Alexei Navalny and Julian Assange — united in the cause of speaking truth to power
This is how it works. You are a regular contributor to RT or Sputnik, or perhaps both, and there’s an incident involving the poisoning or attempted assassination of a Russian dissident, such as Alexei Navalny, or a former GRU agent turned MI6 operative, such as Sergei Skripal, or the downing over eastern Ukraine of a passenger airliner by a missile, such as MH17.
It arrives soon thereafter, the phone call from either RT’s London bureau or directly from Moscow, asking you to do a live television interview on either of the aforementioned. You know as you make your way to your local studio — in my case BBC studios in the centre of Edinburgh — to conduct the interview what your role is in this scenario. It is in conjunction with others to muddy the waters, to sow doubt in the mind of, in my case, the British public as to what really happened, pushing back against the narrative being proffered by the mainstream.
And as you sit there in front of the camera waiting to go live you do so suppressing what you know to be true — that what you are about to engage in is not serious analysis but bullshit on behalf of the Russian state. Yet even so you are able to convince yourself that it’s okay because of the Britain and the West’s role in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, in turning Afghanistan into a failed state, in the destruction of Iraq, Libya, and its malign role in the conflict in Syria and Yemen.
There is of course also the no small matter that you’re being paid.
It allows you to convince yourself that your stance on MH17, the Skripals and Navalny is for a greater good — the greater good of a multipolar alternative to the unipolar status quo that has wrought so much damage and chaos and suffering — and thus you are able to continue in something approximating to a good conscience.
But here’s the thing: truth is not a commodity or a bargaining chip in the casino of international affairs or power politics. It is instead the non-negotiable and ironclad measure of all things, and the ultimate consequence of continuing to skirt or bend or deny the truth in the pursuit of this supposed greater good is the slow but steady corruption of self.
The bravest man in international affairs today is Alexei Navalny, the impassioned anti-Putin critic who at this writing is recovering in Germany after being poisoned by Russian state actors with the nerve agent, Novichok. Since being flown to Germany from Siberia, where he was stricken, Navalny has had his apartment in Moscow seized and bank accounts frozen by the Russian authorities. Yet despite this, despite everything he’s been through, he intends returning to Russia to resume his political campaign to uncover the entrenched corruption of Putin’s government and his favoured oligarchs at a time when 18.6 million Russians are living in extreme poverty, and when the top 1% of earners in the country controls a third of its wealth.
The demonisation of Alexei Navalny mirrors in the West the demonisation of Julian Assange. Both share a bond of suffering in daring to speak truth to power, with their shared plight shattering the attempt to draw the facile equation of Assange = good and Navalny = bad by Russian media cultists.
Of course Moscow accuses Navalny of working with the CIA, just as of course Washington has accused Assange of working with the Russian state. This is what corrupt governments and political establishments do. The retention of power, and the privileges that attain to this power, dictates that anyone who would dare expose its crimes and corruption must be destroyed.
And, too, just as Assange’s words of truth resonate like thunderbolts: “Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love,” so do the words of Navalny: “The conflict [is] between those who stand up for freedom and those who want to drive us back into the past — into a strange orthodox imitation of the Soviet Union, garnished with capitalism and oligarchs.”
Thus question that those arrayed on either side of the false dichotomy between Julian Assange and Alexei Navalny have to answer is a simple one: When will your focus on batting for one side end and on siding with truth begin?
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