Discredit Moscow-UK

‘Western plot to discredit Moscow’: How the spy scandal is playing out in Russia

IRussian policemen guard the entrance to the British Embassy in Moscow, where theories abound t has now been over a week since former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.

With echoes of the Litvinenko murder in November 2006, deemed to be ‘probably’ the handiwork of Kremlin agents, the British government has been quick to apportion blame on Russia for the attempted hit. Unsurprisingly, however, a very different narrative is being played out inside Russia.

What the officials say…

While President Vladimir Putin and his foreign secretary have straight-out denied Russin involvement, many officials have gone a step further. Central to some responses is a theory that the attack was, in fact, carried out by none other than UK and US intelligence agencies in a Western plot to discredit Mr Putin ahead of presidential elections on Sunday. Evgenny Primakov Jr, a designated “trusted representative” of Mr Putin, authorised to speak on behalf of his campaign during the Russian presidential election, said: “Frankly, in Moscow we are in shock. The whole thing looks insane. No one here believes this was a Russian attack. “We are absolutely sure, 100 percent sure, that the whole thing is aimed at our elections. In my personal opinion, I’m absolutely sure Sergei Skripal was poisoned by the British or American secret services.” Meanwhile, Russian The headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB in central MoscowMP and former FSB director Nikolai Kovalyov said that it is possible British spies may be involved in not just the latest poisoning, but also the deaths of other agents on British soil. “Considering this and the death of other traitors in England, I have formed the impression that British spies, once they have got full use out of a traitor, are willing to sacrifice them – and then say that it was Russia that did it,” he said. This, he claimed, in the interview with RIA Novosti, benefited the UK, USA and also Ukraine in portraying Russia as an aggressor state. He had another theory: “There is a laboratory in this town [Salisbury]. Look into whether they was a leak from there.” Maria Zakharova, meanwhile, the the foreign ministry spokesperson, is behind a series of fiery Kremlin communiques in which she has called Mrs May’s speeches in the House of Commons a “circus show” and “fairy tales”, and went on to say that the British position “is a political campaign founded on provocation”. In the last week Ms Zakharova has even suggested that the assassination attempt may be sour grapes after Russia beat England in the bid to host this year’s World Cup. In response to Boris Johnson’s threats of boycotting the tournament, Ms Zakharova reminded journalists that it was Britain who had lost out to Russia in the bid . “Announcements like this, made by the head of a government department – it’s just madness really,’ she commented, adding one final sleight to the Foreign Secretary: “What sort of a person … does that?” Theresa May has described many of the official Russian responses as amounting to little more than “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

What the press says…

State-owned media outlets like RIA Novosti, Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Tass Ru have been conspicuously quiet on the subject of the Skripal poisoning. Earlier this week, news in Russia has concentrated on the death of actor and director Oleg Tabakov, and on the sacking of Rex Tillerson, which papers have gleefully hailed as signs of White House chaos. The broadcasters, however, have come out all guns blazing in defence of the Kremlin. State television station, Russia 1, ran a story entitled The Death Trap, referring to the number of Russians who have died on British soil under suspicious circumstances, while Pervyj Kanal argued that Skripal was of no danger to Russia and was a “spent The western plot is a perfect chance to discredit Putin ahead of elections, it has been suggestedforce”. Both Russia 1 and  Pervyj Kanal have also implied British complicity in the Skripal attack as a means by which to discredit Russia on an international stage. Russia 1 commented that the poisoning was of use only to “British Russophobes” as well as the USA and possibly Ukraine, with whom Russia is currently involved in a proxy war.  Pervyj Kanal seemingly sought to implicate British secret services in the attempted murder, adding that it was no coincidence that both Litvinenko and Skripal were handled by the same intelligence consultant. RT, previously Russia Today, was also hard at work stirring the pot. When Ms Zakharova angrily objected to Theresa May calling the Russian foreign ministry unfit for his post, it was soon after revealed that the Prime Minister had in fact said no such thing. Who was behind this apocryphal slagging match? None other than RT editor Margarita Simonyan. By comparison, non state-run media, of which there are increasingly few in Russia now, have been leading with the story over the week and have not shied away from laying the blame at the Kremlin’s doorstep. Meduza, which was formed in Riga by Galina Timchenko after being fired from her post as editor of Lenta.ru on the orders of the Kremlin, has been investigating the nerve agent Novichok and quoted its creator, Vil Mirzayanov, as having told The Telegraph that “only Russia could do this”. At the same time, Novaya Gazeta, ran with the chilling headline, ‘No Russian exile is immortal’. Novaya Gazeta is one of the few publications left in Russia that openly criticises the state. Since 2001, six of their journalists have been murdered.

What the commentators say…

Veteran RT commentator Igor Maltsev complained of the absence of any evidence to catch Russia red handed. “Everything surrounding the Skripal case is a mass of facts and counter-facts. Only one thing is for certain – that Russia is guilty of everything, a fact apparently as unshakeable as Westminster Bridge,” he said. This was all the more pressing for Mr Maltsev, whose employer RT, is a potential target for expulsion as part UK sanctions. Russia’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, took to Twitter to suggest expelling oligarchs from London. “The unpleasant scenario for Putin would be if the English finally chuck out from their country dozens of our officials and oligarchs with their families and money,” he wrote. He then cited three key individuals – “Abramovich, Usmanov and Shuvalov” – all of whom live in London and made the wealth in the chaotic years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Abramovich and Usmanov own or part Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich couldbe part of the bargainown Chelsea and Arsenal football clubs respectively. Boris Akunin, one of Russia’s most popular authors, however, said that expelling oligarchs was precisely what Putin wants.  Setting out his theory in a Facebook post on Tuesday, the detective writer said that the Skripal attack was designed to goad the British government into destroying the oligarch community in London, a group which the Kremlin would like to see weakened. “The creation of a situation in which this particular group will be forced back into Kremlin-controlled territory, is useful and advantageous for Putin,” he said. The former sleeper-agent and, now, Russian television personality Anna Chapman labelled Mr Skripal a traitor. Ms Chapman, who was exchanged for Mr Skripal in 2010, said: “As always Russia is guilty by default… despite the fact that traitor Skripal was pardoned by the President and released.”

And what the trolls say…

The so-called troll factories have had their work cut out. A mysterious building on the outskirts of St Petersburg is reputed to house several hundred professional trolls who are employed to spend their days writing pro-Russian doggerel on social media and in the comments section of web articles in the western press.  In the immediate aftermath of the poisoning, many were quick to avert the blame from Russia. One, named ‘Germann Arlington’, commented on an article in The Times: “It sounds like an open and shut case.The investigators did not even start working and the mainstream media (and the commenters) have already assigned the guilt. Does it sound like a proper investigation? Maybe the officers already had all the required answers (from above) and were just ticking boxes?” Fellow commenters were quick to respond. “Good work muddying the waters comrade!,” wrote one. “Nearly as efficient as the FSB,” wrote another. Bravely soldiering on for a few more comments, Germann Arlington eventually succumbed after falling foul of the grammar pedants who were quick to pick up on his wooden use of English. “English teachers in Moscow aren’t what they used to be,” said one pedant, providing the final hammer blow to that exchange.

 

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