It wasn’t you

Hey remember that time Sunday news host Dmitry Kiselyov ran a story accusing Alexei Navalny of being either a CIA or MI6 agent using the code name Agent Freedom?  And remember how I said this country appears to be run by children? Well guess what- you’re about to see another reason why I get that impression.

In case you weren’t following the case, Navalny responded in two ways. He announced that he would sue the Russian state network for slander, and he also publicly asked the FSB to investigate his alleged ties to foreign intelligence (they categorically refused, indicating that they are either convinced his is not a foreign agent or they are laughably incompetent- you decide). You’re probably no going to be shocked when you learn that the court rejected Navalny’s suit earlier this week. Just wait until you learn why, however.

You can read the story here (or from Navalny himself in Russian), but essentially the representatives of the network claimed that…brace yourselves…that the piece they aired was not about Navalny, and secondly, that the part which accuses not-Navalny of receiving money to overthrow the constitutional order of Russia (something they can easily prosecute you for) is not defamatory. They claimed that “labor relations are allowed” in Russia. While slander can be difficult to prove in some Western courts, you can usually bring in witnesses to help make your case. As is typical in politicized Russian cases, Navalny was not allowed to call his witnesses or enter any documents as evidence.

I say let the viewer be the judge- even if you don’t speak Russian, watch at least part of this video and decide whether or not someone might get the impression that this story is about Navalny.

Now do you see what I mean when I say that this place seems to be run by children? But let’s ignore that for a second, because now that the Russian media company VGTRK has been vindicated in court, there are a couple of important conclusions we can make.

The first and most important conclusion is that based on the decision of the Russian court, the FSB, and the Russian state-run TV network, Alexei Navalny is definitely not a foreign agent. So if you ever hear anyone claiming that he is, you can kindly remind them that the Russian judicial system and its main domestic intelligence service both categorically disagree.

The second conclusion, and this is a very important one, is that Dmitry Kiselyov and his media empire are full of shit. Just recently Kiselyov was interviewed by the BBC, when he pulled the typical whataboutism argument in response to the charges that he is a propagandist. You can watch that video here:

While he manages to score one minor point about the creative use of visuals to create a certain mood about public figures, Kiselyov’s argument fails because no, actually the BBC doesn’t put out propaganda, at least nothing comparable to what he has done. While Western media has often fallen for hoaxes or shown itself to be too reliant on official sources, when has the BBC deliberately produced a story accusing someone of being a Russian spy based on poorly translated documents? Where is the BBC’s “crucified boy?” And when asking these questions, it’s always helpful to remember there is to date no evidence of any big shake ups or firings in response to any of the infamous fake stories Russian state press has run. The answer is always the same. Either it’s our job to prove that it didn’t happen, or “you do it too,” even when you clearly don’t. Again, these people are children.

31 thoughts on “It wasn’t you

  1. Mr. Hack

    Although physically reminiscent of Vladimir Posner, Kiselyev doesn’t propel the same image, looking rather tarnished and often buffoonish too. I’m glad that you’ve put your spotlight on him though, his shtick deservedly requires your satiric wit and you should get a lot of mileage out of his ranting’s.

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      Oh I’ve been doing stuff on him for a long time. Run a search for Kiselyov and also the alternate spelling Kiselev, which I used to use until he got popular in the West lately. You will be pleasantly surprised.

  2. Asehpe

    He sure deserves it. Every time I watch his program, I feel like John Stewart when he does that joke about drinking something while watching the news and then spitting it all out in surprise. 🙂

    How can normal Russians accept those things and not see what’s in front of their eyes? Natalia Antonova wrote something about “a whole nation suffering from PTSD” from the war and Communist times, and that this might explain several features of Russian society, among which the need to “identify with the oppressors”. Maybe there’s something to it… My father-in-law, who recently died, was the most mild-mannered person you could imagine, incapable of being angry or raising his voice even if he were to somehow feel angry; yet at the time of the anti-Gorbachëv putsch, he was (according to my mother-in-law) the one who said “now we’re going to teach those liberal guys a lesson!”… ‘We’, huh? 🙂

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      I would disagree with the national PTSD thing. For one thing, the Baltic countries were under Soviet rule for a long time and experienced a pretty brutal version of it- yet they manage to make a functional democracy in their countries, with some key exceptions.

      Poland’s history should make it practically insane today, yet despite the prevalence of some fanatical assholes, Poland seems able to be more or less “normal.” Slovenia, Czechia- they all have their problems but they don’t act like stereotypical Russians.

      I think what Kiselyov does is confirm the idea that the West is both decaying and failing while simultaneously trying to destroy Russia. Although this is a paranoid fantasy, the idea that Russia is under siege by the West necessarily implies that Russia is still an important great power, and this is the illusion the regime uses to maintain support.

      1. ramendik

        By “key exceptions”, you mean the second-class status they chose to give to certain residents?

        Except Lithuania. I was big into Sajudis at the time and I’m quite happy to know they did right in the citizenship issue.

      2. ramendik

        I wonder why they don’t fix that at least now. Grant anyone born in the country pre-1992 and continuously resident there citizenship. See the active part of any potential “vatnik rebellion” sail off into Western Europe to earn money. What’s not to like? It’s not like a few thousand extra citizens are going to elect Putin president.

      3. Jim Kovpak Post author

        The strangest thing about the Russian Baltic communities is that even the ones who are most pro-Putin don’t want to live in Russia and prefer being in their EU Baltic countries. It’s always easier to admire Putin from afar.

      4. ramendik

        Well, this might be a matter of economics. It’s one thing to admire Putin (or, say, Obama), it’s another to land in Russia (or the United States) with no job and no money for housing. In the case of older people, also no pension, as years worked in the Baltic states are probably not reckonable for a Russian pension.

        They might well *want* to live in Russia if they were able to keep the (modest) social class they are in now, but they might not want to live in Russia as paupers.

      5. Asehpe

        I think part of the problem for the Baltic countries at least is the occupation theory, and its consequences. If they were occupied, then what happened there in that time period was not under the control of “regular law”. This means that all the Russians who came into the country after that — and their descedants — were not real migrants, but part of the occupying forces. Which means that they could only become citizens by naturalization.

        This now seems to be going rather well, with most Russian-speaking non-citizens having already obtained Estonian and Latvian citizenship. Of course there are agitators (Lindermans in Latvia comes to mind — and he does have Latvian citizenship, if I”m not mistaken). Still there are quite a few non-citizens, but they could all opt for Estonian/Latvian citizenship via naturalization if they wanted — it just seems to them a “humiliation” to have to do so.

        Also, I point out that even conceding citizenship to anyone born after 1992 would still leave out quite a few Russian-speaking non-citizens.

        It’s a difficult problem. I don’t think the Baltic countries in this area are now really acting badly. In the beginning, Latvia did (the “quota” system), but remember that it was (and largely still is) the country most in danger of being submerged by non-Latvians. That counts for something, too.

      6. Asehpe

        Hm… What is then, in your opinion, the difference between the Russian public and their Baltic, Polish, Czech or Slovene counterparts? Is it simply that Russia had “an empire”, and the Russians still want to identify with power?

      7. Jim Kovpak Post author

        I think the empire thing plays a key role in a lot of Russian politics. When you examine the early revolutionary period you see that the socialists did a very poor job at countering Great Russian chauvinism. Even the very cosmopolitan Lenin could not avoid this blind-spot in his theory.

      8. ramendik

        In the Leningrad oblast, the region immediately neighbouring Estonia, the average pension in 2015 was actually 12320 rubles, not 8000. Source:

        But the minimum was just 6150 rubles. And to get the average, not the minimum, one must have considerable reckonable time working (трудовой стаж). And I don’t think time working in Estonia qualifies.

        So a Russian-speaker who is an Estonian pensioner and has the “alien passport” would not get the average pension if they were to move to Russia. That average, of course, would still not be on par with the Estonian average of 349 Euro.

        To top it all, they would have issues with housing. Narva small flats sell for 15000 Euro and even less. Right across the border, in Ivangorod, they are more expensive. The difference seems to be around 10-20% as far as I could gather from some quick searching.

        So it appears that they are held back in Estonia by sheer economics. Latvia probably has a similar picture.

        If I were to rule Latvia and Estonia, I would offer such people a choice between immediate citizenship while renouncing any other citizenship/loyalty – and moving to Russia while keeping their entitlement to the Latvian/Estonian pension, and possibly with a one-off housing subsidy (or perhaps a guaranteed loan against the pension, after all they need just 2-3k Euro to cover the price difference). This would destroy any possible base for a rebellion/invasion, while costing much less than rearmament and not oppressing anyone. It would also bring them in line with EU best practice, as many EU people retire to cheaper countries while claiming the native country’s pension.

      9. Jim Kovpak Post author

        “That average, of course, would still not be on par with the Estonian average of 349 Euro.”

        You could stop right there. This is why they stay in Estonia. That and I believe they are able to travel about the EU. The non-citizen passport allows this.

        Still I think Latvia and Estonia ought to do what Lithuania did.

      10. Asehpe

        But to Latvians and Estonians that would be like spitting in their own history — when Russian speakers, many of which had no desire to come to or live in the Baltic countries but were brought here by the occupation, in order to “build up infrastructure” while at the same time helping dilute the local populations.

        Note that Lithuania granted citizenship to all Russian-speaking residents simply because they were a small minority (8% or less, as I recall) — and this, because the Lithuanian Communist Party did have success in thwarting the central KPSS plans to move larger Russian-speaking populations into Lithuania. Whereas Latvia, where the newcomers were more numerous (at some point, Latvians were only about 51% of the population — down from over 76% pre-WWII).

        It’s not difficult to imagine why they did that. And since most Russian-speaking non-citizens have already applied for and received citizenship both in Latvia and in Estonia, it is difficult to see these countries (at least in the present time) as really unfair to them — especially to those who think it is actually advantageous to have residence privileges in Estonia or Latvia, while having a Russian passport to facilitate entry and movement in Russia.

      11. ramendik

        Ireland, after seceding, has granted citizenship to all the Anglo-Irish and it worked out well enough.

        The problem with “applying” is the exam requirement, which basically excludes people too old or not smart enough to learn the language and history. And whatever about the early 90s, maintaining this status after EU ascension is a spit in the face of the European human rights ideal.

      12. Jim Kovpak Post author

        While I generally agree with the assessment of the law, it’s not true that the problem is people are too old to take the test. Plenty of people of various ages have. The problem is that Russians typically avoid learning the languages of people they used to rule. You ought to hear the hatred they expressed for the Ukrainian language, long before any of this crisis happened. Slavic brothers? Sure.

      13. ramendik

        I am aware of these feelings but I don’t think one needs to invoke anything specific to Russia and “ruling people” to explain it (also… as if these Russians had any part in the actual rule, instead of just obeying the same authorities).

        When one is forced to learn something one feels resentful. When one is forced to learn something not perceived as objectively necessary for something great and practical (like English as a foreign language or basic maths), one feels more resentful, perhaps even angry.

        Many native Irish people hate the Irish Gaelic language because they are/were forced to learn it in school.

      14. ramendik

        Yup, works both ways. But as “revenge”, forcing local Russians to learn in turn is completely misdirected. They were not the rulers, they were the laborers for the rulers. The rulers are elsewhere and, well, don’t have economic or citizenship problems.

      15. Jim Kovpak Post author

        They had been living in territory they annexed in 1940, in a union that was supposed to have ethnic equality. They should have at least gained a working knowledge of the local language. A friend of mine who worked in Kazakhstan said that the little Kazakh he picked up while living there was more than that of the Russians who’d been born and raised there.

      16. ramendik

        No, THEY have not been living in the territory THEY annexed in 1940. Unless you somehow think Stalin was a democratic ruler, or something.

        It is just as wrong to say “they” annexed the Baltics in the same phrase where “they” mean the Russians living there, as it would be for me to say that you’re an American, one of those who attacked Yugoslavia and Iraq and Libya. No, even wronger. At least you had a real vote for the governments that attacked these countries (not sure if you were of age for the ’96 elections but that’s a minor detail). But no Russians had a choice on whether to have Stalin in 1940.

        So by the time they moved, it was all a part of one big country. And especially after the 50s they were not made aware by the official ideology that there is a difference.

        After not learning a second language one’s whole life it’s objectively hard to learn a language, especially one from a completely different family to your native language (as Estonian is), if you are 50+.

        I am aware of the sentiment regarding language, though. As a teenager and a “Sajudis supporter” (I sort of latched onto them as a proxy for anti-Soviet feelings and their Russian-language newspaper “Согласие” rocked… before they closed it), in 1992 right after the end of the USSR I was keen to visit Lithuania and we had distant relatives there. So my grandma (now deceased) has taken me for a visit. We were there in a pharmacy queue when another old lady asked my grandma something in Lithuanian, and when it turned out she could not understand, started a rant in Russian about “living here so many years and not even learning the language”. I interjected with a note that we were living here for three days and leaving in two more – at which point the old lady changed her tune in a matter of seconds, and a lively, friendly discussion of pensions and prices in Moscow and Vilnius followed. (The relatives involved did speak Lithuanian all right).

        In a foreshadowing of my future expat status, I solved the language problem for myself there by liberal use of English. After running out of English words way before I did, even an obviously nationalistic team of Scouts were fine chatting in Russian.

      17. Estragon

        BTW, on the willingness of Baltic Russians to learn the local language – geography appears to play a significant role. For instance, the level of Estonian knowledge among Russians in Tallinn is (from what I’ve heard) a lot higher than in Narva. Why? Because Tallinn is c. 40% Russophones, while Narva is c. 90% Russophones. Even Narvans who want to learn Estonian have almost no one to speak it with. Whereas residents of Tallinn have plenty of opportunity (or need) to speak Estonian.

      18. Asehpe

        I can understand the feeling of resentment against having to learn the local language, but this doesn’t change the fact that this feeling is wrong. “Forced” to learn here means that they are living in a country which has that official language. Sure, it wasn’t their choice — they were made to come there by the Soviet government (which they didn’t choose) and they were as surprised by the распад of the Soviet Union as everyone else. And I can understand that being in a new situation can be surprising to the point of semi-denial (and there were old folks who just refused to believe the Soviet Union was gone).

        Still: local circumstances are local circumstances. Suddenly, the local languages became a necessity, on a par or even more so (at the local level) than learning English. The reason for that was regaining independence after a period in which the local ethnicities (Estonians, Latvians) ran the real danger of being completely absorbed — Latvians were 52% in their own country, and Estonians, while more percentage-wise, were not even the largest Finno-Ugric people in the Soviet Union (the Mordvians — Erzya and Moksha — were more than the Estonians). This makes the new situation easy to understand.

        The Irish gave rights to the Anglo-Irish basically because there wasn’t anything much to fear from them — whereas Latvians and Estonians might very well have something to fear from a Russian-speaking population who, as Jim pointed out, often despised local languages as “stupid” or “not real languages’ (cf. the comment made by a Russian speaker once in an interview in Latvian television), and who fail to realize that, despite not having had a choice in their own migration, still they constituted a privileged minority in the Baltic countries, both linguistically and culturally. Their frequent attitude of superiority (with of course many individual exceptions) often irked the locals, who couldn’t really react to that. The lady who misunderstood your situation, the one who protested against “spending years in the country but not learning the language”, is of course wrong in your case… but she would be right in so many others.

        In other words, these Russian speakers constituted a privileged class who suddenly saw their privileges taken away from them, and who resented that — much like the British who lived overseas in former colonies and who kept their feeling of entitlement after said colonies’ independence. I think this played as important a role, if not a more important one, in explaining old people’s ‘difficulties’ in learning the local languages. People who feel entitled because they used to belong to some kind of vague “‘élite” as citizens of a big World Power don’t like to be “forced” to do things like learning local languages by people who used to be, well, just the quaint locals.

      19. Asehpe

        To add one more thought to the above: it is true that (most of) the Russian speakers in the Baltics, those who were brought in by Stalin, did not have any say in the matter, and did not by themselves have any evil intentions — this was all Stalin’s fault, not theirs. Yet they would have to at least acknowledge that they were used as pawns by Stalin, in order to, among other things, dilute the local populations, their cultures and languages.

        But they don’t do that — not now, also not in the past. There never was a word about that from these Russian populations. And that, I think, is to a large extent because of their having identified with the Soviet Union — ultimately with Stalin — rather than felt wronged by it. While Latvians and Estonians did feel wronged, those Russians who were moved around like pawns on a chessboard never felt that way. They identified with their oppressors — with Stalin and the KPSS — and this is an important, if not the most important, factor in their reaction to things like the necessity to learn the local languages to acquire citizenship.

    1. Asehpe

      I for one certainly do. But with Erdogan now cracking down on all participants of the coup, what hope is there that the Kurds can cash on the situation?

      1. ramendik

        Someone told me that the Kurds expressed support for Erdogan (apparently pretty early, so they should be able to be “on his good side” now at the very least). I was unable to verify this as yet.

      2. Jim Kovpak Post author

        Yeah that hasn’t really worked out well for them though. Apparently Kurdish neighborhoods have been under attack by regime supporters.

      3. Asehpe

        That’s what I heard, too. To Turk nationalists, the Kurds are always Part of The Problem; I don’t think they’ll be stopped by little details like the Kurds having actually supported Erdogan. That is what makes ethnic-based rivalries so hard to solve.

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