The Mysterious Illness
The Western media has been captivated by the curious case of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after the rapid onset of a mysterious illness almost killed him while he was mid-flight from Siberia to Moscow to face charges of slander after calling a World War II veteran a “traitor” earlier this summer for supporting amendments to the constitution. Navalny was ultimately airlifted to Germany for treatment while in a medically induced coma at his wife’s request. Private individuals footed the bill, and the authorities didn’t object to his departure. Prior to that, the Russian doctors shared their preliminary diagnosis that his illness was caused by a “metabolic disorder” which might have been triggered by a “sharp drop in blood sugar”. They also confirmed that “no poisons or traces of poison have been found in his system”, which is why a law enforcement source told TASS that “There are no grounds for opening a criminal case, no crime elements have been identified.” An industrial chemical was found on his hands and clothes during testing, but the Omsk Regional Office of the Interior Ministry is of the belief that “it may have appeared after contact with plastic glass”.
Those are the facts as they objectively exist at the moment of this article’s publication on 24 August, but the political context of the case has fueled speculation about foul play. The most popular theory is that he was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea that was handed to him by his aide while waiting for his flight at the airport. Staff at the cafe in question that were interviewed by police said that they didn’t know anything about the incident, and the business has since closed. Despite the Russian doctors concluding that there were “no toxicological substances that could have been described as a poison” in his system, the Western media has speculated that he was poisoned as part of a Kremlin plot. This narrative builds upon the unproven stories of the past two decades, especially the recent Skripal case from two years ago, alleging that President Putin personally orders his critics across the world to be poisoned as punishment for bruising his ego. Despite being ridiculous to countenance for any objective observer, it nevertheless advances the information warfare narrative that the Russian leader is a “dangerous dictator” who must be stopped by all means possible.
Navalny’s Real Role In Russian Society
This politically self-serving depiction of events relies on its targeted audience’s ignorance of Russian domestic politics since those who are aware of everyday realities there know better than to imagine such a scenario. Navalny isn’t the “opposition leader” that he’s portrayed as abroad, but is more like an investigative blogger and protest organizer than anything else. His ethno-nationalist views only appeal to the extreme right-wing fringe of society, though Westerners are generally unaware of them since their media mostly only focuses on his occasional liberal rhetoric and regular criticism of the authorities. While his racial beliefs are politically dangerous in terms of threatening to unravel the cosmopolitan country’s unity, they’re not an electoral threat considering how unpopular they are, hence why the ruling United Russia party isn’t too concerned about him. Navalny wouldn’t even be that well-known at home had he not repeatedly broken the law by organizing unauthorized rallies, provocations which always receive disproportionate attention from his Western media allies. Exaggerating his political importance is therefore nothing more than a Western infowar tactic.
The “Pressure Valve”
This presumably irks the government, but it in no way threatens it. If anything, the authorities have come to accept the role that Navalny plays in society as a “pressure valve” for people’s frustration with corruption and other related issues. They’re used to his antics by now, and he’s regarded as the “devil that they know”. His departure from the scene would actually be counterproductive since it might open up the opportunity for an even more radical individual to replace him, one who’s much less “manageable” and might dangerously stir up ethno-nationalist tensions in society under the cover “anti-corruption” rhetoric. Since he’s so highly regarded in the West as a result of their long-running infowar, they know that they’d immediately be suspected if anything happened to him. This in turn, as is presently on display as a result of his mysterious medical crisis, could then be twisted into even more devious infowar narratives against their country such as the current one speculating that the authorities tried to assassinate him. They’d never do anything of the sort, but all that matters is that the West’s targeted audience believes this false claim after being preconditioned for years to accept it.
Different Infowar Targets, Different Intended Outcomes
The non-Russian audience is having their negative views about the country reinforced by the “media circus” surrounding Navalny’s mysterious illness, and their governments might potentially use the incident as a pretext for tightening the sanctions regime against Russia, and especially against specific individuals who they might eventually claim were linked to what’s being wrongly portrayed as an “assassination attempt”. As for the targeted Russian audience, the West might hope that this incident could spark another wave of protests in Moscow along the lines of the ongoing ones in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk and the Belarusian capital of Minsk. That wouldn’t be for the purpose of overthrowing the government which is completely unrealistic, but simply to cause some more trouble for it. The German doctors’ forthcoming prognosis will be crucial in determining the scenario trajectory since they’ll either reaffirm the findings of their Russian counterparts and predictably lead to this manufactured scandal blowing over or possibly challenge them under pressure from Western intelligence agencies and thus exacerbate the situation.
There are no credible reasons to doubt the Russian doctors’ preliminary prognosis that Navalny’s medical emergency was caused by a sharp drop in his blood-sugar levels, but their German counterparts might publicly allege a different version of events. Should that happen, then it’s almost certain that Western governments will claim that he was poisoned at the behest of President Putin, threaten to impose more sanctions against Russia (most likely targeted ones), and naturally grant Navalny political asylum. Russia would predictably object to that series of events considering the fact that its doctors concluded that there were no poisons found in his system, which would lead to yet another layer of tension in Russia-West relations. Not only that, but since Navalny is currently being treated in Germany, intense pressure might be put upon the authorities by domestic politicians and their American patrons to politicize the final leg of Nord Stream II’s construction by potentially delaying it as “punishment to Putin”. That would be an unfortunate twist to the situation, but one that definitely can’t be ruled out after taking into account just how badly the US wants to sabotage that project.
As it stands, it looks like Navalny really did experience a genuine medical emergency, one which was naturally occurring and not the result of any foul play. Neither the Russian authorities nor foreign intelligence agencies attempted to assassinate him, but the German doctors might be pressured by Western intelligence agencies to contradict their counterpart’s findings in order to provoke a fake crisis in Russia-West relations, one which could then potentially be leveraged to put interfere with the final stage of Nord Stream II’s construction. Regardless of how this incident ends, one thing’s for certain, and it’s that Navalny’s mysterious illness was politicized before there were any grounds to do so. The Western media has an interest in making it seem like President Putin ordered his assassination because of his bruised ego, but this is ridiculous to countenance since Navalny fulfills a useful role in Russian society by functioning as a “pressure valve” for people’s frustration with corruption and other related issues. The last thing that the Kremlin would ever do is harm him since all Russian authorities already know that their government would immediately be suspected if something happened to him.