On this day when every news outlet in the world (perhaps even in Putin-obsessed Russia) will lead with the great democratic symbolism of President Barack Obama's inauguration, the all-too-real evidence of Russia's democratic deficit stand out more starkly than ever.
Yesterday, in the very centre of Moscow, just metres from the Kremlin itself, human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and campaigning journalist Anastasia Baburova were gunned down in broad daylight. He was 34 years old; she was only 24. In a country where few are brave enough to do such work, both had been involved in investigating many of the numerous wrongs, perpetrated by the Russian state and the people it protects. At their deaths, they had just left a press conference, protesting against the release on parole of a Russian army Colonel, who had been convicted of the brutal strangling of a young Chechen woman who posed him no threat.
Neither Markelov nor Baburova will protest any longer. Nor will they take any more holidays, read any more books, or live to be old. For standing up against cruelty in the Armed Forces, in the North Caucasus and in Russia as a whole, they had the full force of that cruelty turned upon themselves. More than one person languishing in Russia's moral vacuum will be relieved today that they are dead. We can reasonably imagine that toasts will have been raised in celebration.
There is a wealth of further information in English about both Stanislav and Anastasia at Robert Amsterdam's excellent blog: http://www.robertamsterdam.com/. And if someone in your town or city decides to organise a vigil to protest against their murders, I would urge you to attend.