Mr. Putin;

  • "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" was a King’s sentence to the death of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170.

  • On reading Abraham Lincoln’s scribbled words of delay of execution until further orders, a fearful old man expecting a pardon for his son said to him, you can order him shot next week. My old friend, you are not very well acquainted with me. If your son never looks at death until further orders come from me, he will live longer than Methuselah.

It’s a really dark situation in nuclear relations between the United States and Russia. Almost all nuclear-arms agreements limiting U.S. and Russian forces are gone.

(Matthew Bunn)

Mr. Putin, Stalin knew not what the future held for the Soviet Union, as you today do not know what lies in store for the Russian Federation tomorrow, and as I do not know what the world will be like for my grandson when he reaches my age. Will the world survive? Will humanity prevail? Without freedom fashioned by civic education and nurtured by classical philosophy, humanity will fail as growing social dementia drags its dying body around the world.

In 2023, as the Honorary President of the World Philosophical Forum, Athens, I asked you to grant us an audience, which was forwarded to you by our distinguished Russian President. I appealed to you to discuss peace here and now at an entirely different level and circumstances than all others and for the sake of Russian troops, saying a temporary peace is better than war, and I repeated my request for a stroke of your pen to free Alexei Navalny and that Volodymyr Vorovka is found,, a marine biologist who disappeared in 2022. I said then that it would be a fantastic humanitarian gesture if Alexei Navalny was freed and a pardon granted to the King’s Bay Ploughshares 7. The Ploughshares 7 are free; Alexei Navalny is dead. We are hopeful that justice someday will be found for the sake of Mrs. Navalnaya, their children, the Navalny family, and for all of us.

I don’t know who killed Mr. Navalny or if he was killed. I do know that theories will arise, speculation will take place, and a competition for the truth will be continually acted out. The world however finds it hard to believe that Alexei Navalny died of natural causes, which is the reason given on his prison death certificate. Why did it take many days for authorities to release his body? Why was his mother Ljudmila Navalnaya given a run around in the Arctic Circle and told that her son would be buried on prison grounds? She had the courage to demand that the government follow the law and release his body to her. A higher law of common decency demanded that you, the Russian President, release the body of your strongest critic to enable the Navalny family to arrange a public funeral service in Moscow. History shows that less than democratic regimes fear public funerals of those they have victimized.Navalny’s grieving widow asks where justice is. Who represents justice? Indeed, justice must be found. If we do not support justice, hope for the future will be extinguished.

I do know that Mr. Navalny never stood a chance of a fair trial. I know and with absolute certainty that any human being who has experienced nerve poisoning is more vulnerable to the harsh conditions of prison, the cruel behaviors of systems, to imposed sleep deprivation and nightly checks with bright light shone in the eyes as well as deliberate exposure to the cold of Siberia and the contagious consumption of a fellow prisoner. I am also sure that his effectiveness as an opposition politician was seen as a threat to the Kremlin, which induced a mindset to destroy him, and there is no better way than incarceration. Alexei Navalny died on the altar of democracy. His certificate states he died of natural causes while his mother was given three hours to agree to a "secret" funeral for her son, which she refused. Again Mr. Putin you lost your chance by first denying a public funeral.

Alexei Navalny’s sudden death is causing a global outcry much greater than the worldwide protest that freed Maxim Gorky from his dungeon prison for participation in the abortive 1905 revolution. Gorky suffered from tuberculosis. His death in 1936 was alleged to have been a result of poisoning. It still contains mystery, as does the death of Navalny today. Gorky’s unjust imprisonment came at a time when Russians had lost confidence in the tsarist regime, a corrupt government and a stagnant economy and time when Tsar Nicholas dissolved parliament when it opposed his policies.

Certain of battlefield victory, Hector killed Patraclos to ensure his own death and the destruction of his family and the Bronze Age city of Troy. The two antagonists Hector and Achilles faced each other outside the tall walls and in epic vengeance, Achilles slew Hector. A dreadful silence fell on the world which was only broken by Hector’s death rattle. What followed offended the gods as Achilles desecrated Hector’s body by dragging it with his chariot around the city’s walls. Humanity had deserted him. Risking the rage of Achilles King Priam entered the Greek camp with a gift of gold and a plea for mercy to claim his son’s body.

In a poem that he himself recited, Osip Mandelstam ridiculed Stalin. After his arrest for anti-Soviet activity, Stalin told Boris Pasternak that his fellow poet would be all right. However, the stress of arrest led to mental illness and attempted suicide, and he died in transit on the way to the Gulag. Even if Mr. Navalny’s heart did give out it was in a harsh prison as did the heart of Osip Mandelstam’s on his way to the Gulag, it will never be believed. In 2023, you ignored an open letter signed by more than 500 Russian doctors demanding to have Navalny seen by a civilian doctor after he said he had been suffering from a cough and a fever and sharing a cell with an inmate with tuberculosis.

Beria said no to Stalin’s call to stay the execution of George Eliava together with his entire staff and his Polish wife, an operatic soprano, having already denounced them as an enemy of the people. It was a case of syphilitic jealousy; Eliava was entangled with the same woman and one of Beria’s victims. Felix d'Herelle, whose cottage still stands in Tbilisi narrowly, escaped his friend's fate fled Tbilisi and with his access to the French President got him to call Stalin to stop the execution. Nikolai Vavilov who was undermined by Lysenko died of starvation in the Gulag, eating frozen cabbage and moldy flour after spending a career traveling the world to collect seeds on what he called a mission for all humanity. Navalny is the latest victim of the Gulag. Tolstoy, a critic of both state and church, would have been there too today.

Paul Robeson, the tallest tree in our forest, had worldwide success as a theater and film actor, while his legendary voice was used as a weapon to end racism in America. He took part in anti-Nazi demonstrations and performed for Allied soldiers during World War II. His relationship with the USSR caused him to be blacklisted during McCarthyism and made him a target of the FBI. He was branded a traitor to the USA because he recognized Soviet Russia as a country that created hope among black people with its constitution banning racism. In 1961, it was reported that Robeson had suffered a heart attack in Moscow, while another report said he had attempted suicide after suffering hallucinations and severe depression. Symptoms came on following a surprise party thrown for him at his Moscow hotel, from which he never fully recovered. Robeson had previously announced that, with his return to the United States, he would assume a leading role in the emerging civil rights movement. A mindset emerged that called for his eradication. He was seen as a danger to the USA and his freedom to travel was withdrawn.

In 2020, I appealed for a stroke of your pen, knowing that every world leader has the power to convert dark tidings into silver linings, set global examples and that all states have the power to destroy individuals or cover up embarrassing events. My appeal was made in the name of the World Philosophical Forum, Athens and peace and on behalf of Alexei Navalny. With a stroke of your pen, Mr. President and Alexei Navalny would have been free. Now he is dead and on his way to sainthood. On your next visit to Sretensky Monastery, I hope lucidity comes and prayer will confer divine guidance and wisdom upon you before the final fall. There is always a day of reckoning, says the church.

Mr. Putin, you lost your chance to bestow clemency on the now deceased Alexei Navalny as the World Philosophical Forum, Athens had entreated you to do. Your chance however, to bestow clemency on the many others incarcerated is still there. It is still an option and a viable one.Vladimir Kara-Murza, a politician who criticized you and the war in the Ukraine should receive immediate presidential clemency. Kara-Murza suddenly felt ill. He appeared confused and disoriented and was experiencing organ failure a result of poisoning when he arrived at the hospital where he underwent dialysis. Now the world waits to see whether Boris Nadezhdin will make it to the polls.He is praised for his courage and by political prisoners as he runs for office against you. Vladimir Putin you still have a chance to demonstrate a new found respect for human rights. Lucidity resulting from Socratic questioning is needed not justifications that excuse criminal acts. It can come through confession. Death of Thomas Becket at the altar in Canterbury was a result of the clash of thoughts with Henry II on the rights of the church. The Archbishop’s last words on his first step to martyrdom were for the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death. He was quickly buried in the cathedral crypt. His death changed the course of history. Henry II laid the foundations for English common law and submitted to atonement for the criminal act carried out in his name by a public whipping and scourging by priests.

On your next visit to a great Orthodox church, you may even see his ghost. Many are praying that divine guidance and wisdom will be bestowed upon you before the final fall. I can only rely on the poet’s reminder of the emptiness into which we are falling. He tells us that there is no end to the fall. Not now or for all of history to come. Perhaps the ongoing worldwide madness of which you are one high profile participant will cause the creation of a bridge never before built, not for peace but for terror where peace can never be. You know the outcome of Chernobyl and the dangers of a preemptive use of nuclear weapons.

You better than most know the dangers of military escalation in the Ukraine and the life expectancy of political prisoners. Your chance to reinstate human decency and bestow clemency on the many others still incarcerated is still an option.

In 2022, I wrote, Mr. Putin, you have pushed the world towards a more aggravated state of social dementia, which I defined as a sapping of global empathy and a madness not entirely of today’s choosing. You are not alone in this big push. As a permanent member of the Security Council, charged with upholding peace, you have flagrantly abandoned the principles of the United Nations Charter. Unfortunately, again, you are not the only one. Jens Stoltenberg’s Secretary General of NATO seems to have given Ukraine a dangerous green light to use its soon-to-be delivered F-16s to launch attacks inside Russia, while European ground troops have not been ruled out. If this is not the ordering of a headstone for humanity, I don’t know what it is.

Mr. President, although political change after the death of Alexei Navalny seems bleak, you are still free to call President Biden and return to Geneva before the possible entry of China into Siberia. You have the power to let your people free and an opportunity to grant the World Philosophical Forum an audience, as it has previously requested. The World Philosophical Forum has no hammer to pound, no sickle to swing, and no ax to grind. Its base of influence is, first and foremost, the concerns of the globe’s citizens and the way of the world. Our days are witness to growing social dementia and depleted empathy, days when irrationality and triviality prevail when more and more people go into libraries asking for a cheeseburger with fries and lots of ketchup and the librarian responds, Sorry, this is a library, and the visitor’s comeback request is sorry too. I’ll have a cheeseburger, French fries, and lots of ketchup to go in a subdued voice, and then in an afterthought, I’ll take out a book.

Sorry again, says the librarian; they have been banned. Even so, I remain optimistic that you will grant an audience to the World Philosophical Forum, hopeful that such a gesture will be a turning point that helps steer the world away from social dementia and towards a peaceful springtime in Saken.

In our world, straight answers are not always forthcoming, and reassurance is a little used coinage. Those who speak out may be exiled, jailed, or killed. In our dreadful world, there are more than one million political prisoners. Most of their holding institutions are characterized as places where racial and religious injustice occurs and they function with total disregard for the rule of law. They are a part of democratic and non-democratic systems.

In Ethiopia, Eskinder Nega and many more spent years in notorious Kaliti prison; in Iran, Ahmadreza Djalali and Narges Mohammadi Nobel Peace Prize Laureate linger in Evin Prison with many more, and from which, fortunately, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released; in Turkey, Osman Kavala, Selahattin Demirtas, and Figen Yuksekdag are in prison together with a further 200, and the Council of Europe has demanded their immediate release; Roman Protasevich, a young journalist, is incarcerated in Belarus; Guantanamo is still working with 30 prisoners remaining, having held almost 1000 detainees since 2002; and Julian Assange is now held in London's Belmarsh Prison and wanted in the US on espionage charges. Evan Gershkovich has been a political prisoner in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison for nearly a year on the preposterous charge of espionage. We also have the Kyrgyz 11, journalists targeted by the state for inciting mass unrest.

On leaving prison, Eskinder Nega, Ethiopia, said the journey is not over.

The only certainty is that the immediate future holds more hardship, more sacrifice, more tears, more imprisonment, more exile, and even death. Never have the prisons the world over held so many suspected terrorists and spies of foreign forces! Never has physical and psychological torture, sexualized violence, or forced confessions been so rampant. When an arrested writer asked the police why he had been taken into custody, the reply he received was that, with so many people reading your books, you must have done something. The betrayal of the hero comes mainly through those who allegedly supported him.

We do need a new kind of bridge, not to bring irreconcilable poles together but to remind us of the emptiness into which we can all fall. Mr. Putin, you are not alone in that fall, and you are not the only causal agent. Neither are you the only one with destructive demons in need of placating.


1 The Void Ben Okri.