Death by natural causes

One of the most serious charges against the ‘Putin regime’ in Russia is that it routinely murders its political opponents. In the cases of Aleksandr Litvinenko and the attempted killing of Sergei Skripal, there is some good reason to believe that the Russian intelligence services were involved. Beyond those two examples, however, hard evidence of Russian state involvement in the extrajudicial killings of journalists, opposition figures, and others is almost entirely lacking. As I pointed out in my review of Amy Knight’s book Orders to Kill, the thesis that Putin is bumping off his enemies left, right and centre relies ‘for the most part on pure speculation and argument by means of insinuation, devoid of any actual evidence.’ This, however, has not stopped such speculation from spreading so far and wide that it has become accepted almost as fact.

Take, for instance, the case of Alexander Perepilichny, a Russian financier who participated in the infamous money laundering scheme which led to the death in prison of Bill Browder’s accountant Sergei Magnitsky. Fearing prosecution for his crimes, Perepilichny fled to the UK, where he turned whistleblower, revealing information about illegal flows of Russian money into Swiss banks. In 2012, Perepilichny died while out jogging. One might imagine that a low-level crook like Perepilichny would be well below the radar of the Russian president, but that did not stop widespread speculation that the fugitive money launderer had been assassinated on Putin’s orders. And before long a whole stream of articles appeared in the press claiming just that.

For instance, Buzzfeed, as part of a whole series of stories about alleged victims of Russian state murder squads, reported that it had ‘uncovered explosive evidence of a suspected Kremlin assassination plot.’  Perepelichny, it said, was ‘likely assassinated on the direct orders of Vladimir Putin.’   It quoted information allegedly provided to the British government by American spies, as well as Chris Phillips, the former head of Britain’s Counter Terrorism Security Office, who told Buzzfeed that, ‘It’s so obvious that it’s an assassination. There’s no way it wasn’t a hit.’

Others were a little less forthright, refusing to say point blank that Putin did it, but nonetheless speculating on the matter in such a way as to suggest very strongly that this was the case. The Atlantic magazine, which one might well consider a far more established and respectable outlet that Buzzfeed, published a long investigation into the Perepelichny story which relied heavily on the evidence of Bill Browder. According to The Atlantic, ‘Browder had no doubt that Perepilichny was murdered.’ It concluded, ‘In Perepilichny’s case, a number of factors might make it impossible to prove he was murdered,’ but the Russian secret service ‘have a near-perfect record of killing without leaving conclusive evidence, only a trail of suspicion. Whether or not Alexander Perepilichny is part of that record, only they know.’ Leaving it hanging in the air in this way, the magazine thus managed to avoid a conclusion while insinuating one very strongly.

In the same way, Foreign Policy magazine included the Perepilichny case in an article entitled ‘A Brief History of Attempted Russian Assassinations by Poison’. And the Washington Post mentioned it also in an article entitled ‘The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being murdered abroad.’ Perepilichny was not, of course, a ‘dissident’, but by now, the idea that this was murder was so well established that inconvenient little details no longer mattered.

Today, a British inquest into Perepilichny’s death concluded its work. This morning, as the inquest wound up, headlines continued to treat the case as murder. For instance, just two hours before the coroner issued his verdict, The Independent newspaper ran the headline, ‘Alexander Pereplichny inquest: Who was the Russian millionaire allegedly murdered by Kremlin officials.’ The Independent then went on to report that, ‘Unconfirmed reports claim MI6 received intelligence indicating Perepilichny was “assassinated on direct orders from Putin or people close to him”.’ Around the same time, in an article which has since disappeared from the internet, the Daily Mirror cited the words of the coroner to frame the Russians’ death as ‘murder’, leaving little doubt that this was in fact the case.

And then – shock, horror!  – the inquest verdict came in. As the Mirror had to report, in contradiction to its previous article (which, it seems, was quickly withdrawn in shame), ‘Russian whistleblower who mysteriously collapsed while jogging “died of natural causes”,’ That’s right. The inquest has concluded that Perepilichny was not murdered after all. Rather the coroner, Justice Nicholas Hilliard QC, remarked that,

I am satisfied on the evidence I have heard I can properly and safely conclude that it was more likely than not that he [Perepilichny] died of natural causes, namely sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. There really is no evidence that he was unlawfully killed.

Well this is embarrassing. We’ve heard a lot in the past couple of years about Russia ‘disinformation’, ‘fake news’, and the like. And for sure, if you get all your news from Russian sources, you’re going to end up with a very lopsided view of the world. But as this story shows, there’s no shortage of nonsense in Western media too. The difference is that whereas there’s a huge army of well-funded institutions and individuals now devoted to uncovering and countering ‘Russian disinformation’, there seems to be little or no accountability for the false stories produced by Western sources. Will Amy Knight, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, and all the others now apologise for spreading a false story? Will the Integrity Initiative or any of the other projects set up to counter ‘disinformation’ call them out for it? Don’t count on it. More likely they’ll just suggest that Justice Hilliard got it wrong. And then they’ll wonder why people choose to trust internet trolls instead.

11 thoughts on “Death by natural causes”

  1. “And for sure, if you get all your news from Russian sources, you’re going to end up with a very lopsided view of the world. “

    Full stop here. Are you saying, Mr. Robinson, that all Russian sources are some kind of hivemind peddling all same narratives and having the same spin? That a person, getting news from Ekho Moskvy, Vesti FM, DO///D’ TV, Rossiay 1, Meduza and AntiMaydan won’t get a… “diverse” view of the world?

    I think that your tendency to sound “imparial”, and go for miles with “both sides do this” gets better worse of you.

    “Will Amy Knight, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, and all the others now apologise for spreading a false story?”

    NO, for the same reason the United West will never publicly admit being wrong about anything, e.g. the Ukraine. What, you want Putin to win?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you rely only on news sources from any one country only you will get a lopsided view of the world. All nations and cultures have ingrained biases and distortions. The key to trying to overcome this effect is to look at sources from outside your culture, looking beyond the echo chamber. Many people find this hard as they do not like having their core assumptions challenged

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A) Which country’s Media is best at covering Russia’s internal politics and situation?

        B) Are you aware that modern Media (at least here) are actively quoting their foreign counterparts, as well as providing extensive translations of said articles?

        I.E., in the modern age the line between “domestic” reporting on the international affairs is blurred. Maybe situation is different from where you are coming from.

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  2. “In the cases of Aleksandr Litvinenko and the attempted killing of Sergei Skripal, there is some good reason to believe that the Russian intelligence services were involved”.

    Really? In both cases there’s no motive, and the supposed clues (polonium, ‘novichok’) are so incredibly conspicuous that either Russian intelligence services were deliberately trying to get blamed, or those operations were plain setups.

    So, I’d say, depending on your intuition, it’s either ‘obvious reason’, or ‘no reason whatsoever’, but ‘some good reason‘ doesn’t seem to fit…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed Mao Cheng, in some cases Paul succumbs to a strange case of irrational UK nostalgia. In the case of Litvinenko, the inquest carefully avoided the most obvious possible culprits – organized crime, which could still include those two suspects – and in the case of Skripal, it became such a complete chaos and leap into the surreal, that it takes a concerted effort not to burst out laughing at HMG accusations (which is, to their initial credit, what the French said after May’s ludicrous accusations). Certainly Hercule Poirot would have refused to touch the Skripal case – it is an insult to intelligence.
      Surely the combination of the Steele case, Skripal, Russia influencing Brexit, Catalonia, the yellow vests, and the seriously non-sarcastic article in the BBC about Putin ‘weaponizing humour’ should move Paul to take a closer look at the Integrity Initiative and remove the last of the British isle’s irrational tendencies/tentacles from his grey cells.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha, ha, ha!!! One major point of dispute – that The Mirror withdrew its previous article because it was motivated by shame. This is so unlikely as to be statistically insignificant; it is far more likely to have been a tactical retreat (which it will, naturally, be allowed to get away with) to a position from which to mount further attacks.

    I must also agree with Lyttenburgh that the Russian press does not spread hysteria among the readership, or stick with a lie long after considerable evidence plus common sense (as in, why would otherwise reasonably-intelligent people do such a stupid thing?) suggest it is a lie, to anything like the degree the western press does. If you do actually get all your news from the Russian press – and there can’t be too many who do save the older generation of Russians, and those who speak no English among them – you likely would get a much more nationalistic view of the world. You might even develop the opinion that all the west hates you, when that is by no means the case, although not for lack of trying on the part of political strategists and the corporate-controlled media. But I submit you would not see the flat-out demonization you do in the western press, which is even now tuning up on China in much the same manner.

    Always ready to have my mind changed by credible evidence, though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “or stick with a lie long after considerable evidence plus common sense (as in, why would otherwise reasonably-intelligent people do such a stupid thing?)”

      Because, Mark, in our Totalitarian Mordor ™ there ain’t no 1st Amendment Cult.

      “You might even develop the opinion that all the west hates you, when that is by no means the case, although not for lack of trying on the part of political strategists and the corporate-controlled media. “

      You are missing my point, Mark. Ekho Moskvy, RPK, Business FM, KommersantЪ, Fontanka, Lenta.Ru etc, etc, are all Russian press writing in (mostly plain) Russian. Neither of them is “nationalistic” – quite the contrary. Your typical dye in the wool member of the provincial dem-shiza without any proper knowledge of the foreign languages (which is, OBVSIOUSLY, a Bloody Regime’s fault! ™) might very well listen to nothing but Echo of Moscow, and mentally handshake all fine chaps and gals there (even the living dead Babchenko has his own blog on their website), who tirelessly voince not just pro-Western, but Western POV in their daily broadcasts, about How Everything Is Terrible in This Country.

      Please, please – show me any such Pleiad, i.e. a bloody constellation of propacondoms and professional crap eaters in the Media, working ceaselessly in the Blessed West!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “In the cases of Aleksandr Litvinenko and the attempted killing of Sergei Skripal, there is some good reason to believe that the Russian intelligence services were involved. Beyond those two examples, however, hard evidence of Russian state involvement…”

    You hardly need me to point out that “some good reason to believe” falls short of “hard evidence” – which in any case can be fabricated and manipulated. In case you have a chance to look at it, this longish article examines the implications of the Integrity Initiative for our understanding of the events in Salisbury: https://only9sixty.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-gaslighting-initiative.html

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  5. Career conman Bill Browder worked for one colossal crook, Robert Maxwell, was then mentored by another, Edmond Safra, and he’s pursued a decades-long course of corruption – money-laundering, transfer-pricing schemes, illegal share purchases, tax-evasion, fraud and more.

    Contents of the US SDNY court docket readily accessible @ https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/New_York_Southern_District_Court/1–13-cv-06326/United_States_of_America_v._Prevezon_Holdings_Ltd._et_al/
    establish that American-turned-British conman Browder barely knew the Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky (who died, tragically, in jail after his arrest for participating in the crimes of Browder et al). Magnitsky’s a functionary about whom Browder cared little during his lifetime.

    The myth is that Browder found a whistle-blowing lawyer, Magnitsky, in 2007. The thoroughly-documented reality is that Magnitsky’s an accountant/auditor working on criminal schemes with Hermitage Capital for a decade by that time – through the latter’s employment with a dodgy legal/accounting outfit then-called Firestone Duncan.

    Browder’s first examination under-oath – essential reading and viewing – happened April 15, 2015: https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/New_York_Southern_District_Court/1–13-cv-06326/United_States_of_America_v._Prevezon_Holdings_Ltd._et_al/281/1/ His second session under-oath was March 16, 2017.

    The bow on the package is the deposition transcript of Special Agent Todd S. Hyman of the Department of Homeland Security – the US government’s lead investigator in the case. Hyman’s testimony reveals how the scam works – with press and others failing to due independent due diligence, and, instead, repeating false claims of the Hermitage “team”: https://www.docketalarm.com/cases/New_York_Southern_District_Court/1–13-cv-06326/United_States_of_America_v._Prevezon_Holdings_Ltd._et_al/81/1/ (Video links are available as well – for, both, Browder and Hyman’s testimony.)

    Recently the truth has broken out in Denmark – in newspapers+ eg. see this week’s Finans Forbundet @ https://www.finansforbundet.dk/da/nyheder-aktuelt/Sider/Danskebankofferforkampagne.aspx and feature article in Magasinet Finans @ https://issuu.com/magasinetfinans/docs/finans_0519 and a new best-selling book “Troldmanden” – the title of which translates into English as “The Wizard: the story of Danske Bank, money-laundering and the man who deceived the world.” Browder, “the man who deceived the world”, is behind what the Danes recognize as “the press scandal of the decade”.

    And it’s just as major a scandal here in North America, and o’er the world. International relations are being damaged by the transparent, but covered-up, propaganda campaign of Browder and others incl. Jonathan Winer, Guenter Schrirmer, Ben Cardin, Kyle Parker, Jim McGovern, criminal oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the late John McCain and more enabling, and/or propagating and furthering this harmful hoax.

    Like

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