TOPSHOT - Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony above the Arctic circle during a hearing of his complaint on restrictions placed on which books and reading material he can access in prison, at the Supreme Court in Moscow on January 11, 2024.
Photo by VERA SAVINA/AFP via Getty Images

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Briefing.

February 19, 2024.

It’s Monday, February 19th, 2024. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

‘No Man, No Problem’: Russia Makes Totalitarian Dissenter Alexei Navalny Disappear—That Is the Goal

Totalitarian regimes and dictators know how to deal with problems. They disappear. And when it comes to human beings, that often means they disappear by death, by murder, by assassination. Joseph Stalin, perhaps the darkest of all of the dictators of the 20th century, put it this way, no man, no problem. The disappearance of a man is not only the loss of a voice in history, it is often an attempt to shore up a totalitarian regime from any outside threat, and quite frankly, to send the message that anyone else who might pose such a threat is likely to meet the very same end.

In this case, of course, we’re talking about Alexei Navalny who died Friday in a Russian penal colony in or near Siberia. He died a day after appearing to be extremely healthy in a video appearance related to his legal situation. He died after prison authorities said he had taken a walk and then collapsed. In any situation in which the main political opponent of an autocrat at the head of a government, at any point when such a person should just disappear having been healthy all of a sudden end up dead, that would raise a lot of eyebrows and it would raise huge questions. But in this case, let’s be honest, we’re talking about a documented continuing effort by the Russian regime to kill its most prominent political opponent.

The story behind this is just massively important. Alexei Navalny was a figure born in 1976. His father was a Red Army officer in the Soviet Union, so he was raised within the context of the Soviet Union, but he was a teenager when the Soviet Union came to an end. He was a part of a rising generation in what had been the USSR and is now Russia, a generation that confronted an open question as to what kind of country Russia was going to be.

You may recall there were high hopes that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would become basically a nation among other nations, a normalized nation, even a European nation. But all of that, of course, began to crash, and it came as a result of several different simultaneous developments. For one thing, you had this massive disruption when the USSR collapsed. That disruption led to a couple things. Number one, it led to many of the satellite nations that have been imprisoned within the Soviet Union leaving. One of those nations was Ukraine.

You also had the development that there was a free for all. Russia’s economy is and has long been heavily dependent on what are called extraction industries. Those are sections of the economy. Often it’s referred to as extraction, which means you’re taking them out of something, and most importantly, out of the ground. This would include steel and core, all kinds of minerals that are mined out of the earth. And of course, you also have oil. And given the massive landmass of Russia, and it is an almost unimaginably large landmass, you’re looking at massive opportunities for extraction. You’re looking at billions upon billions, trillions upon trillions of dollars. And you’re looking at a situation just made for corruption and for the rise of what amounts to organized crime. And that is exactly what happened. And the shorthand for that, you may have heard throughout the western media, is the Russian oligarchs. And that means oligarchs of the extraction economy by and large, but of course other industries as well, including everything from high-tech to sex trafficking. All of that under the umbrella of the reach and the corruption of the oligarchs.

Now, Alexei Navalny was a part of a generation that was horribly offended by the corruption that was reflected in the Russian government. And Navalny himself, after being in various businesses, basically turned into an activist and something of a self-made journalist in terms of exposés of the corruption among the Russian political and economic elite. He also came to despise the deep and pervasive, even unhidden corruption of the Russian regime. And that was true under Vladimir Putin most importantly, but also under Dmitry Medvedev who served for a relatively brief period of time as a president in the interim between Vladimir Putin serving in that post. But even then, Vladimir Putin was the power behind the throne. He had himself made Prime Minister and no one really doubted who the center of power was.

Navalny formed a political party along with others who were very concerned, wanting Russia to follow a more democratic, and frankly, a less corrupt future. And Navalny himself ran for various offices including mayor of Moscow. He was not only telegenic, he also understood the new communications environment. He was, and this is in contrast to other Russian leaders, he was a master of social media. He knew how to engage the media. He knew how to speak to the West. He also knew how to speak to the Russian people, most importantly, younger Russian people. As such, he posed a direct and undeniable threat to Vladimir Putin and to the oligarchs and to the entire corrupt regime. He named things for what they were. He exposed them. And he sought to organize opposition, believing that the formation of opposition parties in Russia could eventually lead to the overthrow of the corrupt regime. But instead predictably, and given the history of Russia following a very familiar pattern, the regime struck back.

There was not only harassment and attempts at cancellation and its censorship, he also was attacked. He had an attack by poison or chemicals in his eyes. And then came a massive attack in 2020. On a flight within Russia, Alexei Navalny fell very ill and catastrophically this cascaded into a situation from which very few human beings would’ve survived. Clearly, he had been poisoned. At the very same time, he and those around him knew that he had been followed for a matter of about a couple of years by a Russian agent who at that point wasn’t even trying to hide his identity. And all of a sudden the poisoning happened. The jet landed, Alexei Navalny was removed from the plane. Very few people thought he would survive. He was taken to a Russian hospital. Eventually his family and others, especially with Western pressure, convinced Russia to allow a private effort to remove him from Russia and take him to a hospital in Germany.

When he was in Germany, it was determined by German medical authorities that he had been poisoned with a specific nerve agent known as Novichok. Now to state the matter clearly, most perhaps listening to The Briefing are not familiar with nerve agents. They are the most toxic of all poisons, nerve agents, and these nerve poisons are so, so deadly. Sometimes contact or even aspiration of a microscopic amount of the chemical can lead to almost instant death. And if not to death, after ongoing agony. These weapons have been considered so dangerous that in international treaties they have been banned. And yet it is well known that the Russian Army and Russian armed forces have large stocks of these weapons. And Novichok is one that it is fairly easy to document was in the possession of the Russian army and its armed forces. And it was a form of Novichok that was used against Alexei Naval.

Given Western medical attention, Navalny did survive. Very few people would’ve survived. But that just goes into a history of this kind of political assassination in which quite frankly, the Soviet Union first, and then Russia, and this is connected to Vladimir Putin, remember, he was a KGB officer. This was his craft. This was his assignment under the Soviet Union. He knows how this is done. And Western political authorities do not believe that assassinations at this level could take place without Vladimir Putin’s personal authorization.

The Soviet Union sent a very, very clear signal that it would find you wherever you are if you were the enemy of the regime and you had publicly embarrassed the regime. And there were those who died of nerve agents and other poisonings or other forms of assassination and murder, even in places such as London, which became not only a place where many Russian dissidents had landed, but a place where at least some of them were targeted. And there were very famous murders that took place all connected politically to the Kremlin. And there were other attempted murders that took place. One of the interconnecting issues here was often the use of this kind of nerve agent, which appears to be a favored way of the KGB and of the current Russian regime of getting rid of its enemies.

Given that Western medical treatment in 2020, Navalny returned to health and he also returned to voice. What’s most amazing is he also returned to Russia. There were many at the time who were asking why Alexei Navalny would return to Russia and almost certain imprisonment, if not worse, and now we know it was certain imprisonment and certain worse.

Navalny seemed to be driven by a patriotic impulse that he could not speak to the problems in Russia if he was unwilling to be in Russia. And you can question the wisdom of that. As you go to the Cold War and other periods during the 20th century, it can be an open question as to whether or not a dissident like Alexei Navalny can or cannot be effective outside the country of concern. But Alexei Navalny was a Russian patriot. He spoke openly, publicly in terms of his patriotism. He returned to Russia because he wanted to lead an opposition. He wanted to lead to a democratic reform and uprising. He spoke of being absolutely convinced that one day it would happen.

Now, that raises a very interesting question. Was Stalin right? No man, no problem? It is really clear that Vladimir Putin is the student of Joseph Stalin on that lesson. But here’s where Christians thinking this through need to understand one of the lessons of history, which is unpredictability. As you look at something like this, you look at the martyrdom in one sense, martyrdom for the cause of Russian democracy, Russian integrity of different Russian political future. As you look at an Alexei Naval, does his death now strengthen the Russian regime or does it weaken it?

Joseph Stalin’s long-term bet was that the West would forget all these things out of political pressures and historical contingencies and move on. And at least during his lifetime and during his reign of terror, that was apparently true. Joseph Stalin experienced the West as a set of countries that would be vocal and opposition to the horrors of his regime until they needed him or until they needed to do business with him. Vladimir Putin clearly is counting on the same thing.

On the other hand, it is also clear sometimes that a death like this can have very unintended consequences, and those who shared the hopes of Alexei Navalny simply have to hope that there will be no way that the Kremlin can suppress the reality of what it has done and that somehow there will be a cumulative sense of moral outrage such that a younger generation perhaps will rebel against the corruption of the regime of Vladimir Putin.

The other thing that we know, and Christians know this particularly so, is that Vladimir. Putin can’t live forever. And so it may be that he is like Joseph Stalin, he dies in office. His horrible reign basically to be undone and denied by successors, who by the way might well pick it up and do the same thing again.

Just a couple of final notes on this story. Number one, we probably will never, ever know exactly what was the cause of death of Alexei Naval, and that is because his body is in Russia under the custody of Russia’s penal authorities. The likelihood that there will be any honest inquest that could reach an honest determination of the cause of death is, to state the very least, it’s incredibly unlikely.

The second thing is that in the days to come, and recall that Alexei Navalny died on Friday, and especially given the time difference, as you look at Europe and the United States dealing with this, it really is going to be as if it is a fresh story this week in the media and especially among government officials. And so it’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of statements are made, what kind of actions are threatened or taken. By the way, those are two very different things. And how Russia responds to this, Vladimir Putin responds to this if they respond to it at all. If they follow the traditional Russian playbook, they will simply look to the camera with a blank stare.

Part II

A Russian Killer Satellite? The Story Behind Russia’s Major New National Security Threat to the West

Next, we’ll be returning to the question of Russia and Ukraine in coming days, but right now I want to look at Russia in outer space because unexpectedly, that also turned into a very big story as America went into the weekend. It emerged from a very strange and unprecedented source, a tweet from the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio, chairman of the Committee, posted on the 14th, “Today, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has made available to all members of Congress information concerning a serious national security threat. I am requesting that President Biden declassify all information related to this threat so that Congress, the administration, and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat.”

Nothing like that, to my memory, has happened in American political history. And this demonstrates a couple of things. Number one, the power of social media and the fact that headlines have now sometimes just shifted from the mainstream media to social media. But the second thing is, as this unfolded, it appeared at first as an effort undertaken by a Republican committee chairman in the House to coerce the White House to release information it did not want to release. There might be something to that angle. On the other hand, as the days unfolded, it appeared that the Biden administration knew that the chairman was going to release this statement. And quite frankly, when it comes to the kind of intrigue that takes place, not so much within a government but among governments, and that includes the relationship right now between the United States and Russia, there is probably more acting in concert than acting in conflict on the American side.

But after Wednesday and then Thursday and Friday, as events unfolded and information was released, it became very clear that the big threat here is one documented by American intelligence, and that is that Russia has developed and made capable a space weapon that is basically a very deadly anti-satellite killer. And that means that the race to war in outer space is now continuing, perhaps by leaps and bounds. It’s hard to say.

United States authorities came back, National Security, White House spokespersons came out and said, “Look, this is not an imminent danger.” And even as there was the description of a nuclear element to this, they said, “This isn’t so much a nuclear weapon as it is.” Well, they weren’t really clear about what exactly it might be, but it appears to be a Russian killer satellite. Now, such a thing has been envisioned in the past. And of course some of this has come not so much from military history, but science fiction. And you just look at Star Wars and look at so many of these say entertainment events of the 1970s and ’80s. The idea of a killer satellite was something, well, it’s very James Bond-like, but it’s also very real. And this gets to another issue that many people have simply not been watching.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a brutal aggression by Russia against its neighbor to the East, led to a war that has come as most major wars do with some pretty big revelations about the present and future of war. For one thing, on the lower level of technology… And if this is a low level, you can understand how high the high level is. At the lower level of technology, one of the most effective lessons of the war between Russia and Ukraine is Ukraine’s use of drones, a very strategic use of drones, killer drones. And that means that little vehicles, which may cost just hundreds or thousands of dollars can have a very big impact. Ukraine has made that very clear with missiles and with the drone attacks that are taking out major Russian naval vessels.

And so this is no longer just science fiction, this is now science fact, but that really changes the war. And by the way, a little footnote here, that also means that just about anyone armed with this kind of weapon and the knowledge of how to deploy it in war can pose a very deadly threat even to a very big power. And so there’s a warning to Goliath about any number of David, so to speak.

But even as the use of drones has been transformed in this war and has transformed the war, at the high-tech end, it is satellites. And in particular, as Elon Musk’s Starlink system, a massive number of satellites, a massive amount of information made available to those who have access to the system. And for at least the early months of the war, it became very clear that it was Ukraine that had access to the system and that was invaluable in terms of assisting Ukraine and defending itself. But now it is also clear that Russia is using Starlink as the Wall Street Journal said “in a big way.”

The general’s comments in an interview at the West “suggest that Russia is starting to acquire Starlink terminals made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX at a scale that could cut into a major Ukrainian battlefield advantage. Ukraine’s government said last year that around 42,000 terminals are used by the military hospitals, businesses, and aid organizations.”

Now, just get the next sentence. “Starlink, which is more secure than cellular radio signals, is considered so vital to Ukraine’s operations that the Pentagon struck a deal with SpaceX last year to help fund access for Kyiv’s forces. Up to now, Russian forces have had no similarly secure communication system.”

Now, I think many Americans are frankly unaware of what Starlink is and what it represents. So many satellites that you are looking at a system that is basically blanketing the sky at one level and to one extent with satellites that can cover anywhere on planet Earth with a privileged satellite-based communications capability that is more secure than anything that has existed before, and frankly, more impervious to Earthly complications than ever before.

So Elon Musk, and he’s a historian to himself, an unfolding story, who is in so many ways a pioneer in this area, he basically is the emperor of the air when it comes to this Starlink system. So there are a couple of issues that arise here. Number one, Russia has developed a somehow related to nuclear threat to missiles orbiting the earth, and this poses a threat to our national security such that the Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence basically publicly called upon the White House to declassify, and at the very least, to talk out loud about these issues.

And then you have the backup where people are saying, “They don’t have the capability to launch this thing right now, but it could be a game changer.” But as the editors of the Wall Street Journal make clear, the big point here is that the United States and its allies are simply unprepared for war in outer space. And as it turns out, we have moved so much of our economy, we have moved so much of our communications, we’ve moved so much of our warfare into outer space. How in the world did we not know that war was going to end up in outer space?

Now, from a Christian biblical perspective, just understand what this means. It means wherever human beings go, sin goes. And so human beings can go into outer space with all kinds of highfalutin ideals of how we’re doing this in the name of humanity, and this is going to be a regime and an area of peace. The next thing you know, there are defense satellites, killer satellites, dangerous satellites, satellites used by the enemies of those very same things orbiting in the very same band.

Part III

Former President Trump’s Civil Fraud Verdict: Big Political and Moral Issues Are Driving the Story — And the U.S. Is Worse For It

But finally, for today, we simply have to go to an issue that also made huge headline news as the United States went into the weekend. It’s been an incredibly intensive weekend in that sense. This has to do with a verdict of $355 million against the former president of the United States Donald Trump for civil fraud. This took place in a New York City courtroom. $355 million with interest, it could well total somewhere around $450 million. This on top of more than $80 million in civil penalties already handed down against the former president.

Now, at this point, I simply want to say to listeners to The Briefing, these are the hardest issues for me to talk about because when you talk about Donald Trump, you are talking about someone who is a force unto himself. And when you talk about his enemies, they also are a force unto themselves. And in one sense, they live off of each other. And as you look at this, we do recognize this is a major blow to the former president, regardless of how wealthy he is, virtually no one has ready cash of around half a billion dollars for this kind of civil penalty judgment or put together these kinds of judgments.

The other thing is that given the New York system, is that even if he appeals, he has to put up the money in order to press an appeal. That makes the situation all the more difficult. The verdict that was handed down in this case, which came down to the former president and his company misrepresenting the value of real estate properties and the total wealth of the Trump organization when it came to getting loans, and in particular from the Deutsche Bank. And even the allies of the former president will indicate that yes, there were misrepresentations. And yes, there were very, let’s just say optimistic valuations that were used in order to gain advantage in securing loans at a lower interest rate.

But here’s the issue though, even though New York Attorney General Letitia James has gone after the former president on these grounds and his company, and by the way, this verdict comes with a ban on the former president from an involvement in New York business basically for about three years, it’s a major blow to the Trump organization, and both of Trump’s sons were also the recipients of judgments, multimillion dollar judgments in this case, but nothing like the former president. The fact is that it’s hard to separate what is criminal here from what’s political. And I just want to state that straightforwardly, we’re in a situation where all of this is so intertwined that it is very difficult regardless of where you stand on Donald Trump or these issues to separate them fully.

For one thing, the political is just so large in this. Letitia James had stated that if elected, she would seek to prosecute Donald Trump even though there was no specific charge. And it is not healthy for our system of justice that you have prosecutors, including the Attorney General of the state, who basically run on prosecuting someone else even though there is no specific charge. In other words, “You like me, I’ll find the charge, I’ll prosecute him.” And that is a grave danger to our political system.

Donald Trump has done his own breaking of rules and his own flaunting of the system. And in one sense, you have these two opposing forces that now face off. I think the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in its weekend edition basically hit the issue pretty squarely when they ran a piece by the editorial board simply saying Trump’s 355 million civil fraud verdict. And underneath they put, “The judge found he inflated his assets, but this penalty is unreal.” And the former president and his supporters are coming back saying, “A crime requires a victim. Who is the victim here?” And that’s going to be a very big question. Who’s the victim here? Because the company paid the loans that were at the center of these charges. Deutsche Bank made money on the deal. They have not asked for the prosecution. You’re talking about the investment of millions upon millions of dollars in the name of the people of New York in putting together this case, but it is going to try the American system of government to figure out how in the world these things can be rightfully adjudicated.

In terms of appeal, this might go on for years. The editors of the Journal went on to question as to whether chief executive officers in New York “might wonder about doing business in a jurisdiction where elected politicians use the law to smash companies this way.” Thus far, many of these prosecutions have actually effectively helped the former president in building political support for the 2024 Republican nomination and for the presidential election. Will that continue? It’s hard to say. But this much is really clear, and it appears to come with a good biblical background in terms of our understanding, Donald Trump has at least forged much of his political character by making enemies. That’s been a part of his political methodology. Up front is a part of what’s made him popular. But the downside of that is that he has very real political enemies, and some of them are able to do very real damage. None of this is good for the American people. None of this is good for the American system of government. None of this is good for the health of the American civilization.

The fact that all this is playing out in the midst of an American presidential election just makes the issues all the more excruciating, all the more headline grabbing, and frankly, all the more uncertain.

All right, on a very different note, I want to tell you about a course I’m going to be teaching at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. I’m going to be teaching it in a modular course this spring, and I’m talking about it because I want to invite you to join us. The class is entitled 10 Battles That Define the Gospel: 20 Centuries of Controversy that Shaped and Reshaped the Christian Church. We’re going to go right into the heart of 2,000 years of theological controversies and how those controversies shaped and forged our understanding of the Christian faith. We’re going to look at 10 of the most significant theological controversies and battles the church has faced over the past two millennia. We’re going to start out with the formation of the New Testament, the development of New Testament Christology, modern debates over sexuality and gender. We’re going to cover a lot of territory. Just imagine, in between all of that are debates such as the Reformation. This is really going to be interesting.

Our purpose, of course, is not just to understand the past, but to come to understand our responsibility for defending and teaching and perpetuating. The faith wants for all delivered to the Saints and our generation. The course is going to begin March 19. It’s available to both on-campus and online students. To learn more, just go to That’s one word, mohlercourse. I hope to see you there.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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