amasses the evidence, some clear, some circumstantial, connecting them with the Kremlin. Whether you agree or disagree with any of the specific findings, having read this book it is impossible to question the extent to which the Kremlin is not just a kleptocracy, it is a ruthless one, at that.”—Mark Galeotti, author of Vory: The Story of Russian Organized Crime 

5) “Orders to Kill focuses unblinkingly on the grim but necessary topic of political murder during the seventeen year Putin period. Amy Knight is a meticulous analyst and is consistently balanced in her judgments. The two chapters on the poisoning through radioactive polonium of former KGB officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in London break significant new ground.  Knight demonstrates that the order to commit a number of the political killings she discusses can, with great likelihood, be traced back to President Putin himself or to his powerful Chechen Gauleiter Ramzan Kadyrov.”—John B. Dunlop, author of The Moscow Bombings of September 1999 

The photo below, with Putin and Chechen president Kadyrov, is one of more than a dozen pictures in the book. Pre-orders for the book can be placed via this link.

Coming Sept 2017: Amy Knight’s ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder

Alexander Litvinenko, Targeted by a Breadcrumb Trail of Deadly Radiation

Agency Update: Some weeks after I wrote and published the post below, I licensed Amy Knight’s book to the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St Martin’s Press. The manuscript is already being edited and the book, ORDERS FROM ABOVE: The Putin Regime and Political Murder,  will be published in September 2017.

One of my author clients as a literary agent is a historian and scholar named Amy Knight. In 2006, when I was working as an acquiring editor at Carroll & Graf, I published her fifth book, How the Cold War Began: The Igor Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, on the Soviet cypher clerk, Ghouzenko, who in September 1945 became arguably the first defector of the Cold War; he ultimately found asylum in Canada, and would later appear in media there disguised as he’s shown on the cover of the edition we brought out. I was amazed that this episode had occurred even while WWII was still ongoing. From Knight’s website, I note that she “earned her PhD in Russian politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1977….She’s taught at the LSE, Johns Hopkins, SAIS, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and also worked for eighteen years at the U.S. Library of Congress as a Soviet/Russian affairs specialist. In 1993-94, she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Knight has written over 30 scholarly articles and has contributed numerous pieces on Russian politics and history to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly.” She speaks Russian, and is especially knowledgable on the Russian security services, a veritable alphabet soup of state authorities that Putin has emphatically turned to his purposes since becoming Russian president in 1999.

Titled Orders from Above: The Putin Regime and Political Murder, her new book promises to be the definitive account of the Kremlin’s lethal targeting of opponents inside Russia and in the West during the Putin years. A key part of it will chronicle in riveting tick-tock detail the 2006 murder-by-radiation of Alexander Litvinenko, who during the early part of his career was a member of the Russian security services, though by 1998 was a critic Russia’s security service devoted to counter-intelligence, organized crime, and anti-terrorism, the FSB. He had been in prison twice, for supposed insubordination. In 1999, terror struck in Moscow, when a whole apartment block was bombed, killing more than 300 people. The government quickly blamed it on Chechen insurgents, charging that the rebels, still smarting from their loss of the war in Chechnya earlier that decade were bent on revenge against ordinary Russians. But critics, including Litvinenko, believed the crime had emerged from within the regime, an atrocity committed to confirm a sort of bogeyman population in Russia’s midst, an internal enemy they could blame for many wrongs in the society. In 2000, after being released from prison a second time, he fled the country with his wife and son, eventually finding asylum in London where he found succor from another Putin critic, Boris Berezovsky, for whom he worked while continuing to agitate against Putin’s rule. In November 2006, he was poisoned with polonium-2010-laced green tea during a midday meeting with his clumsy assassins, who left a breadcrumb trail of radioactive contamination all over London, even on the airplane they’d boarded in Russia.

This morning in London, the British government released its official report on the death of Litvninenko, an inquiry long sought by his widow Marina. The magistrate, Sir Robert Owen, announced the findings to a tribunal where Knight was in attendance, on assignment from NY Review of Books editor Robert Silvers for the NYRB blog. As reported by the BBC and the NY Times, Owen accused “Andrei K. Lugovoi, a former KGB bodyguard, and Dmitri V. Kovtun, a Red Army deserter,” of  poisoning Litvinenko at the Pine Bar in London’s Millennium Hotel on Nov 1, 2006. What’s more he laid the planning of the murder on the doorstep of the FSB, while concluding in careful, lawyerly language that Putin himself is “probably” responsible for Litvinenko’s ghastly death. When Knight posts her own report on the Inquiry, I’ll share the blog here.

This is just the sort of ripped-from-the-headlines book I always enjoyed working on as an in-house editor, so I’m excited to be working with Amy Knight again, this time from the agent side of the desk.