False news about Navalny in the Guardian

No real surprises here. This is the Guardian report about Navalny’s stated intention to return to Moscow. From the point of view of journalism it has two major faults. Firstly, it accepts and reports as fact some rather unlikely claims made by Navalny. Good journalism makes it clear when something is established fact and when something is a claim made by an interested party. With Navalny it seems, whatever he (or ‘Bellingcat’) says is taken as fact. The reason for this is that he is against the Kremlin. The second problem is that in one respect at least it consciously misleads readers.

Navalny, who has been recovering in Berlin since he was targeted in August with a novichok-style poison, said he planned to fly back to Russia on Sunday despite clear signs that Moscow is searching for a pretext to jail him.

This is not necessarily true. A case against him for corruption has been launched. On the other hand the other event alluded to was a request that he turn himself in to complete the requirements of the probation which he is serving. The request was emailed to his lawyer and cited an article in the UK’s Lancet which said that Navalny had recovered as reason why he could not refuse to fulfill the requirements of the probation office. In this case then it appears he was put under pressure to return. In many countries, including the UK, if someone serving a suspended sentence does not fulfill conditions attached to it then they may receive an actual prison term.

With the above considerations in mind it can be seen that this paragraph is positively misleading:

This week Navalny uploaded a court document showing that officials were trying to revoke a suspended sentence against him and replace it with a real jail term

Then this:

Navalny’s allies and other opponents of Putin cheered the opposition politician’s plan to return to Russia. “Good man. Although there is a risk. Something like that happened in my life in 2003,” wrote Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch who was put in prison for a decade after clashing with Putin in the early 2000s

“clashing with Putin”. The narrative is that Khodorkovsky was jailed for a disagreement with Putin. It is of course possible. But the other view is that he was corrupt and stole money from shareholders in the oil company he ran – Yukos. [1] (It is also possible that both are true; he was jailed as a result of orders from on high and he is/was corrupt). The Western liberal media always, as a matter of religious principle, believes any Russian who is high-profile and against Putin. They never take a balanced view.

The Guardian also reports Navalny’s rather unlikely story of getting an FSB officer to fall for a trick and admit to poisoning him (in his underpants) as if it were a simple fact. It is (I suppose) conceivable that this whole claim is not made-up – but if the target was anything other than Putin’s Russia the claims would be treated much more gingerly than there are in this piece where they are simply reported as a matter of fact.

It seems likely that the love-in for Navalny by Western liberals is based largely on his criticism of Putin plus, perhaps some comments about reducing state ownership (which opens up the lucrative prospect of a new round of privatisations). Apart from this, it is a quite strange relationship. Even a quick glance at his programme shows that if we compare Navalny to political figures in the UK the closest resemblances in policy terms are to Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Consider:

“Prosperity for all not riches for the 0.1%”


“For many years, Alexei Navalny has been in favor of a visa regime with the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, and for equal cooperation with the European Union. Guest workers should come only on work visas, to a specific employer at a specific workplace, to places where they really cannot be done without”.

This latter point is not detailed but seems to possibly imply withdrawal from the Eurasian Union. At any event it is an anti-immigration policy. (Currently people from Central Asian countries even outside the Eurasian Union can come into Russia on a temporary no Visa basis and find an employer once here and then apply for a work permit).

If this latter policy were enacted it would be disastrous news for the poor countries of Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan, for which remittances by guest workers in Russia make significant contributions to GDP.


  1. https://www.rt.com/news/460766-khodorkovsky-yukos-western-shareholders/

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer