Bellingcat VS Federal Security Service 20.12.2020

"When partners can’t agree
Their dealings come to naught
And trouble is their labor’s only fruit".
(с) Ivan Krylov.

The interview, where Alexey Navalny, based on the information obtained by Bellingcat, directly accuses the Federal Security Service of Russian Federation (FSB) of trying to poison him for three years without success, was watched by many people. I was about to write an article on this topic, where I was going to analyse the reasons for this kind of propaganda nonsense from "cold war" times, spread by a not crazy person, who in my opinion Alexey Navalny is not so far. However, then some new details came up. Now The Insider, which in its turn cooperates with Bellingcat, is "leaking" Russian DarkNet, which the investigation materials on Alexey Navalny were extracted from. So now, let us try to figure out what is going on within the Russian liberal public and what these kinds of "leaks" are timed to.

First of all, it is worth mentioning what kind of project this "Alexey Navalny" is and who needs him. Alexei Navalny's political career began in 2000 within the Yabloko party, the most liberal political segment of the Russian systemic opposition. In 2007, he was expelled from Yabloko, according to the official version, "for causing political damage to the party, related to his nationalist activities," but in fact, for his attempt to remove the leader of the party, Grigory Yavlinsky. In the same year, Alexei Navalny also began actively cooperating with Russian law enforcement agencies. In particular, he helped send the now-deceased Maxim Martsinkevich, better known by his pseudonym "Tesak," to prison for three years.

Alexei Navalny's collaboration with certain forces in the Russian establishment is also confirmed by the fact that he was allowed to run in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, where he came in second place. The author of these lines, on the other hand, was summarily disqualified from the 2015 elections to the Pskov Regional Assembly of Deputies.

However, Alexei Navalny is better known to the average man not for his political adventures but for his YouTube channel, where he posted all kinds of revelations. The revelations have been quite harsh and, on the whole, adequate. Though, only Alexei Navalny acted as a kind of "talking head" in them. He voiced the information received from various kinds of "anonymous sources," giving the appearance of doing his investigation in order to make it look like as information from "open sources". Rumour says that he did this kind of work for a living and was, in essence, a modern-day "media whistleblower" like Sergei Dorenko. In Kremlin parlance, Alexey Navalny was "leaking" info about one "Kremlin Tower" he got from another "Kremlin Tower" of three letters.

Clearly, by such actions, Alexei Navalny has got quite a few enemies. FSB officers followed him for three years so that the "investigator" would not "accidentally" buy the farm. The FSB did not intend to poison Navalny but, on the contrary, protected him. By the way, such practice of secretly protecting various well-known opposition figures by the security services exists in many countries worldwide, as any political murder of a journalist or an opposition figure would cause a great scandal. If the security services wanted to poison him, I think they would have poisoned him long ago.

Now let us move on to what probably happened on August 20 in Tomsk. Alexei Navalny was indeed going to be poisoned. They were going to kill him, not intimidate him. Somehow, the poison had been given to Navalny at the time, and in such proportions, that the opposition leader would turn up his toes on the flight from Tomsk to Moscow, where the chance for saving him was minimal. Alexei Navalny was saved by the pilots, who immediately made an emergency landing in Omsk, and by local medics who injected atropine into Navalny. On August 22, Navalny was flown to the Charité hospital in Berlin on direct orders from Vladimir Putin. If the FSB wanted to kill Navalny, a coroner van would have waited for him in Moscow, but not medics with atropine in Omsk.

I will not write directly here whom I suspect of committing this atrocity against Alexei Navalny for fear of my life and safety. I will just write a little about Navalny's latest investigations. You guys figure it out for yourselves there.

In February 2019, the Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation reporting that in December 2018, there was mass food poisoning of children in Moscow kindergartens and schools. The investigation said that the restaurant and catering enterprise Concord, Moskovsky Shkolnik LLC and VITO-1 LLC, linked to each other and businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, were to blame. Moscow schools No.760 and No.1554 subsequently sought fines to Moskovsky Shkolnik over the supply of contaminated food.

In April 2019, Moskovsky Shkolnik LLC sued the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Alexei Navalny, FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol and its former employee Natalia Shilova, who was involved in the investigation. The enterprise demanded to "recognize as untrue and refute the information" published in the investigation and to recover 1.5 billion rubles from the defendants as compensation for lost profits and damage to professional reputation. In October 2019, the Moscow Arbitration Court ordered Navalny to remove a video from his YouTube channel about the contaminated products and to refute information about the company defaming its professional reputation, as well as to pay 29.2 million roubles in compensation. The court ordered Lyubov Sobol and FBK to pay the same amount. The court of appeal upheld this decision. Furthermore, in August 2020, Moscovsky Schoolboy LLC ceded its claim for compensation to Prigozhin. Yevgeny Prigozhin has also explicitly stated that he intends to rip his debtors off.

Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed Putin's Chef, is also known for his ties to the Russian Ministry of Defence. He is also credited with funding from funds received under state contracts with the Ministry of Defense, the so-called Wagner Group, a private military company consisting of retired GRU officers headed by GRU Lieutenant Dmitry Utkin (aka Wagner). The Wagner Group has been heavily involved in various kinds of operations in Syria, including extrajudicial killings, for which there is ample evidence, and is also involved in local conflicts in Africa. I equate the activities of this organization with activities that violate human rights (I put it very mildly and wrote everything so that I would not suddenly get killed).

Then, on December 14, Alexey Navalny published a video titled "I Know Everyone Who Tried to Kill Me". In this video, based on materials provided by Bellingcat, a British internet agency without registration, Alexey Navalny tries to convince everybody that the FSB officers, who have been secretly following him for three years, tried to poison him. Moreover, the data about these employees were obtained by Bellingcat specialists in the Russian segment of DarkNet. The accusations themselves are delusional and reek of the Cold War times. However, there is a reason for it. The fact is that the story about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is a perfect excuse to develop another anti-Russian hysteria in the West, which some Western politicians need for some reason.
Moreover, it cannot be denied that there was poisoning. Furthermore, it is quite possible to conduct an independent investigation with the same result for Vladimir Putin's entourage and name the real scoundrels. However, why the agencies Bellingcat and The Insider, which was also involved in all this, prepared for Alexey Navalny outright nonsense in terms of conclusions about the information they received, is unknown. Either they decided to go the way of Dr Goebbels in terms of propaganda, or they simply worked unprofessionally. It could be a provocation, too.
Now let us look a little bit into what internet agencies Bellingcat and The Insider are. Bellingcat is an English source without official registration, created by British journalist Eliot Higgins in 2014. The source specialises in Internet investigations. Its main interest is Russia. Initially, Bellingcat was funded by Google Media. The agency was also supported by the Open Society Foundation, owned by George Soros. There was also information that Bellingcat received funding from the UK Ministry of Defence, but Eliot Higgins vehemently denied this information.

Bellingcat experts, according to them, are looking for all sorts of interesting information in open sources. However, in fact, they, like Alexey Navalny, seem to be "linking the information received from various special organisations to the very "open sources". Only the names of the "special organisations" are different from those of Alexei Navalny.

The Insider is the Russian analogue of Bellingcat, created even before the British agency in 2013 by the Russian liberal Roman Dobrohotov. It is unknown who finances this internet agency, but I assume that the same structures finance it as Bellingcat. According to some sources, The Insider has been actively collaborating with the hacker group Anonymous International, also known as Humpty Dumpty, which specialised in leaking the correspondence of Russian officials, close to several Russian FSB officials. Nevertheless, after hackers from Humpty Dumpty posted correspondence of then aide to the Russian President Vladislav Surkov on Cyberhunt's website in 2016, their "office" was instantly "shut down" by the Russian security services. Sergey Mikhailov, one of the FSB's Information Security Center heads, and his deputy Dmitry Dokuchaev were also arrested, as was Ruslan Stoyanov, former head of Kaspersky Lab's Computer Incident Investigation Department.

Apparently, after four years, The Insider decided to return to the DarkNet and started brutally, trying to "leak" personal data of administrators of one of Russia's largest DarkNet sites. On December 16, almost immediately after publishing Alexey Navalny's interview, The Insider published a long article entitled "Hello, this is Sberbank's security service! Who and how creates underground call centres on the darknet, and what Sber and the FSB have to do with it" written by Anastasia Mikhailova. After reading this article, I still do not understand who creates underground call-centres on DarkNet and what Sberbank and FSB have to do with it. However, I have seen the names of the administrators of this site. The situation is tragicomic in that I know one of the "administrators" mentioned there from one of my journalistic investigations. He has been in supermaximum prison for six years, absurdly charged of kidnapping a Chechen businessman, and for many years it has been impossible to contact him.

At first, I thought it was a junk shot exclusively against this man by the same people who "ordered" the destruction of his innovative business for Russia back in 2014. However, the accusations that the imprisoned man controls this kind of website, as well as other absurdities in the article, gave away, to say the least, the amateurish level of journalism on computer security and the functioning of the DarkNet in general. Also, like the author of the article, Anastasia Mikhailova is a real person who writes, as a rule, uncomplicated essays on the subject of who "Putin's terrible regime" has arrested again. I would therefore venture to guess that the situation looked as follows.

The fact is that there is stiff competition between sites on the DarkNet. What Anastasia Mikhailova writes about is not even the DarkNet for the most part, but ordinary shady forums. However, the real DarkNet looks very different. The sites of the real DarkNet cannot be accessed without the use of specific security features, and data from "RosPassport" is not sold there. However, let us leave the terminology aside. So, there is a constant battle for customers between the shadow forums. Clients are money. Mikhaylova writes that the DarkMoney forum makes 200 thousand euros a month on advertising alone. That is not much for the real DarkNet, but it is a lot of money for this kind of platform. Their agency "The Insider" and "Bellingcat" actively use the functionality of Russian shadow platforms for their investigations. Moreover, all sorts of "billing check", searching data in Magistral, RosPasport and so on is an expensive pleasure. The budget of any medium-sized Internet agency would not be enough to cover it. Furthermore, I doubt that Google and George Soros structures would allocate budget for such adventures. At the very least, it is illegal. Moreover, you can imagine how strictly this kind of activities is persecuted in the U.S. So, apparently, "The Insider" agreed to flush the competing site down the pipe for several services from another site in the problematic case of exposing the personal data of ordinary FSB officers. This information was eventually slipped to Alexei Navalny. And he looked like a complete idiot, which has already been pointed out by some gentlemen who far from like the same Putin. They even "leaked" personal details of a man sitting in jail for six years under false accusations, whose case should be handled by human rights organizations and presented him as the administrator of a shadow forum.

At the same time, people who really tried to kill Alexey Navalny read all this nonsense now, which was hyped in all media by mountainous experts from Bellingcat and The Insider and, most likely, are laughing at it.

Dmitrii Ershov, writing for newspaper Zavtra, US State Department and Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence of Great Britain.

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