This is sort of a follow-up to my post of yesterday, you can read that one if you haven’t already, it wasn’t one of my best, but hopefully it will set the scene of the 3 Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) last week. As a quickie recap: The Russian Federation is legally authorized (by the UN) to have a small peacekeeping force in the CAR. However, suspicious Oppositionists (Opps) suspect that Russia is up to no good and has illegally sent in a dubious mercenary force that goes by the name of Wagner. To try to uncover this undercover operation, Opps King and Mecenate Mikhail Khodorkovsky dispatched three of his valiant knights into the war zone, in search of The Truth.
Like Charles Marlow hunting the elusive Kurtz, the three men sailed (in this case, flew) into the Heart of Darkness. And I must say that my literary analogy du jour actually holds up pretty well, since CAR is neighbors with the Congo! Not to mention that “Wagner” and “Kurtz” are both Teutonic-sounding nemeses. The only difference is in the ending: In our story, Kurtz survived, and the three-headed Russian Marlow was killed off in Chapter 1.
Anyhow, my current post, based on this piece by a reporter with the wonderful name Elena Kalashnikova, focuses on one of the slain journalists, Alexander Rastorguev. He’s the bald one with the haunted eyes. Elena’s piece is a bit of a hatchet job, and one does need to bear in mind the propaganda war waging behind the scenes:
Namely, three “investigative” Russian journalists, all with very close ties to the Western-backed Opposition, are dispatched into a war zone to (hopefully) gather dirt that would embarrass their own government.
The journalists are ambushed and murdered within 2 days of their arrival. Westie press cries foul and accuses the Kremlin of orchestrating the murder. Russian press reacts reflexively. Like any good defense journey, they aim to (1) cast suspicion on other possible suspects, and (2) sling dirt on the victims.
None of which, of course, has any bearing on the facts of the case, or who actually dunnit. Remember that this is a murder mystery! It is up to the discerning readers to study the clues, taking into account the political interests and motives of all parties, and either come to their own conclusions or (preferably) wait until more facts are in play.
With that said, here is the gist of what Kalashnikova has dug up about one of the victims, Rastorguev.
The Voting Scandal Involving Sobchak
Elena begins with a scandal that took place during the Russian Presidential elections earlier this year. (In March, actually.) Spoiler alert: Putin won the election. One of the unsuccessful other candidates was Ksenia Sobchak, from the political party Civil Initiative. Everybody knows that Ksenia is the daughter of liberal “reformer” (now deceased) Anatoly Sobchak, and that the daughter carries on her father’s legacy in attempting to instill Western “democratic” values into Russian society. In other words, she is a die-hard Ideologue, just like the 3 Opp journalists who were slain. All of these people form a sub-culture of True Believers in their own (somewhat muddled) ideology. A central core of which, is that Western governments are the good guys, Russian statehood is inherently evil, and that President Putin is the enemy of freedom.
Now I will try to break down the rift which occurred between former comrades Rastorguev and Sobchak. This is complicated, especially if one is unfamiliar with this particular subculture. But here is the gist of it:
On March 16, 2018, the eve of the Presidential election, Candidate Sobchak granted accreditation status to documentary film director Alexander Rastorguev, at the request of the latter’s employer, “Radio Liberty”, a Westie-funded propaganda radio station in Russia. This way, Rastorguev would be allowed to film in and around voting stations. Normally (according to Russian election law) reporters are not allowed access to voting stations on the day of elections; but this would be an exception, since he was shooting a documentary film about the election.
Two days later, March 18, the actual day of the election, a huge scandal erupted among the Opps subculture. This part of the story is quite tricky and I must be careful to translate correctly. It involves three main players: Sobchak the Candidate; Rastorguev the Documentary Film-Maker; and Alexei Navalny the Perennial Gadfly.
Yes, of course Navalny is involved in this, did you seriously think he wasn’t? And any story involving Navalny, the Perceptive Reader must keep in mind, contains one absolute truth: Any person who ever gets involved with this con-man in any capacity, ends up getting hurt. He’s like the “Sneaky Pete” of Russian politics.
Some backstory: Navalny himself wanted to run for President (all part of his “long con” scheme) but was not admitted as a Candidate because of a previous felony conviction (long story, but sum up in a single word: KirovLes). But being Navalny, he never gives up — the guy is absolutely relentless — and his play this time was to leech off of Sobchak’s legitimate campaign. Remember the rule one more time: Navalny uses people. And in this case he rather callously used Rastorguev, asking the man to choose between loyalty to the Navalnyite Cause; vs journalistic ethics. Rastorguev made the wrong choice, and paid for it — with his job, and a bit further down the road, with his life.
Some more backstory: In Russian elections, candidates are allowed to request observers at specific polling places, if they have some reason to believe that vote-rigging is intended, or is actually happening. This piece from Sputnik (from February, 2018) explains Sobchak’s right to recruit observers:
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Russian presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak has begun recruiting observers for upcoming elections, the press service of the politician’s campaign office said Monday. “The campaign office of Russian presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak started recruiting observers for the presidential elections, which will be held on March 18, in Russia and abroad,” the press service stated. In order to become an observer, one has to give his or her contact information, choose a polling station, complete face-to-face and online training and to get instructions in the office, the press service noted. During the elections night, a call center to collect information on the voting process and any violations will be operating.
Readers, remember this fact, because it comes into play later: Each Presidential Candidate is allocated a certain number of blank forms, by which they may request election observers. It goes without saying that anybody who is not a Presidential Candidate, is not allocated forms and is not allowed to request observers! Got that?
It flows from this postulate that Alexei Navalny, the non-Candidate, did not have the right to fill out forms or request the dispatching of election observers. On the other hand, a little thing like Voting Laws never stops Navalny. It seems that Navalny recruited a team of his own election observers, made up of his own supporters. In some cities the Navalny and Sobchak teams cooperated smoothly, with Sobchak HQ sharing their blank forms and inviting Navalny supporters as observers to the polling booths. However, in the Kemerovo Oblast, way out there in Siberia, things did not go as smoothly, and ended up causing a 3-way donnybrook between Sobchak, Rastorguev and Navalny.
So, as Navalny himself admitted in an interview with Dozhd (the Opps-based TV channel), he turned to Rastorguev and asked the latter — keeping this secret from Sobchak — to swipe some 200 blank Election-Observer request forms from her Election HQ. Further: Navalny somehow convinced Rastorguev to fill out these forms himself, the result being Navalny supporters flooding into certain polling stations. “Sasha Rastorguev filled out the observer requests for us,” Navalny admitted to the Dozhd TV interviewer. Once again, boys and girls: Navalny used Rastorguev. Used his accreditation as a legitimate journalist. Use his access to Sobchak HQ and resources.
Rastorguev, like a bald Faust, came face to face with Mephistopheles. He was asked to make a choice: Choose between his journalistic ethics and his ideological devotion to Navalny. Apparently he chose wrongly.
When Sobchak found out what happened, with Navalny hamsters flooding Kemerovo on her dime, she practically blew a gasket. Her reputation as a serious politician who also sometimes stars in Reality TV Shows, was at stake. She called the police. The Navalnyite observers were recalled. Next: As Texans might say, Sobchak reamed out Rastorguev with a corn-cob: “He conducts himself like a crook!” the lady fumed. She went further: She complained to Radio Liberty, and the latter decided to fire Rastorguev. As a result of his own stupid choice, Rastorguev suddenly found himself without a paying job.
Not content with reaming out Rastorguev, Ksenia turned her corn-cob on Navalny himself: “What else did you want from me? We invited you (to participate), we gave you everything that you wanted. Why the deception? Why write out these documents behind our back? This is falsification, guys! You say that you are against falsifications, and then you do it yourself, with the help of Sasha Rastorguev, placing him in this situation?” Sobchak added that Rastorguev had confessed to her and admitted his mistake, in a private conversation.
“Well,” the compassionate reader might opine, “at least Navalny, who is a very wealthy man, probably offered Sasha another job after causing his career such harm?”
Not one bit. Navalny would not defend Rastorguev and even stopped mentioning his name. Just casually lobbed him under the bus. Sasha had become an inconvenience to everyone who once cared about him.
[to be continued]