Anatoly Chepiga, AKA Ruslan Boshirov, just can’t get a break it seems. Ever since Bellingcat identified the self-proclaimed small businessman/tourist as a probable decorated GRU agent, things have just spiraled from there. While Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov and Russian Foreign Ministry officials sound completely dumbstruck, multiple international news outlets (BBC, WaPo, Kommersant,) have found several individuals from Chepiga’s past, openly identifying him and in some cases confirming that he worked in some kind of covert ops. Recently, some info has surfaced suggesting he might have had a hand in helping Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yushchenko escape to Russia. While there’s no corroboration for the latest story yet, what evidence exists does suggest that Chepiga was at least involved in some kind of covert activity in Ukraine in 2014.
Honestly I’m kind of surprised by how badly the Kremlin screwed up in this case. From the beginning of the Salisbury scandal, they seemed to outdo their past attempts at damage control by kicking it into high gear and putting out a rapid-fire stream of alternative explanations. Estimates range from around 37-38 different alternative narratives, all pointing in every direction except Russia, within the first few weeks of the initial poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. This, incidentally, was some of the best evidence pointing to Russian involvement prior to the revelation of “Ruslan Boshirov” and his accomplice “Alexander Petrov” (Petrov hasn’t been identified yet, though his documents show some key similarities to Chepiga’s). Had the Kremlin and its media just shut the fuck up and kept demanding some hard evidence, they might have got the benefit of the doubt from more people outside the online conspiracy theorist/St. Petersburg troll demographics.
But if they didn’t screw things up by flooding the information space with too many alternative narratives too quickly, the reveal of Boshirov and Petrov in their disastrous RT interview was just icing on the stupid cake.
Had the Kremlin’s information warriors not been complete morons who owe their positions to loyalty and not talent, they might have come up with a far better cover story for these two. For example, they might have claimed that they were being interviewed by the FSB or Investigative Committee, and some of the answers they gave in the actual interview could have been included in a partial report published by Russian authorities. But instead we were told that these guys just rang up RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on her personal cell phone and then in their interview they told the world of their dream to see the 123-meter spire of Salisbury cathedral.
Even Russia’s own propagandists couldn’t avoid showing their own disdain for this idiotic narrative. Several of them, including Margarita herself, subtly implied that Boshirov and Petrov were a gay couple trying to hide a very unusually-booked European getaway (apparently the way it works with assassinations is if you succeed, you become a Duma deputy, and if you fail, you may be protected from extradition but you will be labeled a homosexual). Even Graham Fucking Phillips couldn’t accept the story as told in the RT interview.
Needless to say, the extra visibility provided by the interview no doubt helped Bellingcat and The Insider track down details on the two alleged assassins, and by extension helped them discover the identity of Mr. Chepiga. What I have found most amusing about all this is that Russian officials, and more hilariously foreign Kremlin supporters, have been contorting themselves in ever-more extravagant mental gymnastics in an attempt to explain away all the inconsistencies in their narrative. And yet now it has never been easier for the Kremlin to totally discredit Bellingcat for good.
After all, this Anatoly Chepiga is a Hero of the Russian Federation winner. Although Putin’s regime hands out medals like candy, the title of Hero of the Russian Federation is still rarely bestowed. Plus Chepiga’s name appears on a monument to Heroes of the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. Therefore all Russia has to do to totally destroy this narrative and take Bellingcat’s reputation down at the same time is produce the real Anatoly Chepiga and provide a few details about his award and military career. It could also provide proof of “Petrov” and “Boshirov’s” fitness/supplements business (many Russians run online stores if they don’t own brick and mortar shops). At least some of this could have been accomplished literally within hours of Bellingcat’s Chepiga story breaking, and yet now it has been several days and we have seen nothing of the sort. In fact, Russian official PR flacks like Peskov and Zakharova have been unusually evasive on this issue, leaving foreign Putin fanboys with the burden of having to come up with some kind of plausible explanation.
And to think, all of this happened because they just didn’t know when to shut up.