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Navalny will remain the West’s darling, but not Russia’s

By Johanna Ross | February 4, 2021

In case you missed it, Russian blogger/politician/investigative journalist Alexei Navalny was sentenced on Tuesday in a Moscow court to 2 years 8 months in prison for breaking the terms of a suspended sentence.

The western media is, of course, outraged. The leaders of the US, UK and France have all joined in unison to demand his release. Michael McFaul continues with his Navalny/Mandela comparisons on Twitter until we finally accept it. He’s clearly following the old adage of ‘if you say something often enough, it becomes the truth’.

What seemed like overnight, Alexei Navalny has gone from being an obscure opposition activist to the saviour of Russia and the human race itself (or as the western media would have us believe). Opposition journalists, of whom several are not even based in Russia, but prefer to egg-on their activist colleagues from the safety of the US and Europe, have been tweeting their profanities and scolding the Russian authorities for not immediately releasing their media darling.

While the western world has become caught up in the drama of this ‘one man against the world story’, few are able to scratch beneath the surface, to see past the golden gates of ‘Putin’s palace’ and the condemned man kissing his wife goodbye in the airport as he meets his fate. Navalny is an expert in PR, something which his opponents are only just catching up with.

Alexei Navalny has quite deliberately set about becoming a political martyr. His very existence depends on the mythology surrounding his plight. His existence, his financial support (which I shall touch on later) depends on him being a ‘victim’ of the Russian state. He has to continue his anti-Putin programme to sustain himself and his family. For what other job/career does he have? No other would pay as well.

How many of those protestors who responded to his ‘call to arms’ in January and ventured out into the bitter cold to demonstrate, could actually name any of his policies? Could they even say what he stood for? Navalny himself isn’t sure. He has flipped and flopped between right-wing nationalism and left-wing policies for the last two decades. The only consistent policy is he wants to bring down Putin and replace him (if you can call that a policy).

As renowned academic Anatol Lieven has noted, we have to put aside the emotion in this case and deal primarily with the facts. Navalny has played with our emotions as much as possible; emphasising the romantic attachment to his wife with footage of him signing love hearts on the glass box in the courtroom; and performing the role of the underdog in the case to the letter. But over the last few months, the world, including the Kremlin, has been dancing to his tune, not the other way around.

In Germany Navalny was treated like a diplomat, escorted around by the security services, visited by Chancellor Merkel. He decided when he would arrive back to Russia, and knew he would be arrested. The release of his ‘Putin’s Palace’ video, which he clearly worked on in collaboration with German intelligence while he stayed there, was perfectly timed to be published just after his arrest, and it was hoped this would trigger mass protests, which in turn would pressurise the authorities to let him go. Protests certainly took place, but much to his supporters’ dismay, the authorities had no plans to override the law and release him.

And it’s worth here touching on that infamous palace video – which we now know, thanks to a video produced by ‘Mash’ – to be a complete misrepresentation of the truth. There are no golden gates. There is no baroque furniture. The ‘palace’ at the moment is a concrete shell, and there is no direct evidence linking it to the Russian President – instead it has been claimed by businessman Arkady Rotenberg as an aparthotel complex. That in itself is offensive, that Navalny would have the Russian people believe that there is a luxurious ‘dvorets’ on their doorstep, photoshopping the whole building to dupe people into buying his ‘golden toilet brush’ story. It shows extreme contempt for the general public he is addressing.

Indeed, Navalny would have us believe that he is acting on behalf of the Russian people. From his prison cell, he is demanding people go out on the streets in the middle of the Russian winter, during a pandemic, to take part in unsanctioned demonstrations, for which they are likely to be arrested, and as is often the case during such mass protests, injured. Is this thinking about the Russian people? Of course not. Navalny is thinking about Navalny.

Returning to the subject of who finances him, there have been suspicions for some time as to the extent to which he is being subsidised by western governments. Then, earlier this week, an explosive FSB video was released detailing a conversation between Navalny’s ally Vladimir Ashurkov and a British embassy official back in 2012. Unbelievably candid, Ashurkov asks the diplomat for ‘millions of dollars a year’ to help Navalny with his campaign, reminding him that foreign businesses have ‘billions at stake’. Literally asking a foreign power to meddle in the affairs of a sovereign state with a view to toppling the current government. If that doesn’t constitute treason, I don’t know what does.

For his part, we know that Ashurkov, who remains the Executive Director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, has links to UK intelligence operations. Granted political asylum in the UK in 2015 after being wanted on embezzlement charges in Russia, Ashurkov was named in the documents of the Integrity Initiative – the UK’s covert anti-Russia propaganda campaign funded by the Foreign Office – leaked back in 2019. All this simply confirms the Kremlin’s assertions that Navalny is being aided and abetted by countries that have declared Russia their sworn enemy.

The western involvement in and support for Navalny’s campaign vastly reduces his chances of being taken seriously in Russia. For the vast majority of Russians he is the anti-hero, not Russia’s saviour as he is being portrayed in the West. Therefore while he may remain the West’s darling, he won’t be Russia’s.

Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

February 4, 2021 - Posted by | Deception, Russophobia | ,

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