Imagine a highly militaristic regime which has repeatedly invaded other countries and committed war crimes there, including the deliberate murder of civilians. Imagine that this regime creates a system of electronic surveillance to control its population and demands that its secrecy laws extend to other states. Imagine that it does everything to keep its crimes and its surveillance under wraps but that a brave publisher in another country gains access to its secrets and puts them on line.
Imagine then that the regime reacts with fury and, by means of politically motivated sham judicial procedures, ensures that the dissident remains incarcerated for a decade in the territory of one of its allies. It demands that he be transferred to its own prisons where he can be put away for life. Imagine that the fate of this publisher becomes well-publicised and that he is visited in prison by a UN official, who issues a formal report saying that his treatment amounts to torture. Imagine that others, including judges, concur and say that his physical and mental health in prison is so weak that he might die at any moment. Imagine that one of the prosecution witnesses against him turns out to have lied.
You would imagine, in such a scenario, that the fate of that publisher would be sensationally publicised and that the regime pursuing him would be reviled as a brutal dictatorship. This is certainly what is currently happening with Alexei Navalny, the Russian blogger who regularly accuses the Kremlin of corruption and who is now in prison for having violated his parole following an earlier conviction on corruption charges (which are widely alleged to be politically motivated but which in fact originate from the French cosmetics company, Yves Rocher
). Navalny’s story is endlessly peddled in the Western press (he has been famous for over a decade now) as that of a brave lone campaigner standing up to a brutal and kleptocratic Kremlin which needs to imprison dissidents in order to cling on to power.
The meta-narrative is that the Russian regime stays in power only through repression of dissent. The trumpets of an online anti-corruption campaigner would be enough to bring its walls of Jericho tumbling down and expose its lies. Western governments have lined up to threaten and sanction Russia over the allegedly poor health of their favourite oppositionist, who is repeatedly referred to as ‘the opposition leader’ even though there are plenty of other opposition politicians in Russia and Navalny is not the leader of anything. He rarely stands for election and for good reason: when he tried to become Mayor of Moscow in 2013, the line was that the authorities were afraid of his candidacy. In fact, he garnered just six hundred thousand votes in a liberal city with seven million registered voters.
But the scenario you have been asked to imagine is unfortunately not imaginary. It is what has happened to Julian Assange, who has been under various forms of house arrest and in a high security prison in Britain for over ten years. The US application to extradite him on espionage charges was rejected in January but he remains incarcerated while the Americans appeal. In spite of the revelation in June that one of the US Department of Justice witnesses, who claimed that Assange had hacked computers to obtain information, had in fact fabricated these accusations
, and that the case against him therefore was baseless, Assange remains in prison.
Assange’s Wikileaks exposed many things including some of the worst aspects of the Iraq war. The most notorious is the video
of US soldiers laughing as they machine-gun to death pedestrians, including children, in a Baghdad street, from the safety of a helicopter. Yet the media treatment of Assange is essentially to ignore his fate, in stark contrast to that of Navalny who is reported on every month or so. These double standards are very difficult to stomach because the same Western powers, like the US, Britain or Sweden, which have persecuted Assange, impose sanctions on Russia for the persecution of Navalny.
But the hypocrisy is even greater because Assange is only a publisher whereas Navalny is a political activist: Assange’s activity is the very paradigm of what publishers and journalists are supposed to do in a free society such as that which the West claims to be. Assange’s goal is to put a stop to war crimes, it is not to plunge a country into the chaos of revolution.
By contrast, Navalny is unquestionably being used by the Western powers to de-stabilise their major geopolitical rival, as they believe he will because they believe their own propaganda about the essential fragility of what they contemptuously call the Putin regime. Navalny’s only political programme, like that of all the Soros cut-outs he resembles, is to denounce the existing Russian government as corrupt with the goal of sweeping it away. He does not have anything else – no party structure, no political programme, no support base - to put in its place. He is Lenin being sent to the Finland station by the German imperial staff to push Russia out of the war - but without Lenin’s Communist Party or even that man’s diabolical organisational skills.
Navalny’s role as a US agent is not reasonably in doubt, thanks in part to Assange’s Wikileaks which published a 2006 US diplomatic
confirming that one of Navalny’s chief political allies, whose party he joined, was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. His associates have been filmed making plans for regime change with Western secret service agents in Moscow
and Navalny himself with agents from the US embassy
. But the most spectacular illustration of the way Navalny is an American pawn is the high-farce nonsense of his so-called poisoning by Novichok on a plane from Siberia to Moscow last summer. His plane having made an emergency landing so that he could be treated, he was initially hospitalised in Omsk before, on his wife’s demand, being transferred to Germany where the Berlin government, and other Western powers, immediately accused the Russian authorities of trying to kill him.
Nothing is credible about this. Leaving aside the fact that Russia has no motive for killing Navalny - he poses no political threat, while an assassination would be immensely counter-productive - and that the Russian airline pilot and the Russian doctors in the Siberian hospital did everything to treat him when he fell ill, there is one overwhelming reason why it is impossible to believe that Navalny was poisoned with novichok on the orders of the Russian state. It is that we were told that the same thing was tried against Sergei and Julia Skripal in the English town of Salisbury in 2018.
The Skripal narrative goes like this: two Russian GRU agents travelled to the Salisbury to kill a former colleague who had turned traitor and started to work for the British secret services. Skripal had been arrested when his treachery was discovered in 2004 and had been sentenced to prison in Russia, only to be later released and allowed to emigrate to Britain. Not only did the attempt fail - the Skripals did not die - but the plot was exposed and publicised around the world and, with it, the existence of an illegal and secret Russian chemical weapons manufacture. Under such circumstances, it is absolutely impossible that the same allegedly bungling Russian secret services would try the same thing again, this time not against an obscure spy but instead against the most famous Russian opposition politician in the West.
Yet the fact that the Navalny story is believed and is instrumentalised, principally to justify American extra-territorial sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which is nearing completion and which will deliver Russian gas to Germany and the rest of Europe (this is why Navalny’s wife insisted he be sent to Germany, rather than to any other Western European country), demonstrates, together with the absence of a similar critical narrative about Julian Assange, that the Western media control the narrative about Russia, and that Western public opinion is largely lobotomised as a result. The cumulative effect of endlessly repeated fake news is to create a paradigm (that Putin stays in power only by force and intimidation and that the West is, by contrast, liberal and tolerant), in Thomas Kuhn’s sense of the term as a disciplinary matrix
, which, like a filter, forces all new information to be interpreted in conformity with it.
This paradigm is then itself deployed domestically to reinforce itself and thereby to fulfil its primary function. If you are a conservative who does not share the West’s official hatred of Putin, you are a Russian agent, a fifth columnist and traitor in the service of a foreign enemy. The same goes if you support Trump, Brexit or that notorious Kremlin agent, Thierry Baudet, all of which are notoriously the result of Russian meddling. In fact, dear reader, by getting to the end of this article, you are yourself now a part of a vast conspiracy. Luckily the state is at hand, together with big tech, to prevent your ideas spreading … like a virus, against which, as we know, it is essential to sacrifice both normal human life and its most basic freedoms.