MI6/Navalny ‘Collusion’ Video

After RT published a video released by the Russian Federal Security Service showing the head of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation meeting with an alleged MI6 agent, I rushed out a quick blog post. After a minute or two, I then deleted it, as I believed that the issue needed deeper reflection. I have now rewritten the piece, and it has been published by RT here.

To make life easier for you all, I have copied the text into this blog post below. I’ve also added in the RT report with the FSB video (I embedded the Russian version as the English one, for some reason, doesn’t include the excerpt I cite below, but if you don’t speak Russian, don’t worry – in the key bits of the video they are speaking in English. Just fast forward to the segments in black and white). Here it is:

MI6 Collusion Video

In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she suggested that she had compromising material about Hillary Clinton, who at the time was challenging Trump Jr.’s father for the US presidency.

When news of the meeting emerged, the outrage was enormous. It “borders on treason,” claimed former White House ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter. It was “treason and espionage,” said former CIA officer and FBI special agent Tracy Walder. It was “potentially treason,” declared Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).

What goes around comes around. While the news this week has been full of stories about demonstrators in Russia demanding the release of opposition activist Navalny, RT has also published excerpts of a film released by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) showing a 2012 meeting between Vladimir Ashurkov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, and a British diplomat, James Ford. The FSB claims Ford is an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), an assertion that can’t be verified.

In this meeting, Ashurkov mentioned that Navalny’s campaign needed some $10-$20 million. He didn’t directly ask for the money but was rather more direct with another request, namely that the British provide him with compromising materials that he could use against prominent Russians.

Ashurkov said to Ford: “In some cases we don’t have, maybe, you know the direct evidence, our evidence is circumstantial, but I’m sure that SFO [Serious Fraud Office in the UK] has access to a lot of information that would not be available to us right from British sources, and if, you know, I’m sure there is information within the British agencies that would link [businessmen] [Roman] Abramovich or [Alisher] Usmanov, people in the Russian government.”

Trump Jr., it must be said, never directly asked the Russian government for compromising information. Nor has it ever been shown that the person he met with was working for the Russian state, let alone that Trump had reason to believe that she was. None of this applies in Ashurkov’s case. It is obvious that he directly asked a known representative of a foreign government for dirt on members of the Russian government. If Trump had done this, the headlines would have shouted ‘COLLUSION’ in capital letters.

Why, then, has the video only just come out now, over eight years after the event? The answer is clear. The Kremlin is trying hard to discredit Navalny by portraying him as a tool of foreign powers. This clip plays into that narrative.

In that regard, it must be said that it’s not totally convincing. The video shows one meeting many years ago. It hardly establishes a continuous chain of interaction between Navalny and foreign states. Moreover, Mr. Ford refused to help Ashurkov, telling him to apply instead to the organization Transparency International.

This could be said to rather undermine the case that Navalny and his associates are working for foreign powers. It seems that the British weren’t that interested, at least at that time. One might conclude that if this is the best that the FSB has got, its case against Navalny must be fairly weak.

That said, it doesn’t look good, and in the struggle for the public’s hearts and minds perceptions are more important than the finer details. Even if unsuccessful, Ashurkov was quite clearly attempting to collude with a foreign power. The fact that it was more than eight years ago rather weakens its relevance for today, but it won’t eliminate the perception that Navalny and his team are willing to sell themselves to foreigners, if only the foreigners would have them.

After all, imagine if the roles were reversed, and a video emerged of a British politician asking a Russian diplomat for dirt on the British government. It wouldn’t really matter if it was from today or a decade ago, the criticism would be fierce. There’s no reason why it should be any different in Russia.

In fact, the video could well resonate quite strongly because it fits into an existing narrative. Ashkurov’s Anti-Corruption Foundation has already harmed its own image by appearing to ally itself with Western powers against Russia. A few days ago, for instance, it sent a letter to US President Joe Biden requesting that the United States enact sanctions against a list of prominent Russian citizens.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, responded that the letter “smacks of treason.” Lots of Americans thought that way about Trump Jr., so we shouldn’t be surprised if many Russians think the same about Navalny after this.

Two narratives are currently competing for attention. The first is that Navalny is the innocent victim of a brutal murder attempt by the Russian government. The second is that Navalny is an agent of foreign powers (The two aren’t necessarily incompatible). For some good reasons, the first narrative has won the day in the West. But ultimately, what matters is which wins the day among the Russian people. And in that regard, narrative number two seems to be doing better. This most recent revelation will probably make it do even better still.

27 thoughts on “MI6/Navalny ‘Collusion’ Video”

  1. Re: “Two narratives are currently competing for attention. The first is that Navalny is the innocent victim of a brutal murder attempt by the Russian government. The second is that Navalny is an agent of foreign powers (The two aren’t necessarily incompatible).”

    *****

    Never mind another possibility having to do with Navalny poisoned by someone or others independent of the Russian government.

    As picked up by US based NPR, yesterday’s BBC feed included a wacky Russian “dissident” (didn’t get her name) likening Putin to Hitler and seeking Western sanctions of Russia. On this particular, Kara-Murza is more adept stressing to sanction certain Russian officials as opposed to Russia collectively.

    That was followed by a segment with Sergey Markov who (no disrespect intended) doesn’t communicate so effectively to an English language audience when compared to other options. Of course, the BBC interviewer was jumpy with him.

    Bottom line is that Western mass media has been very selective in what it chooses to let out about Navalny.

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      1. You have posted a video

        Who are these people?

        What is so relevant about them and what they have to say ?

        Thank youb

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  2. Thank you for the blog post professor, in particular I appreciated the balance on how the Russian government is showing it’s desperation but equally this does show that Navalny has been either getting or soliciting foreign interference in Russian domestic politics.

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  3. This is making me angry at this point. Zelensky has just shut down broadcasting of three opposition channels and is trying to chase them off youtube. The US applaudes. How can these people lecture anyone on democracy with a straight face? As for Navalny, he had the perfect chance of staying abroad, he should have taken it. Regarding who Navalny may have been working for besides/instead of Western powers, it’s interesting to read his sanctions list from the p.o.v. of who is not on it.

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  4. Here an analysis by Helmer that indicates – apart from where the whole “Palace” story was filmed is still in cahoots with western interests.

    “Linguistic analysis of Navalny’s video on the Gelendzhik palace indicates the English subtitles were written first, and then translated for Navalny to speak in Russian. The English is American, not British; and certainly not the English of the German and American operatives who provided the video production technology, editing, and special effects at the Black Forest Studios in Kirchzarten, Germany. According to a German press report from Kirchzarten, “the studio bosses remember that at the beginning of December, a request by email came from a production company in Los Angeles. There was talk of a documentary…In terms of content, the Black Forest Studios have nothing to do with the film, the studio owners emphasize. They only provided the technology and the location and organized the shooting.”

    http://johnhelmer.net/oligarchy-in-russia-alexei-navalnys-telling-mistake/

    That is not necessarily a bad thing as during he old Soviet days a lot of dissidents and freedom fighters from South America to Asia relied on the USSR’s help against the USA supported dictators from Chile’ Pinochet to the death squads in Nicaragua and Asian dictators like Suharto and Syngman Rhee.
    In this case however we have an elected President of a country with a democratically elected Parliament (how well it functions? ask the citizens of the UK, Spain, France, Poland etc. etc. and the USA how well their “democracies function) where the “opposition” relies on foreign help to instigate regime change.
    Considering the history of USA instigated regime change from Ukraine to Syria to Libya, Iraq etc. just to mention the most recent ones I think that the RF justice department has every right to view him as a foreign agent.

    How democratically inclined is Mr. Navalny exactly? his history as a rabid nationalist and having difficulties with “non white” Russians doesn’t bode well.

    Aside from that – the hypocrisy of the NATO shills complaining about the likely foreign security agency asset Navalny is astounding and absolutely mind blowing considering their behaviour towards Assange, who was incarcerated for 50 weeks (and still is in jail) for defaulting on bail, with no charges at all as they were withdrawn by the Swedish justice department based on falsified evidence.
    Or when considering the charges against the demonstrators on his behalf…Mr. Macron, do you not forget something?

    Why don’t those combines arseholes just not shut the fuck up, they have nothing to teach Russia at all.

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    1. Correction:
      that indicates – apart from where the whole “Palace” story was filmed – Navalny is still in cahoots with western interests.

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    2. I just had time to read Helmer’s piece, thanks for posting it. Helmer is brilliant, as always. I love this paragraph:
      “Russians have had several hundred years to recognise a false Dmitry when they see one. There were four in the 17th century, financed and armed by Warsaw; one in the 1990s, sponsored by Washington; Navalny is False Dmitry VI of the Black Forest.”

      Helmer makes a solid case that Navalny’s “expose movie” was filmed at Black Forest Studios in Germany, and that Navalny was reading from a script prepared by his handlers. I wish, though, that Helmer could have provided specific examples of Navalny’s “clumsy Russian” which “Linguistics Analysis” prove was translated backwards from American English.

      As someone trained in Academic Scientific Linguistics myself (like, with a college degree, even though I never pursued it to a career), I tend to be skeptical of the claims of “Forensic Linguistics Analysis”. I wonder if it isn’t just a pseudo-science. I know that police departments around the world, including the FSB, swear by these “experts” and have them on staff. Their job is to analyze voice recordings and try to deduce whatever forensic evidence they can from the words, the pauses, the tone, etc. Again, more than likely not an exact science.

      One case in point: There are so many Americanisms in Russian speech and media today, that it hard to know if this is an American trying to speak Russian; or a Russian trying to speak American. One tiny example: If a person has lost weight, Russians use to say, po-khudel (literally: “got worse”). Now many say (and I have even seen it written this way in mainstream journalism articles) poteryal ves which is a direct calque from English “lost weight”.

      With this kind of mangling of the Russian literary language, who can even know any more what is direct speech, and what is awkward translation?
      Again, if anybody has specific examples from the Navalny film, then we can all analyze together…

      Aside from that one quibble, I think Helmer is exactly on target.

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      1. The now memetic “Склад грязи” figureing in that video is just a lame-ass prompt translation of the “mud-room”.

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      2. Agree, he unfortunately is a bit vague there. Based prominently on an experience with a US 18th century text in German, by a Rabbi, a trained lawyer, I wondered to what extent a degree of legalese sounds ‘bureaucratic’ and “non-colloquial” even beyond the 18th century? … He is a lawyer too, after all.

        Ok, linguistically one could check or compare earlier Navalny Production, assuming he is always the speaker or narrator.

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      3. Helmer alluded to a clumsy translation into Russian of ‘mudroom’, a small ante-room where muddy or snowy boots are left before entering the home, although Helmer incorrectly notes it as an archaic term. It’s still very much in use today.

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  5. Although the video is indeed old, I don’t think it’s fair to leave out certain pieces of context before judjing that the solicitation of support was unsuccessful. Ashurkov’s name was later found on the “Integrity Initiative” member list (although he personally denied membership). He also got asylum in no other country than UK, the very same UK he met a diplomat of in this video. Evidently, even if he failed that time, he did get what he asked for in the end.

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    1. I think Navalny is someone who simply does not care where the money comes from or who he needs to cooperate with to achieve his objectives (it seems likely that he had both external and internal backers). He has been compared to Lenin, but at least Bolsheviks had an actual political program. What’s Navalny’s except himself in power?
      Exposing corruption to people who have been living in a land of rainbows and unicorns does not a political platform make.

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    2. Any connection to ‘Integrity Initiative’, a likely MI6 cutout if you look at its origins, membership and behavior, should be enough to taint him beyond salvation. One of the few exportable assets the UK has left is its propensity for ‘meddling’ in foreign countries.

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  6. When I follow the Navalny histrionics, and actually all of the accusations against Russia of the last 6-7 years, I can’t rid myself of the impression that CIA and especially MI6 think we – the masses – are increasingly getting more stupid. There really is no more intellectual pride in the spy or propaganda profession, no attempt to make a story somehow make sense or iron out the blatant contradictions. We saw this demonstrated in the story of the bumbling idiots (and I mean MI6) around the Skripals, and again in the underpants story of Navalny. Anyone who drilled down into what “Novichok” was supposed to be – a word conjured up in a UK detective movie just a few days before the Skripal story broke – knows that just the (serious) mention of it by Germans or British or Americans should make you chuckle. Sure, then the CIA and MI6 throw in their relatively new paid lackey Bellingcat, who primarily photo- and videoshop, but add in a bit of consultant-paid Ukrainian spyster for some archival digging into whoever in Russia could be accused. The Bellingcat stuff at least tries to be a bit ‘together’, and is entertaining, as long as you don’t dig deeper.
    Honestly, to have an academic such as yourself evaluate these types of stories and their repercussions is like asking Einstein to doublecheck the cash register receipt at the local dumpster.
    I agree with Vladimir Pozner’s stand, however, where he says that after all these crap clown stories, he’s bothered by the blunt overreaction of the Russian judicial system. Let’s not allow Navalny to rise to the level of Sacharov or Solzhenytsyn, please – he’s not worthy to tie their shoes, let alone those of Assange and Snowden.

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    1. The masses in the West are getting more stupid, by the day. Russians and Chinese not so much. Western education is now so dumbed down it is about producing dancing monkies that will sit in front of a computer for 10hrs per day for a low wage, not about enabling critical thinking, plus the US and UK are probably the two most propagandised states in the world. Russian media is much more diverse and everyday Russians generally in my experience are far more politically sophisticated. If you watch something like Question Time in the UK and then compare it to Russian political programmes that often go on for hours featuring multiple guests and subjects there is no comparison. British middle classes are pretty much ‘Netflix alcoholics’ these days and the working classes stupefied and fragmented.

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      1. “plus the US and UK are probably the two most propagandised states in the world”

        Yup…and the quality of their propaganda is atrocious. Watching/Reading the BBC, CNN, NYT, Guardian etc. their biases and allegiances are so obvious, yet many many people still believe that stuff is The Truth.

        The once biased-but-decent BBC has gone into full propaganda mode in the last two decades and the Guardian pretty much became MI5/6’s mouthpiece after its reporting on the Snowden affair got it into trouble with the UK’s deep state. American MSM outlets have always been pretty blatantly propagandistic.

        What’s more disturbing than the propaganda itself is the fact that so many supposedly educated and “smart” people eat it up unquestioningly.

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  7. I don’t know why people are acting like Navalny’s imprisonment is completely out of left field. All that occured so far is that he’ll have to serve the rest of his sentence. This happens to people who break their probation conditions every day. He had ample warning it would happen. It is more surprising that Navalny wasn’t behind bars already with his record. Anyone else would have been after two convictions. An exception was made for him personally for some fascinating reason. He clearly had some sort of deal going on to keep him free. And presumably it is now considered broken. The interesting issue now is whether the state will bring new charges against him. The approach so far has been early release followed by leaving the country (Khodorkovsky, Pussy Riot), but I am not sure they’d trust Navalny to adhere to this.

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    1. Bingo, olivegreen! You hit the nail on the head. Navalny has been getting away with these shenanigans for years and even going on 2 decades now. It was obvious he was protected by some serious krysha.

      The only thing that changed: the krysha is gone. (Which is the real story here.) Maybe N just went too far this time, or maybe something happened. That’s why the government is finally dredging up this kompromat which they have been holding all this time.

      As for Ashurkov, he also has been engaging in corrupt and criminal shenanigans for quite some time now. As far back as KirovLes and perhaps even farther. Always Navalny’s loyal partner and unindicted co-conspirator. Those two adorable mopheads have made a ton of money together and live like kings. In Russia, white-collar crime definitely pays!

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  8. Start 3 arms treaty was extended officially today – America and Russia exchanged official documents.

    I mention this because – compared to these major issues dealt with by the Russian state, Navalny is just an annoying fly.

    18 foreign diplomats turned up to his court case – showing that he is there guy!

    What I found interesting is that the diplomats asked for interpreters !!!

    How do they expect to understand Russia when they don’t even speak the language.

    I’ve answered my own question they don’t want to learn about Russia they already made up their mind.

    Navalny deserved to be in prison a long time ago because he is a traitor.

    I hope more charges are brought against him and his sentence increased.

    I expect a lot more to be revealed about the whole enterprise run by Navalny.

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  9. Some rather nasty efforts were deployed to punish & delegitimize Katya Kazbek on social media following her Jan 19 2021 critical comments (thread https://twitter.com/kazbek/status/1351562196829040640?s=20) re: Navalny. Yasha Levine pointed out that some of the ‘punishers’ were associated with Bellingcat. https://twitter.com/yashalevine/status/1357014542161612801?s=20
    This suggests Bellingcat’s marching orders include defending Navalny’s image (& related positive narratives) in the media from dissenting comments and commenters. Such marching orders are consistent with the hypothesis that UK (along w US/NATO) intelligence have a proprietary interest in Navalny’s political reputation and career.

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    1. “Defending Navalny’s image and reputation…” I could not conceive of a more thankless job, given the guy’s track record.
      Why not just dust off an old mangy yellow dog and place him on the Russian throne?

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    1. Sure, admirable certainly….but when the ‘squealer’ has been shown to exaggerate, even fabricate evidence, then by rights, throwing it out of court is what western courts would and should do, so why condemn Russia for the same? The hypocrisy has reached astronomical levels when it comes to East-West relations. It’ll lead to nowhere good.

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