Western Media Misinformation on Navalny

Unfortunately I am very short of time. So I just have time for a few brief comments.

The UK media narrative on Navalny is written in the realms of delusion. Worryingly it is also part scripted by the intelligence services.

Standard fare (for which they don’t need direction from MI5/6) is to call Navalny “Putin’s most prominent opponent”. [1] This is fake news. Navalny is a blogger with a very limited political profile. His most serious showing was in the 2013 Moscow mayoral elections when he came second by a long way. This was in one of the two or three cities where has has anything which could be called a significant support base.

His modus operandi is to position himself as the opponent to the “regime”. He goes around the country gathering all and any kind of dissatisfaction with the ‘regime’ and building a political ‘campaign’ out of this. He doesn’t have a positive and serious political alternative to offer.

I’ve lived in Russia for 3 years and the only two people I’ve ever met who were fully supportive of Navalny were schoolboys below voting age. Many people can be critical of the current government without supporting Navalny; some see him as very negative. Navalny and his group are not the ‘main opposition’ in Russia as portrayed in the Western media. It is a minority faction.

The main current excitement seems to be a report by the Bellingcat operation that claims to have unearthed proof that Navalny was poisoned by an FSB hit squad. [1, 2] At least this is how it is being spun in the press. I haven’t read the Bellingcat material and wouldn’t want to (I’ve read a previous ‘report’ and it was schoolboy stuff full of embarrassing errors in forensic science such as not understanding the need to calibrate equipment) but this is how is is being used by the media. The ‘report’ is based around evidence from mobile phone records that puts (apparently) some FSB agents in the same locations as Navalny. My guess is that this material was obtained by the intelligence services and what we are seeing here is a classic piece of MI6 media management. The material is true and they put into into the public domain via Bellingcat (I am guessing that Bellingcat didn’t source it themselves though I suppose it is theoretically possible) in order to produce the narrative that the FSB (under Putin’s direction) targeted Navalny. From their point of view the data is ‘true’ so they can keep their brand; (it is part of their brand that they ‘tell the truth’). They know that this data which indicates that the FSB were tailing Navalny (of course they were) will be used to create the narrative that the FSB poisoned him. As far as I know (based on the Independent reporting) there is no actual evidence of the alleged poisoning. But the intelligence services rely on the media making this jump. Which they have. The idea is to put pressure on the Russian leadership. MI5/6 probably really do believe that Putin ordered the poisoning of Navalny. That they so readily jump to this conclusion reflects the fact that they have a skewed and very uninformed picture of what is happening in Russia.

So far there is no evidence (in the Independent’s version at least) that the FSB poisoned Navalny. But the Independent is now convinced it seems that Putin tried (and failed) to poison his “most prominent critic”.

Update 28/12/20

The Guardian at least is uncritically reporting Navalny’s claimed call with one of the FSB agents who allegedly tried to kill him. One problem with this call is that it is alleged to have taken place a matter of weeks after the alleged hit (via tea at the airport, a water bottle in the hotel bedroom or poisoned underpants – take your pick). If an FSB agent had been involved in such a hit – which had failed disastrously – what do you think he might have been doing for the next few weeks? Yes; that’s right; he would have been in a lot of meetings with his boss and (quite likely) his boss’s boss – to work out what went wrong. Yet nowhere in this call does the alleged FSB agent say anything like “we’ve already covered this ground” or “I’ve already explained this to X” or “my superior can answer these questions” or anything like that. Apart from the sheer unlikelihood of the idea that an FSB agent would would fall for such a trick – this fact makes the whole thing highly implausible.

Notes

  1. E.g. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/putin-press-conference-speech-navalny-russia-b1775482.html
  2. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bungling-russian-fsb-agents-poisoned-kremlin-critic-alexei-navalny-claims-new-report-b1773782.html

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer