A Season Of Assassins

State-linked agents have gotten increasingly aggressive in killing off anyone who may challenge the status quo, in part because they know they have nothing to fear from the U.S. — not even a decent sense of outrage.

Boris Nemtsov, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down in Moscow on Feb. 27, 2015. He is pictured presenting a report...

Boris Nemtsov, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Leadership: Among the world's gamier states, there seems to be a new status quo: Kill your opponent. The murder of Boris Nemtsov is the latest such barbarism. It all suggests a void from the U.S. as leader of the free world.

The brazen broad-daylight assassination of Nemtsov, a former Russian vice premier and persistent critic of the Putin regime, was an outrage of the highest order. But it didn't come out of nowhere. State-linked agents have gotten increasingly aggressive in killing off anyone who may challenge the status quo, in part because they know they have nothing to fear from the U.S. — not even a decent sense of outrage.

In the case of Nemtsov, the killing left Russia shaken to the core, since it represents a scaling-up of shadowy assassinations now coming fast and thick.

From the unsolved killings in 2004 of U.S. Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov near a Moscow subway and top Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 to the grotesque radioactive poisoning death of intelligence agency defector Alexander Litvinenko in London, also in 2006, attacks are getting more numerous and the targets more high-profile.

Nemtsov's murder represented not only the death of a critic. It was the killing of a potential rival to President Putin. And it's particularly chilling because Russian history, beginning with the Time of Troubles in the power void of Ivan the Terrible's regime, has been replete with long knives and assassins that presage more bloodshed.

Nemtsov's death also evokes the 1934 murder of Bolshevik leader and potential Stalin rival Sergei Kirov, which triggered the Great Terror, show trials and bloodsoaked purges.

But the latest assassinations aren't just a Russian phenomenon. All over the world, such behavior appears to be increasing in frequency, each time serving as a nasty example to others what a state can get away with.

In Cuba, Lady In White leader Laura Pollan and top democracy campaigner Oswaldo Paya were almost certainly murdered by Cuban state agents. Pollan was the victim in 2011 of a mysterious illness, while Paya died in 2012 after repeated crashes with strange cars on lonely roads.

Castro paid no penalty for these crimes. Today he's in talks with the U.S. for full diplomatic relations and a lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. On Monday, Paris Hilton posted exuberant photos of herself whooping it up tourist-style with the elites in Havana.

In Venezuela, top opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma were both hauled away by state agents to dungeons on trumped-up charges without trial. Again, Venezuela suffered no sanctions, only some verbal handwringing by the State Department.

In Argentina, meanwhile, state prosecutor Alberto Nisman was gunned down dirty-war style in his apartment a few hours before he was to charge the government with complicity with Iran. It was an act that clearly benefited the regime of Cristina Kirchner.

The U.S. response has been to merely urge Argentina's government to get to the bottom of it, while looking away from the probability that the Argentine government is implicated.

Now it's the same with Nemtsov. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hopes the Russian government would get to the bottom of this one too, ignoring that it was probably the Russian government behind it. This is like asking Hitler to investigate his own concentration camps.

It's been a long time since assassinations and decapitations of top challengers to tyrannical regimes have appeared in such numbers.

But with each successive brazen act, and the lame response it draws from the United States, it's not hard to understand why each crime leads to others even more heinous.

And with global leadership as weak as that shown by this administration, it's also reasonable to expect more and worse to come.

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