“Every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.”
– Glen Cook, Shadow Games
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who haven’t got it.”
– George Bernard Shaw
I’m lazy. But vanity constrains me from admitting that, so I call it ‘busy’. However I choose to label it, I haven’t written anything new in a long time. It’s not writer’s block, because I had a couple of topics in mind; if I had to blame it on anything, I’d blame it on the comments section. We don’t really have any rules here, or not many (there are a couple of people who can’t comment, but that’s because they cannot be trusted to not instantly return to old habits as soon as they are allowed), and things routinely drift off-topic to whatever is going on at the time. Current events; yes, that’s the term I was looking for. So when new things are happening, we tend to discuss them in the comments section, instead of my writing a new post dedicated specifically to that issue. It’s the primary cause, I’m afraid, of important comments you would like to be able to locate because they contain hard-to-find sources or just the information you need to settle an argument, because they are not linked by subject. Obviously I prefer the unregulated format, or I wouldn’t use it, but it does have its disadvantages.
Anyway, the silver lining that comes with being late to discuss a particular current event is that you get to talk about the filtered version, after the ferment has settled down and often new facts have presented. So it is with the teapot tempest of Alexei Navalny, vaulted to international fame virtually overnight by becoming the latest victim poisoned by nefarious Soviet-era deadly nerve agents that, in their known application, have a success rate of 16.67%. A funny statistic has emerged from the absurd times we are living in – a viral infection, the ‘novel coronavirus’, more commonly called COVID-19, has the world shivering with terror like frogs in a glass cage with a big snake, even though its Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) compares with the annual influenza bouts we have lived with all our years. Yet an engineered nerve agent reputed to be ten times as deadly as the most toxic poison the west could come up with – one which, I might add, has a known survivor list among the exposed of zero point zero – has never killed the individual it was intended to kill, and managed to incidentally slay one innocent bystander who was also an alcoholic and drug abuser. As John Lennon remarked in “Nobody Told Me”; strange days indeed. Most peculiar, Mama.
I meant to do a post on Navalny – more correctly, my patience with the ridiculous statements made about his latest adventure finally evaporated – after reading this amazingly cheeky tapestry of fabrication; “The Kremlin, predictably, says it didn’t poison Alexey Navalny. So what can the West do?”
I looked it up so as to have an electronic link, so readers could get the full effect. But I initially saw it in the newspaper, the Canadian Globe & Mail (British Columbia edition), in which it was headlined a little differently – “Why nobody has power to make Kremlin come clean on poisoning”. So far as I can make out on initial examination, the body of the article is unchanged. Both pieces – well, the same piece with two different headlines – are by Mark MacKinnon, who is The Globe & Mail‘s senior international correspondent, based in London, UK. He’s quite highly-regarded by his employers, is a seven-time winner of the National Newspaper Awards (for creativity, perhaps, although they don’t say), and the author of…”The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections and Pipeline Politics“. Gee, that sounds like it might be about a particular country; let’s have a dekko at the writeup.
“When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, liberal democracy was supposed to fill the void left by Soviet Communism. Poland and Czechoslovakia made the best of reforms, but the citizens of the “Evil Empire” itself saw little of the promised freedom, and more of the same old despots and corruption. Recently, a second wave of reforms — Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and Ukraine in 2004, as well as Kyrgyzstan’s regime change in 2005 — have proven almost as monumental as those in Berlin and Moscow. The people of the Eastern bloc, aided in no small part by Western money and advice, are again rising up and demanding an end to autocracy. And once more, the Kremlin is battling the White House every step of the way. Mark MacKinnon spent these years working in Moscow, and his view of the story and access to those involved remains unparalleled. With The New Cold War, he reveals the links between these democratic revolutions — and George Soros, the idealistic American billionaire behind them — in a major investigation into the forces that are quietly reshaping the post-Soviet world.”
Because western-imposed liberal democracy has been such a star-speckled success in so many places – Libya. Iraq, Venezuela…anyway, the above author information is offered to sort of set the tone for the type of worldview you might expect. And to introduce a premonition, before you even read his material, that Mark MacKinnon just might be exactly the sort of guy who would smirk with revulsion at the mention of Putin’s name, and have a big ol’ man-crush on Alexei Navalny. I’m not implying anything untoward, here; Mr. MacKinnon is a realist. An ideologue, yes, but a realist.
And as with others of his ideological type, I marvel that he apparently sees some sort of inspirational leader in Navalny. I’m cautiously optimistic, of course, because until international busybodies have a vote in Russian elections – as they have in other places, except it’s called ‘regime change’ – there is about as much chance of Alexei Navalny being elected to a position of influence by a broad Russian vote as there is of you dying from coronavirus. Which you have about a 99.6% chance of surviving, if you should get it. Anyway, I’m optimistic, as I have suggested many times before, because for so long as western liberal meddlers choose to put all their eggs in the Navalny basket, for that long leaders elected by Russian votes will rule more or less unmolested. You could as likely persuade Russians to dress up as Obama on Hallowe’en (well, first you would have to persuade them to celebrate it, which The Moscow Times almost reduced itself to tears trying to bring about) as you could to persuade them to vote for Navalny. And this latest escapade, which – perversely – has put him in the western hall of political fame has probably actually cost him votes in Russia, which is remarkable considering he already was about as popular as vomit air-freshener.
Mr. MacKinnon starts off his excoriation of the Kremlin, and his apparent poignant appeal for someone to rid us of this troublesome autocratic dictator, with some lighthearted snark about how predictable it is that the Kremlin would deny poisoning Alexei Navalny. Uh huh; of course they would. Real men would immediately own up – yeah, I poisoned that motherfucker. Teach him to talk smack about me. What are you gonna do about it? You might be repulsed by the implicit evil there, but at least you could respect Putin for telling the truth.
Let’s look at it a little differently. Suppose I said “Mark MacKinnon is a wife-beater”. For the record, I don’t even know if he is married. Or straight. But that’s beside the point, which is that to the best of my knowledge, it is not true. Doesn’t matter. Predictably, he would deny it. Now suppose I repeated that allegation regularly for twenty years. Might I be able to say, wearily, “the only predictable thing about MacKinnon’s latest wife-beating incident is his denial of having had anything to do with it”? I think I could. But denying it is exactly the predictable occurrence if he had not done it.
How about we take a quick recap of some of the things Russia has been accused of just in the last few years. A state-sponsored doping program for its Olympic athletes, in which they were fed performance-enhancing cocktails that powered them all the way to the podium. The special investigatory body put together to look into it, headed by Canadian Richard McLaren, claimed there was so much proof that it was embarrassing. When we got down to where the rubber meets the road, said investigatory body could not prove fuck-all, their star witness fell apart in testimony, and 28 Russian athletes had their Olympic bans reversed while 7 medals were reinstated. The Nation recapped it thus;
“How the Times could provide such minimal coverage of these important April 2018 reasoned CAS decisions on matters on which the Times had extensively reported is inexplicable. By allowing the Russian athletes, for the very first time, to confront their accusers with cross-examination, the CAS was in a position to make startling revelations about Rodchenkov and McLaren. Rodchenkov, for example, admitted that he never personally witnessed any accused Russian athlete committing doping violations themselves, including taking the illegal drug cocktail, giving a clean urine sample out of competition, tampering with a urine sample, or transmitting information to co-conspirators about the coding on the drug sample after it had been given.
Furthermore, several of Rodchenkov’s explanations of events were simply not believable. For example, Rodchenkov had stated that the swapping of urine samples occurred after 1 am, but his own diary entries confirmed his bedtime by midnight each night, with two or three exceptions. When confronted with this contradiction, he made the incredible claim that he had lied to his diary.”
Were the Russians guilty? Apparently not. What is the appropriate response when you are accused of something but did not do it? Denial? Damn straight. But there’s another key takeaway in there – the testimonial hearing in which the athletes and their representatives dismantled Rodchenkov’s self-important blathering was the very first time they had been able to confront their accuser. Uncorroborated denials are easy to brush off, which would seem to summarize Mr, MacKinnon’s style.
One more. Russia was accused by the United States – whose allies quickly picked it up as one more example of the reprehensible Russian conduct that just makes you shake your head in helpless wonder – of paying the Taliban in Afghanistan a bounty to kill American soldiers.
For starters, it would not be difficult to imagine the US Army as being so loathed in Afghanistan – considering American military operations have devastated the country for 19 years now – that jihadis in Afghanistan would be happy to kill them for free; might even pay for the opportunity, if they had any money. Some might say well, if not for the democracy-promotion efforts of America, the Taliban might still be in charge! Yeah, ha, ha; funny story about that. President Trump announced this past Spring that it was time to turn over law and order in Afghanistan to…the Taliban.
He said US troops had been killing terrorists in Afghanistan “by the thousands” and now it was “time for someone else to do that work and it will be the Taliban and it could be surrounding countries”.
Personally, I think it’s a hell of a cheek of the Taliban to accept money from the Russians to kill Americans who just cut them such an exceptional deal – you would think they would be so happy that they would dance into the streets with their arms full of flowers and candy. Oh, wait – different democracy-promotion operation.
And I’d just like to point out to anyone who is forming the opinion that I am a sarcastic prick that the main piece of ‘evidence’ on which the Americans based the assessment that a mysterious Russian GRU (military intelligence) unit was paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers was the discovery of ‘a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost’.
Jesus, God of our fathers – please tell me they had more than that. Quite apart from the patent rudeness of carrying out a raid on the ‘outposts’ of your new Afghanistan caretakers, the US dollar is the most common and widely-circulated currency in the world. Instead of leaping to the conclusion that it had to have come from the Russians – whose currency was still the ruble the last time I looked – why was the King Arthur Flour Company not immediately a suspect? After all, sourdough baking has lunged to a quivering peak during ‘COVID times’ (as I heard one imbecile describe the peyote cartoon we are all living); King Arthur offers a very popular sourdough starter, and the Afghans are great bakers. Maybe they were saving up to buy a couple of truckloads, give the people something to raise their morale! Get it? ‘Raise’ their morale? It’s not funny if I have to explain it. But it makes as much sense as assuming the Russians want to accelerate the killing of American forces just as they are arranging terms for a pullout, which would surely make them stay longer.
Well, let’s get back to Mr. MacKinnon’s story, before we wander too far off the path. But I hope that addresses the issue of the Kremlin denying western accusations. Deny is what you do when you really had nothing to do with whatever it was you are being accused of, instead of ‘manning up’ and saying “Yeah; it was me”. Gaddafi did that, in the hope of making peace with the Americans, and look where it got him. And America is not put off by lack of evidence – obviously.
So we’re back where Russia might be believed today, if the past 20 years had never happened. At that, I would suggest he’s casting too wide a net; the USA and Russia were getting along fairly well between the time the Harvard Boys were invited in to remake Russia in 1991, and the presidential candidacy of American Idiot and Venture Capitalist Mitt Romney, during which candidacy he identified Russia – for no apparent reason than that it sometimes caused headaches for the United States at the UN – as the USA’s Number One Geopolitical Enemy. That was in 2012, which was only 8 years ago, and in fact the great majority of western accusations against Russia have taken place since 2014 and the US State Department’s successful second run at taking over Ukraine to Make It Safe For Democracy. It’s pretty hard to restore your ‘credibility’ when the international press whose language is foreign to your own continues to insist it has mountains of evidence that you are lying, but cannot reveal any of it because of national security. On the occasions it does publish some of its substantiation, the alternate-narrative element of the public is so scathing in its scorn – as happened when the British tried going public with their Skripals Case – that the storytellers are sent back to the drawing-board to make up something different. Otherwise they might have to explain why a poison so virulent that Sergei Skripal’s house had to have its roof removed because Novichok was daubed on the front doorknob, but the same poison failed to kill not only the Skripals times two, Detective Nick Bailey, Charles Rowley and now Navalny. The Skripals came into direct contact with it while the family’s roof did not, unless they had a sixteen-foot diameter doorknob, and Navalny actually drank it. So the story goes. I don’t think ‘absurd’ is too strong a word.
Russia, we hear, denied that its soldiers were in Crimea before Russia ‘annexed’ the territory in 2014. Where? Russia was permitted by international agreement to base sufficient forces at Sevastopol to easily take the region away from a Ukrainian Army so useless that initial attempts to stop the unraveling were made by civilian militias. Oh, and my favourite; Russia denied shooting down MH-17 “even after the anti-aircraft system involved in the attack was detected leaving Russia then returning short one missile.” Is that a fact? Well, no; it’s not. That accusation was made by Bellingcat, the brain trust of former underwear-company accountant Eliot Higgins, and there was never any ‘detection’ of any such anti-air system “leaving Russia and returning short one missile”. Bellingcat offered a potential route such a system might have taken to and from a launch site, in an animation, which was itself never substantiated by evidence – a route which took the system many vulnerable kilometers out of its way on the alleged return – and the photograph that made the cover of Paris Match is so obviously a Photoshop mosaic. And the inclusion of Ukraine, who was automatically a suspect considering the incident occurred in Ukrainian airspace, in the investigation to establish Russian guilt, together with its unsupervised access to the collected evidence, renders the whole issue farcical.
“And on it went. The official RIA Novosti newswire quoted chemical-weapon experts who said that had Novichok been used, Mr. Navalny would already be dead. It’s a line Russian state media have used before, after Mr. Skripal and his daughter survived the 2018 attack, but one they dropped after 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with an unused vial of Novichok in a Salisbury park three months later.”
Is that what happened, Mr. seven-times-recipient-of-the-National-Newspapers-Award? Dawn Sturgess was given the perfume bottle as a gift from her boyfriend, Charles Rowley, at his home in Amesbury, 8 miles from Salisbury. She allegedly ‘immediately sprayed some on her wrists and rubbed them together’ according to Rowley.
“Charlie Rowley claimed his partner, mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, fell ill within 15 minutes of spraying the bottle, which he said he had found, on to her wrists at his home in Amesbury, Wiltshire.”
Couldn’t ask for much more of an eyewitness than Rowley – he’s kind of at the center of the story, albeit he is a heroin addict himself, according to a previously-cited reference. He claims that within 15 minutes she was stricken, claimed to have a headache, and disappeared to the bathroom, where he found her fully clothed and lying in the bath, ‘in a very ill state’.
That’s funny; according to Sky News, she was not so ill that she could not admit herself to hospital, which she is alleged to have done at 11 AM on Saturday, after being poisoned with a nerve agent ten times as deadly as VX, exposure to which nobody has survived.
“During their trip to Salisbury on Friday, the pair visited a number of shops during the afternoon and evening with their friend Sam Hobson.
The following day, Ms Sturgess admitted herself to hospital at 11am. Mr Hobson, 29, and Mr Rowley went on to visit a number of places in the town centre.”
Mr. Rowley, the poor man who ‘lost so much’, was so affected by his beloved’s condition that he and his friend Sam Hobson went on – after she admitted herself to hospital – to see the sights of downtown Amesbury. We know they were in Amesbury because one of the locations they visited, Boots the Chemist in Amesbury, was soon thereafter closed by police as part of the investigation.
Perhaps they were looking around for the hospital. Because there isn’t one in Amesbury. The closest is in Salisbury, 8 miles away, and the next-closest is in Andover, even further. So the poor woman, having passed out in a very ill state after spraying a deadly nerve agent directly on her skin, somehow roused herself for the 8-mile drive to Salisbury and then proceeded with the admittance process, while the cretins in Emergency let the two who had dropped her off head back to Amesbury for some window-shopping. The alternative is that they were not even with her, and she drove herself. Say, do you know what one of the symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning is? Blurred vision due to excessive watering of the eyes.
The ‘only predictable part of the drama’, to borrow from Mr. MacKinnon’s introduction, is that Ms. Sturgess did not “die after coming into contact with an unused vial of Novichok in a Salisbury park”, or anything close to it. Sloppy, or loyal? Which is it?
Anyway, back to Navalny; for some reason I seem to be incapable of staying on his dramatic story. So, ‘predictably’, there are some pretty big holes in his story. For one, he was supposedly – initially – exposed to a near-unimaginably-toxic nerve agent which he drank in tea at the airport, prior to departure. Then the same Novichok which laid out Dawn Sturgess within 15 minutes did not affect Lyosha until 40 minutes after the plane took off. Team Navalny and its backers have attempted to explain that away by suggesting this was a specially-engineered ‘slow-acting’ Novichok.
What use would a slow-acting military-grade nerve agent be? Want to give the enemy a fair chance before killing him stone dead? And while we’re on the subject: note to the GRU, or the FSB or whoever – stop engineering Novichok to be slow-acting just to attack Navalny, and impervious to rain (like no other nerve agent ever, the immediate countermeasure is to flush the area with water and take atropine) to attack Sergei Skripal, and WORK ON MAKING IT KILL PEOPLE!!! Jesus Christ, do I have to think of everything myself?
So, obviously, the tea narrative was not going to work. Enter The Water Bottle Of Death. Allegedly, the GRU or FSB, or maybe Putin himself poisoned a water bottle and left it in Navalny’s hotel room in Tomsk, where there were always people in and out and they had no clue whether it would kill Navalny or someone else. Maybe that’s why they engineered it to be slow-acting and non-fatal. Then, after Navalny checked out and headed to the airport, where he hung around for at least long enough to drink a cup of tea before his flight was called, and then after takeoff and 40 minutes into the flight, suddenly, Lyosha is poisoned!! He begins to roar and scream with pain, and members of his entourage immediately go to get a lawyer to accompany them, and go to Navalny’s hotel, and – wonder of wonders – not only has it not been cleaned, it is still completely undisturbed!! Fucking hotel service in Tomsk, unbelievable, I hope they don’t pay them much.
So, what do we deduce from that? Not only did Navalny show no ill effects after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent for approximately an hour – rolling back the moment of his poisoning to his drinking tea in the airport before his flight was called – he survived it for significantly longer than that, because in the end the tea was just tea. He did not take the Water Bottle Of Death with him, instead leaving it in his hotel room, so he must have drunk from it before he left the room. How long was that? How far was his hotel from the airport? Well, let’s see – he stayed at the Xander (four stars, not too shabby), which is 24 km from the Bogashevo Airport. I feel safe in suggesting Navalny survived direct contact with a military-grade nerve agent for at least two hours before he even showed any symptoms, and perhaps for considerably longer than that. Which sounds quite a bit like the Skripal saga, in which they were poisoned by their front doorknob – the approximately sixteen-foot-diameter one which reaches to the roof, it’s a two-level home – but still managed to drive to the town center, feed the duckies in the park and then go on to a restaurant and finish dinner, before throwing a poison wobbler on a nearby bench outside. Where they happened to be discovered by the senior medical officer in the British Army. Quite by chance, she was just passing by.
So contact with the American VX agent means near-instantaneous death, but contact with a substance ten times more toxic means nothing at all for at least an hour and perhaps twice that, then an unpleasant bout of coma, then presto! 90% recovery of mental faculties – admittedly, not a high threshold for Navalny – and maybe 50% recovery of physical capability, with a cautiously-optimistic prognosis of a full recovery. Lawdy Jeebus; a miracle!
Back to MacKinnon’s story for a moment. “His transfer to Berlin’s specialist Charité hospital was delayed for 24 crucial hours while Russian officials floated wildly different versions of what might have happened to him.” Actually, they did no such thing; the doctors in Omsk are acknowledged to have probably saved his life, there actually was something wrong with him. They stabilized him for transport rather than immediately saying “Here you go, Krauts, it’s your show”, so his transfer was delayed for a not-at-all-excessive 24 hours, and it was the Germans who ‘floated wildly different versions of what might have happened to him’, initially claiming he had been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, and only changing the story to Novichok after the Water Bottle Of Death was delivered to Berlin by Navalny’s wife. And unless Lyosha had a water bottle secretly hidden on his person, they did not establish nerve-agent poisoning from his samples, either, unless the German doctors are incredibly incompetent. It would be pretty hard for a skilled medical technician to confuse a cholinesterase inhibitor with a nerve agent, and the doctors in Berlin initially had no clue what was wrong with him. They became confident after the water bottle was delivered.
Navalny’s aide is shown delivering his tea to him at the airport. No gloves, no Personal Protective Equipment whatsoever. But Lyosha was already crawling with Novicok – he must have been poisoned in his room. Was the hotel closed? The airport? Was the plane impounded and destroyed? Why is Navalny’s aide still alive, and not just waking up from a coma?
And now I am afraid I have some questions about Chain of Custody of important evidence in a criminal investigation. Because according to the timeline of the ‘Navalny poisoning’, Team Navalny back on the ground in Tomsk did not announce the discovery of a poisoned water bottle from his hotel room until September 17th – two days after the fact. Right up until then, Navalny’s ‘press agent’ stuck with the story that he was poisoned with tea at the airport. What kind of four-star hotel does not clean the room of a guest who has checked out for two days afterward? Alternatively, what kind of political team allows a narrative to persist that their leader was poisoned with tea at the airport for two whole days before they clue the world in that they have discovered important evidence to the contrary? So far as we know, nobody had analyzed the alleged traces on the bottle while it was still in Russia – the Germans allegedly established it was Novichok. Or else Team Navalny already knew, but didn’t bother to tell anyone, just assuming everyone who handled it would take deadly-nerve-agent precautions. Who else might have been inside that hotel room in two days? According to the NewsTimes, an Instagram post by Navalny claimed members of his ‘team’ tossed his hotel room looking for evidence only an hour after he collapsed, which is pretty impressive considering they had no real reason at that point to suspect a crime had been committed; he probably had just reached the hospital in Omsk by that point, if even that, and there had been no announcement as to his condition, But they waited until September 17th to announce they had discovered a bottle contaminated with Novichok? nearly a month later? Excuse me – some state-sponsored nerve agent – the bottle had not been tested yet.
According to the certifiable inbreeders in the European Parliament, Novichok and its family of poisons can only be made in state-owned military laboratories, and there is no way civilians could have gotten hold of it.
“MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”
Huh. That’s odd. Because Alistair Hay – a toxicologist at the University of Leeds, a leading expert in the toxic properties of chemical warfare agents and a member of the British government’s advisory group on chemical warfare – assessed that it could be made by “any competent chemist”. I’m pretty sure they’re not all in the military, and obviously they do not need to be Russian. The principal developmental engineer of Novichok, Vil Marzayanov, published a book which contained the formula, and which sells on Amazon for less than 30 bucks. But what does Hay know, right?
“The Kremlin’s latest denials should and will fall flat with Western governments. It was already clear that Mr. Putin’s inner circle had ample reasons to wish Mr. Navalny harm. (The Kremlin’s feelings about the anti-corruption campaigner have long been obvious. Mr. Putin has repeatedly refused to use Mr. Navalny’s name, even when asked direct questions about him. On Thursday, Mr. Peskov continued that practice, referring only to “the Berlin patient.”)
Ha, ha!! Oh, my God. It is clear that the Kremlin has ample reasons to wish Mr. Navalny harm, because they don’t talk about him. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. That’s some award-winning journalism right there.
I think we’re done here; what is supposed to be a straightforward tale of the unrepentant state poisoning of a political opponent is in fact so confusing and contradictory that I cannot make any sense of it. I suspect even closer examination of it is only going to reveal further inconsistencies.
“The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who – with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth – dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.”
Harry G. Frankfurt, from “On Bullshit“.
How many of you would describe the western media as “exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right”? Count me out. They’re not even good at it. Fortunately for them, critical thinking is at an all-time low.