Russian Disinformation: Navalny Poisoned Himself

September 25, 2020
Emil Filtenborg and Stefan Weichert
5 min read
Russian Disinformation: Navalny Poisoned Himself

The poisoning of Russian opposition spearhead Alexey Navalny has set the stage for an intense information war, and it has raged for the last month. After Navalny was flown to a hospital in Germany, tests showed that he had been poisoned with novichok, a chemical previously used in the assassination attempt on former intelligence officer and double agent Sergey Skripal in Salisbury, England in 2018. 

According to Western NGOs and governments, all signs suggest the Kremlin is responsible, a charge it in turn denies. Not only has it flatly denied its involvement in the poisoning, it has disseminated conspiracy theories blaming Western powers and also promised to offer Germany a helping hand if needed

On tass.com, the English version of the Russian state news agency, the message is clear. All articles about the subject are filed under “Navalny’s Alleged Poisoning,” itself is a matter of diversion, since it challenges the fact that Navalny was most certainly poisoned. 

Furthermore, the Russian news agency lends itself frequently to the spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, who has said that “no poisonous substances had been detected in Navalny’s system prior to his transfer to Berlin,” implying that someone in or on the way to Germany poisoned him. This is not the first time that accusation has been floated by Russia. Most of the news agency’s recent articles, in fact, end on the same paragraph: 

“Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia was ready for comprehensive cooperation with Germany. He pointed out that no poisonous substances had been detected in Navalny’s system prior to his transfer to Berlin. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the German Foreign Office had not provided the Russian ambassador with any proof of its version of the incident.”


Putin Joins in 

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has joined the disinformation campaign concerning Navalny’s poisoning. According to Le Monde, in a phone conversation with President Emmanuel Macron, Putin said Navalny was an "internet troublemaker who has simulated illnesses in the past," implying that Navalny either poisoned himself or somehow feigned a coma. 

Navalny responded on Instagram, joking Putin had seen through his "cunning plan.”

"I cooked up novichok in my kitchen. Took a quiet swig on my plane. Fell into a coma. But Putin outplayed me... I lay like a fool in my coma for 18 days, but did not achieve my goal."


Have a Vaccine 

While the Navalny case has tarnished the reputation of the Russian state, Russian authorities have recently been pushing a positive story about offering all United Nations employees a vaccine against coronavirus

"Russia is ready to offer UN workers the necessary, qualified help, and in particular we propose to supply our vaccine for free to employees of the organization and its subsidiaries who volunteer for vaccination," said Putin in a speech on Wednesday. 

The vaccine, named Sputnik V, has previously been criticized because the first rounds of testing were done on a very small sample of people with no control group (a group of people who are not injected with the vaccine but used to compare results with those people in the trials who have been vaccinated). 

During the development of Sputnik V, Western countries accused Russian hackers of illegally digging around the research done by western agencies and laboratories. 

However, some UN representatives have responded to the offer with gratitude. "We thank President Putin for his generous offer, which will be studied by our medical services," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. 

Others have denied giving a comment to Associated Press, who broke the story in the first place. 


Danish Sex Turtles

A more colorful piece of disinformation stems from Russian state TV, where Russian MP Alexey Shuravlev said on the TV show 60 minutes that a bestiality fair has opened in Denmark where people can rape turtles. There are no bestiality fairs in Denmark and certainly no public bestiality fairs where you can rape turtles. In fact Denmark banned sex with animals in 2015. 

He also stated that the Danish minister of foreign affairs raped a 15-year-old girl 12 years ago with no consequences. Twelve years ago, the Danish minister of foreign affairs did have sex with a 15-year-old girl, but there is nothing that proves that it was rape and not consensual.

Since the legal age of consent in Denmark is 15, it was not technically illegal, however it was generally frowned upon and the Danish minister of foreign affairs, who at the time was one of the spokesmen for the Social Democratic Party of Denmark, lost his posts in the party. A short time after this he was elected to the European Parliament, and whether or not he has been punished enough for what he admitted was a mistake might be a legitimate discussion, but following the principles of the rule of law, the Danish minister can not be called a rapist. 

The Danish minister of foreign affairs, and thereby the state of Denmark, has condemned the poisoning of Navalny, blaming the Kremlin for committing the crime. 

Pro-Kremlin disinformation channels have frequently described the West as a decadent place where anything goes. In the latest constitutional vote, the Kremlin targeted same-sex marriage to rally people behind a primarily conservative agenda. 

The TV show 60 Minutes has a tendency to let presenters speak in very heavy-handed terms about people or organizations that do not necessarily act in the interest of the Kremlin. Previously on the show, RT editor Margarita Simonyan called the main opposition figure in Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya, a freak. 

While some examples of Russia’s disinformation tactics are laughable or amusing, overall the trend is disturbing and dangerous, and a powerful tool that appears to be deployed more and more around the world. 



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