dinsdag 14 maart 2023

“NAVALNY,” DOCUMENTARY IS DISINFORMATION

 

LUCY KOMISAR: “NAVALNY,” DOCUMENTARY NOMINATED FOR MARCH 12TH OSCAR, IS DISINFORMATION

Alexey Navalny

As many of you have probably heard by now, this documentary actually won the Oscar last night. – Natylie

By Lucy Komisar, The Komisar Scoop, 2/22/23

Lucy Komisar’s beat is the secret underbelly of the global financial system — offshore bank and corporate secrecy — and its links to corporate crime; tax evasion by the corporations and the very rich; empowerment of dictators and oligarchs; bribery and corruption; drug and arms trafficking; and terrorism. Her dozens of articles on the subject since 1997 have appeared in publications as diverse as The Nation magazine and the Wall Street Journal. She was winner of 2010 Gerald Loeb, National Press Club, Sigma Delta Chi, and National Headliner awards for her exposé of Ponzi-schemer Allen Stanford, which she brought to the Miami Herald. The Loeb award is the country’s most prestigious prize for financial journalism. 

How do you make a good propaganda film? How do you expose it before it wins a truth-telling award and embarrasses the prize-givers — before they discover it’s a pseudo-documentary that has been nominated for an “Oscar” – before the white envelopes are opened before millions of people on Oscar night, March 12th?

 “Navalny” is a slick production full of easily-documented fabrications, disinformation, with lots of clever visuals to distract and manipulate viewers. It is about Russian political activist Alexei Navalny, who according to the respected Levada Institute has shown 2% support in Russia. But he and the film have a great deal of backing in Washington and London.

The three people credited as the production’s authors are Canadian Daniel Roher; he admits he has never visited Russia nor speaks Russian. Bulgarian Christo Grozev of Bellingcat; this is an organization openly hostile to Russia which acknowledges financing by governments of the U.S, UK and Europe. And Russian Maria Pevchikh; she has worked for Navalny’s organization but has lived mostly outside Russia since 2006 and in 2019 obtained a British passport. CNN and Der Spiegel, which have put their names on the findings, acknowledge they joined an investigation by the group Bellingcat. This challenges the film’s credibility as an independent production.

The film’s hero, Alexei Navalny, has strong Washington ties. Navalny was a 2009-2010 fellow of the Open Society Foundations financed by George Soros, which supported a network of opposition NGOs in Russia before being banned in 2015. Then 2010, he graduated from the Yale Greenberg World Fellowship, which was originally called White House Fellows under Bill Clinton’s presidency. The first program director of the Yale World Fellows was Dan Esty, energy and environmental policy adviser for the 2008 Obama campaign.

When Navalny returned from the U.S. to Russia, he started an anti-corruption campaign. It was endorsed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Navalny is also allied with exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky; he was jailed for ten years for documented tax evasion using offshore shell company transfer pricing to launder profits of oil company Yukos, which he obtained through the infamous corrupt loans for shares deal in the Boris Yeltsin years.

However, Navalny has had his own criminal fraud problem, along with his brother Oleg.

In 2008, when the state-owned Russian Post decided to end collecting parcels from clients’ distribution centers, Oleg Navalny, persuaded several companies to shift to the privately owned Chief Subscription Agency (GPA), not revealing it was a company he, Alexei and their parents had just set up in tax haven Cyprus. Later, Yves Rocher Vostok, part of the French cosmetics firm, sued that they were deprived of free choice and weren’t told GPA was using subcontractors which charged around half as much as they paid GPA and that the Navalny cutout kept the difference as profit. A court gave Alexei a suspended sentence of 3 ½ years and his brother a prison sentence of the same term.

The European Court on Human Rights found, “By all accounts, GPA was set up for profit-making purposes and the applicants thus pursued the same goal as any other founder of a commercial entity.” So, in spite of questionable insider tricks, the European court deemed it no crime, because that is how business is done. But it was still an ethics problem for the “fighter against corruption,” because some people think that making money off such insider dealing is unethical.

Although the plaintiff Yves Rocher was part of a French company, which sued for damages in France, Western media depicted the trial as a sham instigated by President Vladimir Putin and didn’t report the full details of the case. Navalny’s violation of his conviction parole by failing to return to Russia as soon as he had recovered his health in Germany were the grounds for his arrest on January 17, 2021, and his subsequent court sentence to prison, where he remains. U.S. court rules for parole violations would not be different.

Navalny also became a player in America’s Russiagate operation. He published a video in 2018 claiming that Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska acted as a messenger between President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort and a top Kremlin foreign policy official. The Trump-Russia stories have all been proved false, including this one. However, Navalny has not corrected his anti-Trump video. This confirms not only his standard for truthfulness in documentary work, but also what allies he has made in the U.S.

During the Russian regional election campaign of 2020, Navalny was making regular trips out of Moscow to promote his anti-corruption organization. He claimed popular support, though according to the Levada Poll, he was drawing no more than 2% among Russians countrywide – less in the regions, more among the young in Moscow.

On August 20th, winding up a campaign in southeastern Siberia, Navalny got on the regularly scheduled flight from Tomsk to Moscow and fell ill. On the pilot’s decision, the aircraft made an unscheduled landing in Omsk, and Navalny was taken to a city hospital. The emergency ward staff treated his symptoms and stabilized his condition. A medical evacuation aircraft arrived from Germany the next day after Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, received Kremlin permission for his treatment in Germany, and he was flown from Omsk to Berlin August 22, with Navalnaya and Pevchikh accompanying him on the flight.

Navalny has had a history of medical conditions known to reflect the sudden reduction in blood sugar and cholinesterase levels – diabetes, Quincke’s Disease, and allergies leading to anaphylactic shock. This information, which had been reported in Russia and by Navalny sources well before the Tomsk incident, was not made public after his arrival in Germany.

The earliest claims that Russian intelligence agents had poisoned Navalny were made by CNN, which said they were based on a Bellingcat investigation. The CNN articles, December 14 and 21, 2020, scripted the essence of what the film produced the following year and released in 2022.

The film starts with Navalny returning to Russia after several months in Germany and then goes to flashbacks.

In one of the flashbacks Navalny makes an admission whose honesty is worth noting. He is complaining that he has gone to Novosibirsk in Siberia to make a movie about local corruption. He says, “I expected a lot of people who’d try to prevent our filming, confiscate our cameras or just break our cameras or try to beat us. I expected that sort of things and I was very surprised, like, “Why is nobody here?” “Why is there kind of…” I even have this strange feeling like, like a lack of respect. Like, seriously? I’m here and where is my police?” This is evidence from Navalny himself that he was far less important than he, the western press, and the filmmakers claim he was. It casts doubt from the beginning of the Navalny film that the president of Russia was out to get him and sent hitmen to Tomsk.

But let’s get to the fabrications at the heart of the film. There’s a long section about how Christo Grozev, identified as working for Bellingcat, buys travel and contact data on the Darknet to find the names and phone numbers of Federal Security Service (FSB) agents who had been traveling on planes to Siberia in August of 2020. There is no way to verify that the charts and faces substantiate what Grozev and Bellingcat say they prove, at least not at any standard required in any prosecution service or court in the U.S. In fact, CNN reported December 14, 2020, “CNN cannot confirm with certainty that it was the unit based at Akademika Vargi Street that poisoned Navalny with Novichok on the night of August 19.”

The Great Phone Call Hoax

The real test of the veracity of the film, the “smoking gun” to which everything is leading, is the great telephone call hoax. 

Those who made the film have understood the psychology of manipulating audiences. Slowly you bring them into a secret scam to be played on the bad guys. In this one, it starts with Navalny putting on a body mike. Why? He is not going somewhere to secretly record someone. Only his own team is in the room. The real recording microphone is off camera, where the film audience can’t see it.

But the body mike is a special effect, it’s a dramatist’s stage trick. Click the arrow. Navalny speaks to the camera: “Now I’m totally feel like I’m an undercover agent, with the wired up.” Does the audience know they are the butt of a theatrical joke?

Navalny calls three “FSB” agents. This is a setup for a veracity diversion, a factoid – that’s a seeming truth disguising a fake. We can be sure of this now, because he says to each of them, “I am Navalny; why do you want to kill me?” And the fake people hang up. What is the point of that? It’s to convince the audience of Navalny’s film production that the FSB was being telephoned. The voices are not real, they sound the same – either computer generated or acted by a professional mimic.

But then there’s his pièce de résistance, the interview with “the scientist” whom Grozev tells Navalny to call, because he will be more likely to talk than the regular FSB agents.

Navalny declares (as translated), “Konstantin Borisovich, hello my name is Ustinov Maxim Sergeyevich. I am Nikolay Platonovich’s assistant.” He says, “I need ten minutes of your time …will probably ask you later for a report …but I am now making a report for Nikolay Platonovich … what went wrong with us in Tomsk…why did the Navalny operation fail?”

According to Bellingcat, (the real) Kudryavtsev worked at the Ministry of Defense biological security research center and is a specialist in chemical and biological weapons. Supposedly not so stupid.

The talkative “Konstantin” says, “I would rate the job as well done. We did it just as planned, the way we rehearsed it many times. But when the flight made an emergency landing the situation changed, not in our favor….The medics on the ground acted right away. They injected him with an antidote of some sort. So it seems the dose was underestimated. Our calculations were good, we even applied extra.”

Navalny was questioned by the Berlin Staatsanwaltschaft (District Attorney) on December 17, 2020. Did he tell them about the phone call to Konstantin Kudryavtsev, which allegedly took place on December 14?

The office confirmed the interrogation, but when I sent a link to Navalny’s claims about the December 14th “call” three days earlier, a spokesman said they could not comment further.

There are key clues to the film’s fabrications. They deal with dates and timing which are not subject to dispute: the dangers of Novichok, the date of “Kudryavstev’s” “cleaning” in Omsk, and the date of the phone calls.

Novichok

First about the “poisoning.”

Yulia Navalnaya says in the film, “After a week I was unexpectedly called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” As the Navalny group arrived August 22, that would have been about August 29th. “They said we have discovered that your husband was poisoned with an agent from the Novichok group.” 

It was not the Charité lab that found this. The German Government announced not one week but two weeks after the group’s arrival that a laboratory of the German Armed Forces had identified a nerve agent from the Novichok group in blood samples collected after the patient’s admission to Charité.

Unlike the civilian doctors, who had not found Novichok, the military lab would not release details of its tests. There was no toxicology report, no name of the expert in charge of the testing and of the interpretation of the results, no name and formula of the chemical compound of the “Novichok group.” The Germans refused to send any medical or toxicological evidence they claimed to substantiate the attempted homicide to Moscow prosecutors investigating the crime. From then on, by hearsay and without evidence, the story became the West’s “Putin poisoned Navalny.”

Second, Navalny’s underpants. Navalny, his wife Yulia, his assistant Pevchikh, his press spokesman, others in his group, and the reporters publishing what they were told had been claiming until that moment that the instrument of the Novichok, the poison vector, had been a tea cup at the airport café, then a water bottle in the Tomsk hotel room.

Pevchikh, she repeatedly told the press, had filmed the removal of the hotel room water bottles, taken them secretly to Omsk, then loaded them on the medevac flight to Berlin in the luggage of one of the medevac crew, and delivered them from the German ambulance into the Berlin hospital by hand. But then, after four months had elapsed, the story became underpants.

A CNN clip not in the film claims the poison was put on the underpants “across the seams” at the button flap, but in what form – powder, aerosolized spray, or gel? Was the FSB counting on Navalny not to notice or feel moisture as he dressed?  Was the poison then in direct contact with his body?

On the plane, Navalny fell ill, and the pilot diverted to Omsk, where he was transferred to a hospital. The calculated lethality of the dose should have been fatal after symptom onset. However, the first symptoms appeared only after several hours, and they remained non-lethal for at least one more hour between Navalny going to the toilet cabin on his flight and his reaching Omsk hospital.

The Timing of Kudryavtsev’s trip and “cleaning”

CNN declares that “Kudryavtsev” flies from Moscow to Omsk on August 25, five days after the event, to take possession of Navalny’s clothes and “clean” them. It displays a visual of a flight from Moscow. But the FSB would have known of the diversion to Omsk August 20th. Would it have waited five days to send an agent there?

The film script puts Kudryavtsev in Tomsk for the job. At least he knows the details of where the Novichok was placed. He says, “We did it as planned.”

Were the underpants still considered dangerous? Did hospital workers who undressed Navalny get sick? Many people were exposed to Navalny and his deadly underpants, but not one has been reported to have fallen ill. The passengers who attended him in the plane and who flew on to Moscow have not reported medical problems.

The film “Kudryavtsev” voice says, “When we arrived [in Omsk], they gave [the underpants] to us, the local Omsk guys brought [them] with the police.” Did any police fall ill?

“Kudryavstev” says, “When we finished working on them everything was clean.” He explains that solutions were applied, “so that there were no traces left on the clothes.” CNN, in its video, has “Kudryavtsev” saying that he also cleaned Navalny’s pants, not mentioned in the film. Alexei is shown in Berlin holding the underpants. Did the Omsk police ship the “decontaminated” item to Germany?

There are more problems with this story.

There is conflicting information about whether Navalny’s underpants remained in Omsk.

Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh posted a tweet August 20, 2020 with the text: “Julia took Alexei’s things with her. She said that she did not allow them to be confiscated.” However, The Guardian reported September 21 that Navalny “demanded that Moscow return his clothes.” At any rate, the Charité Hospital said it did not test the water bottles or clothing.

Most important is the date of the phone call.

Ronald Thomas West, who identifies as a U.S. Special Forces veteran working in Europe, writes, with irony:

West says, “ The poisoning happened on 20 August, the ‘hoax call’ is made on 14 December, and released by Bellingcat on 21 December. Now, wait a minute. The context of the call, a desperate demand for answers of what went wrong (Navalny didn’t die) for a report to higher up authority, is something you would expect within the first 48 hours, not nearly three months later. By the time this call was made, that dust should have settled and been vacuumed up by Russia’s intelligence services, everyone would have been debriefed by this time, including the target of the hoax call.”

The Trojan Horse

Maya Daisy Hawke, the film’s co-editor, makes an unusual admission on her website. She said “It’s the best thing I ever worked on; the highlight of my career,” and adds, “Navalny was a Trojan horse.” I emailed her and asked what she meant, pointing out that Merriam-Webster defines trojan horse as “someone or something intended to defeat or subvert from within usually by deceptive means.” She walked it back and said, “They were hastily chosen words on a personal social media post.” She declined further comment and told me to contact the film’s publicist. I did. Charlie Olsky of Cineticmedia also declined to answer questions.

The film supports an analysis of the Russian public that is fallacious.

An unidentified woman says, “What to do with Navalny presents a conundrum for the Kremlin, let him go and risk looking weak, or lock him up, knowing it could turn him into a political martyr.” A U.S. broadcast reporter says, “Unexpectedly, Vladimir Putin has a genuine challenger. More than any other opposition figure in Russia, Alexei Navalny gets ordinary people out to protest.”

However, Eric Kraus, a French financial strategist working in Moscow since 1997, explains, “Mr. Navalny was always a minor factor in Russia. He had a hard-core supporter base — Western-aspiring young people in Moscow and St. Petersburg — the ‘Facebook Generation.’ He was never much loved out in the sticks and could never have polled beyond 7% nationwide, even before the war. Ordinary Russians now increasingly see the West as the enemy. Navalny is seen as the agent of forces seeking to break or constrain Russia. Now, he would get closer to 2%.” (Kraus has been cited as an expert by western media.)

Kraus said, “He is the supreme political opportunist. In Moscow, speaking in English to an audience of Western fund managers and journalists, it is the squeaky clean, liberal Navalny. Full of free markets, diversity, and social justice. Hearing him a few months later out in Siberia, speaking in Russian, one encounters an entirely different animal – fiercely nationalistic, angry and somewhat racist – there, his slogan is “kick out the thieves” but especially “Russia for the ethnic Russians,” anyone without Slavic blood, especially immigrants from the Caucuses, are second-class citizens.”

Another drama!

Finally, if readers can take any more drama, I ended up in the center of one!

As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, I was invited to a November 9, 2022 “Navalny” screening by CNN at 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan. The post-film moderator was Timothy Frye, professor of post-Soviet foreign policy at Columbia University; the speakers were the filmmakers. I recorded them. Frye asked about “the one scene where Navalny is talking and getting the fellow to, you know, tricking him into speaking.”

Filmmaker Roher explained the political purpose: “And then the war started and what I understood was that this film became not just a film but we were now on a mission to remind the world that Vladimir Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Vladimir Putin and is Navalny.”

In the talk-back, I asked a question. “My name is Lucy Komisar, and I’m an investigative journalist. I want to delve more into the Kudryavtsev story. Mr. Navalny was questioned by the prosecutor in Berlin on December 17th. And three days earlier was the phone call with Kudryavtsev. Did he tell the prosecutor about the phone call which I assume they would have to check the authenticity of, and what did they determine about him? He claims on the phone call he examined these things on August 25 …. But on August 20 ….” [In fact,“Kudryavtsev” didn’t give the August 25th date, Bellingcat did.]

Interruption by Prof. Frye: “This is all on the issue and nobody else. Which is that after we stop in 10 minutes. There will be drinks. Okay, that’s….”

LK: “The point is the press secretary said Alexei’s things were taken by Yulia before that, and she didn’t allow them to be seized. So how could they have been examined by this man after they were already taken away? And finally, the Berlin doctor said they didn’t detect any poisoning in Navalny’s blood, but two weeks later it was the German Armed Forces laboratory that said, yes.

So, all these things I think are contradictory and I would like to know the facts of why these contradictions exist.”

Christo Grozev: “Almost none of this was actually correct and including the sequence of events. I mean this was reactive and FSB officer on screen on recording that I made on my phone confessing to all of that.”

LK: “You said it’s him, but we don’t know it’s him.”

Grozev: “Well, I think the rest of the world knows and now okay. Be nice to know who you work for because….”

LK: “Oh, is this gonna be a [Joe] McCarthy question now?”

And at the end, Prof. Frye: “Well, thank you, Tim, Maria, Christo and Daniel. Thanks also to CNN HBO Max Warner Brothers Pictures … .”

He invited us all to drinks at Milos, a trendy restaurant in the complex. I went to the reception and asked Roher if I could interview him. He screamed at me, Noooo! And accused me of working for the Russians.

Then on the 17th I got an email from Nancy Bodurtha, Council on Foreign Relations Meetings and Membership Vice President. She had received complaints about my “conduct” at the screening. She threatened that I could be dropped from membership.

 She said: “I have received numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny. As stated in the member handbook, CFR is committed to maintaining a civil and respectful environment. All members are expected to exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another. As a nonpartisan organization committed to hosting a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives to be debated and discussed freely, it is essential that the Council foster an inclusive and welcoming environment free from verbal, written, or physical harassment of any kind.

Per the Council’s By-Laws, a member may be dropped or suspended from membership for any conduct that is prejudicial to the best interests, reputation, and proper functioning of the Council. 

Please be advised that further misconduct may result in suspension with the possibility of the termination of your membership as determined by the board of directors.”

I replied:

“Dear Ms. Bodurtha

Regarding “numerous complaints concerning your conduct at CFR’s November 9 documentary screening and discussion of Navalny” which you cite, please send me copies of the complaints, including who sent them. I’m sure you agree that a Council member has the right to specifics on such an attack. If a person seeks anonymity, that raises questions about the truthfulness of their charges.

Did you investigate the complaints? If not, why not? If so, what were your findings?

Do you know what I said at the meeting? Like many journalists, when I ask a question of public figures in a public place, I record the interchange to make sure I can quote correctly.

[Here I repeated the recorded Q&A.]

What part of my question do you find objectionable? What as a journalist did I not have a right to ask? How was this harassment? Does courtesy and civility mean one cannot challenge what a film or speaker says?

Does allowing a wide range of viewpoints end when the challenge is to a view a Council staff member may not support? Were my statements deemed so dangerous that you voice a threat to throw me out of the Council? Who signed off on the decision to send me your notice?

After the film, I attended a reception where I encountered the filmmaker Daniel Roher and asked if I could interview him. In the presence of many people, he screamed at me, No! and said I was working for the Russians. Pretty much what Christo Grozev suggested. This persuades me that the “numerous complaints” came from Roher and his collaborators.

I look forward to you telling me who made the complaints, what they said, if you investigated their truthfulness and what in the above citation you find objectionable.

I don’t like attempts at intimidation. Neither should the Council. Nor would the Board. If I was not intimidated by killer racists in the early 60s, when I spent a year as editor of the Mississippi Free Press, I will hardly be intimidated now.

This persuades me I must write an article about the film and mention the “complaints” and your threat, which I dismiss as part of the cancel culture and deeply harmful to our society. Accordingly, let’s be clear that this exchange is on the record.

Lucy Komisar”

Her response was

“Lucy:  I acknowledge receipt of your response to my email and reiterate the Council’s expectation that members exhibit the highest levels of courtesy and respect toward speakers, moderators, staff, guests, and one another.  Best, Nancy”

Navalny, Bellingcat, and the filmmakers have made a documentary about the FSB creating not a professional hit, but a plan for immeasurable chaos, with high odds of failure and exposure to the public. The only professionalism is the filmmakers’ strike against their targets: the western media, the film’s audience, and maybe voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Linked to by Johnson’s Russia List, ACURA (American Committee on US Russia Accord) and Naked Capitalism.

https://natyliesbaldwin.com/2023/03/lucy-komisar-navalny-documentary-nominated-for-march-12th-oscar-is-disinformation/



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