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by John Helmer, Moscow 

Alexei Navalny believes he is throwing down a gauntlet for the Kremlin either to arrest him when he returns to Moscow from Berlin on Sunday, or to allow him to walk freely out of the airport. Either way, from behind bars as a political prisoner or from his Moscow film studio as an opposition candidate for regime change, Navalny and his supporters will announce they have shown strength, the President of Russia weakness. The one outcome Navalny hasn’t counted on is that Russians will be laughing at him.  

This is the strategy of Vzglyad, the Moscow online newspaper which publishes sophisticated and accurate analysis of military, intelligence and security issues unmatched by the English-language media. It is almost unnoticed in the west, except for those services who believe it reflects the thinking of key figures, past and present, in the presidential administration. Because the Russian  figures don’t think the way the western services or their media organs depict them, Vzglyad hasn’t drawn the attention of foreign reporters as do state media like RT, Sputnik,  the Strategic Culture Foundation, and the Valdai Club.  

On October 2, 2018, Vzglyad introduced an author whose pen name was reported as Nesh Van Drake (Нэш Ван Дрейк). These words are meaningless in English except that, spelled in Cyrillic, the first of the words evokes the Russian word Nash (Наш) meaning “our”. This was also the name of the black cat (lead image, 3rd from left) which lived with Sergei Skripal in his Salisbury house, until Skripal was attacked on March 4, 2018, and the cat was then put to death by the British. “To alleviate its suffering” was the reason of state announced at the time.

“Skripal’s cat” (Кот Скрипаля) is also the name on the byline for seventeen articles Vzglyad has published by this creature over the past two years.  The other names are meant to sound both Dutch and English; to some ears they may be a reminder of Rip Van Winkle. He was the Dutch-American character invented by Washington Irving in a story he published in 1819. In that tale, van Winkle drinks a mystery liquor given to him by Dutchmen, causing him to fall asleep. When he wakes up again, it is twenty years later, and the American revolution has passed. Van Winkle’s first name is the abbreviation for Rest in Peace; Irving’s tale makes fun of people who have made themselves obsolete.

In his debut, Skripal’s Cat explained that the first Novichok affair was a case of a Russian attempt at rescuing their triple agent Sergei Skripal from the clutches of MI6 who succeeded at foiling the exfiltration; failed at the poisoning itself;  and made clumsy mistakes in their cover-up. “While our doves of peace flew over the seas, over the valleys, carrying a message from Skripal,” the Cat aka Nesh van Drake wrote, “Skripal himself struggled with a pathetic semblance of Novichok in his blood. But because Russian blood is stronger than not only Goethe’s Faust, but also English chemical craftsmanship, our colonel remained alive… Now I am seriously considering plans to write a report for the GRU on how the British evolved from James Bond to Johnny English.”

When the Navalny affair started last August, Skripal’s Cat predicted it would follow a dynamic of constantly changing narrative of means, opportunity and motive.  “In general, Instagram has largely formatted the modern political landscape. The new generation of oppositionists cannot keep their attention on one topic for a long time, so events must develop dynamically, at click speed, so that the young audience doesn’t lose interest… Life — it is known to be the best creator of jokes.”

On December 14, for the amusement of Russians celebrating the approach of the New Year holidays, Skripal’s Cat produced this account of Navalny’s click-speed narrative changes. So intent on the laugh line that Navalny has discovered cold tap water to be an antidote to the best poisons the Russian services have developed, the Cat didn’t mention that Navalny’s account is a precise clinical report of diabetic shock. For more details from Navalny’s Berlin medical file, read this.

Translated from Vzglyad, December 14, 2020.

You will laugh, but Alexei Navalny finally decided what they wanted to kill him for, but did not kill him. Straight from a German resort, he released an investigation in the spirit of Daniel Kharms [Soviet absurdist writer, 1905-42 ] It turns out that he and his wife have been poisoned for two years. By Novichok, of course.  But certainly not to death.  Apparently, antibodies have been produced.

Just yesterday, the mice and I were laughing at the “analysis” of the British Sunday Times. Referring for source to the “German special services”, the newspaper reported that Navalny had been poisoned three times in Siberia; the last attempt to introduce Novichok was made in the Omsk hospital, right before the flight to Germany. And once again he got through.

The situation became embarrassing when even the chief editor of Ekho Moskvy, Alexei Venediktov, questioned the sober mind, clear conscience,  and empty hands of his Western colleagues: “It seems that the publication in the Sunday Times was placed by the Russian special services in order to discredit the very fact of the attempted poisoning of Alexei Navalny.”

To me, as the soft power of the Russian special services, this version induces a good deal of scratching behind the ear. But to give thumbs down or thumbs up, this is not our job. We were busy with the US elections; we have been working with Texas and Biden’s dog, and so the British media have managed it by themselves.

By the way, in this same context the term “British media” has long been used in the same fashion as “British scientists”. We are now waiting for the story about the failed launch of a ballistic missile on the air ambulance carrying Navalny from Omsk to Berlin.

The Western media put a clown cap on the blogger, but in Russia, historically, clowns are disliked. As a result, on Monday afternoon a counter video from Alexei was ready. How can you interrupt the absurdity? Even more absurd — are you laughing that there were three poisonings?

In the voice of a television news presenter, Navalny reports that the first poisoning attempt occurred two years ago on a plane. This should be quoted — you will like it: “An hour after takeoff, I broke out in a cold sweat, and I felt that I was very, very bad. It’s so bad I’m going to die. Because I was soaking wet, I barely made it to the toilet, where I washed my face with cold water. I sat down for 15 minutes, and everything passed” — that, to be precise,  is the whole story of the attempt. The entire history of poison poisoning has never before known such an antidote as cold water. And yet Navalny found it. However, for some reason he did not share this knowledge with his wife Yulia. Because the next victim of an “assassination” was her.

This year Navalny was taking a holiday in the village of Yantarny near Kaliningrad. After taking a walk, Yulia became ill; still, the couple decided to go to a cafe. “And she was getting worse and worse, and so rapidly that when we reached the cafe and ordered food, she realised that it was even difficult for her to sit. I asked: “Where and what is hurting you? The heart? Stomach? Shall we call an ambulance?” But Yulia herself did not understand and she could not explain. She said: “Nothing is hurting.”  The concerned husband, who had recently gone through the same thing, made up his mind not to call an ambulance. What for? It’s so bad for my wife that she can’t even sit down. But can she walk? I got up and off I went to the hotel, alone, to my room. “As I later learned, I barely reached it, although the hotel was very close. An hour later, Yulia suddenly felt better and she fell asleep. The next day, she felt great, as if nothing had happened” — Alexei Navalny shares such a tearful relationship in his family. Yes, yes, Alexei, all caring husbands do this, no doubt about it.  Dinner was already paid for. Did you eat lobster?

Either the Novichok of two years ago had passed its use-by date at the Lubyanka, or else the Navalny couple have been attacked by canned organisms (like, incidentally, the Skripals). But the question of why he is constantly being poisoned and he keeps surviving, still requires some kind of answer. And of course Navalny finds it.

It turns out that “if the dose of Novichok is too large, you will die instantly. If it is not enough, you may not feel anything at all or experience a short-term attack.”  That is, the FSB has simply been conserving its Novichok, that’s the whole answer.  Probably, they stole the surplus in order to spray currant bushes to kill pests at the general’s dacha.

If you constantly make fun of the topic of Novichok unleashed, then on every fresh attempt everyone will start laughing louder and louder. So now it turns out that Novichok is very fearsome. “This is possibly the most poisonous substance invented by mankind,” the blogger writes. The most poisonous and the safest, he forgets to add.

According to the combined calculations of the Western media and the special services, in the autumn of this year in Siberia, Navalny survived poisoning three times.  Apparently, over all these years and attempts, the FSB chemists have not been able to calculate the correct dosage.

As well as with the Skripals. Of course, this is how secret intelligence services work — we have already understood this, Alexei. Although not in England, according to Navalny, the result was still: “I remind you that the Skripals who were attacked, remained alive. However, an innocent woman died, and as many as 47 people received various strikes.” How good it is that despite so many attempts on Navalny’s life, no one around him was injured. This humanism is also a distinctive feature of our special services, we know, Alexei.

Who is poisoning the blogger so persistently and fruitlessly? In the investigation there are even photographs and a number of names of “executors”, links to purloined bills and other finds. Of course, they were dug up by fearless journalists such as the “British media”, and the Western intelligence services have absolutely nothing to do with this. Not a single leak was slipped out from there, we believe you, Alexei.

What I like most is that among the suspects is Navalny’s neighbour at 175 Lublinskaya Street. The blogger tells how these people have been following him for two years on all his Russian trips.

Here is where the thin ice starts. It has long been known that Navalny is under surveillance. But how to sell such a well-known fact under the heading “Scandals, intrigues, investigations”? Answer – announce that this is not outdoor advertising, not an opera, but poisoners! All the years they have been following the blogger around our vast country-and trying to kill him. It’s time to compare Alexei with Fidel Castro with his 638 attempts, but for some reason only an anecdote about the “Elusive Joe” [the fish] comes to mind.

Why was Navalny ordered to be killed? For his desire to take the presidency. This is not a joke, Navalny writes it just so. And did the assassination attempts somehow prevent Navalny from participating in the elections? Actually, no. The blogger was removed from registration due to his criminal record. So you didn’t have to kill him? It turns out that you can. And then, apparently, as is the case for American militants in category C, once the order for destruction has been issued, it cannot be canceled.

And I can see how a deeply secret group of saboteurs, who are cut off from all contacts with the centre,  moves around the country after the blogger, sprinkling his path with expired Novichok. The years go by. One election is followed by another. Navalny is being tried for slandering a veteran of the Great Patriotic War. And here the poisoners finally found the right dose! Well, not completely. It was only enough to evacuate Navalny to Germany. By the way, getting to the obvious question —  why did the authorities let him go to another country instead of finishing him off on the spot? Navalny answers just as cheerfully:  they thought that the Novichok would dissolve in the body in two days and no one would find traces. Yes, yes, Alexei, we have already understood — this is how secret assassins with a chemical education work.

However, what difference does it make if the blogger’s subscribers swallow the tale and start spreading it without a second thought? We in the basements of Lubyanka, spying on Alexei, are also trained hamsters. They carry paper clips from office to office. Stupid, of course, but fast.

In the story about the terrible poisons, the unfortunate Yulia,  and the demonic Kremlin, there is one completely false note. It is addressed not to the Russian, but to the Western consumer, and it spoils the whole picture. Who in Russia would seriously believe that the opposition leader has been poisoned with one single poison for two years in a row and cannot be poisoned? Although, of course, I cannot drive this away under the influence of valerian.

This is the tale of a turnip, and not the investigation of an assassination. In Russia, people will believe in surveillance, in harassment, in rigged criminal prosecutions, in threats to loved ones. But not in the life-giving Novichok from which no Skripal has yet died, except for their cat, and then in his case,  only for preventative purposes.

The reason for this fixation on Novichok is that the West sees Russia in a simplistic way. Thank you at least for omitting the bears with their balalaikas.

But it is impossible to abandon the stereotypical imperial poison: without that the public cannot be sold the story of demonic Russia. It used to be nuclear weapons, now it’s chemical weapons. In information wars, only simple images work, like Colin Powell’s test tube and Navalny’s underpants.

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