“Put up or shut up”: the case against William Browder and Alexei Navalny

It would be an understatement to remark that the provenance of the cache of documents underlying the case is murky and that so far no serious effort has been made by the Russian state broadcasters to provide  credible explanations of damaging discrepancies.

“Put up or shut up”: the case against William Browder and Alexei Navalny

by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.


Diplomatic or simply civil turns of speech have been casualties of the ongoing Information War between Russia and the US-led West. In the past couple of years the rhetoric coming from both sides has reached feverish levels.

At the end of February, Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, directed against Moscow the very insulting challenge to card cheats, “put up or shut up,” just as the agreed cease fire in Syria got underway. This crude questioning of Russian intentions in Syria was regrettable and highly inappropriate language by all reckoning.

However, those same words come to mind today with respect to inaction by the Russian news broadcasting establishment in the face of challenges, indeed ridicule coming from opposition media over a film presented in excerpts one week ago on the wrap-up news show Vesti nedeli hosted by Dmitry Kiselev and then presented in full on 13 April as part of the program ‘Special Correspondent’ with Yevgeni Popov, producer of the film.  The issues are too important for silence by the Pervyi Kanal to be tolerated.

The film in question, “The Browder Effect” alleges that the billionaire chairman of the Russian portfolio investment company Hermitage Capital William Browder was an agent of British intelligence MI6, that he recruited to the service the widely known blogger Alexei Navalny, who went on to become a leader of the Russian non-systemic opposition where he remains today, and that in 2009 Browder was involved in organizing the cut-off of medical services to Sergei Magnitsky in prison, which predictably led to his death, generating the cause célèbre that poisoned US-Russian relations well before Ukraine and the Crimea finished off what was left of those relations between the two countries.  These accusations, if taken seriously by U.S. officials, can constitute yet one more substantial obstacle to any eventual return to normalcy.  If true, they suggest that the intelligence services in the United States have gotten totally out of control and are shaping foreign policy, not implementing it.

In my commentary on this whole affair published in the past week, I noted that my own textual analysis of several of the documents shown in the film raised serious questions of authenticity.  As I said, this was at the level of grammatical errors, confused British and American spelling and the like. In even cursory reading I found but did not mention in my article a number of sentences in at least one intelligence report that made no sense.  In the time following the publication of my commentary, I discovered a serious discrepancy in the single most important document, the report said to be addressed to the director of Central Intelligence on 29 September 2009 describing the medical condition of Magnitsky in detention and signed V. Plame.  This was the “Smoking Gun” document implicating Browder, the CIA and the MI6 in the murder of Magnitsky. Unfortunately Plame had resigned from the CIA three years earlier amidst a major scandal over the outing of her cover by U.S. government officials.

In my latest survey of Russian press comments on the entire affair, from Dmitry Kiselev’s initial airing through the presentation of the complete documentary, I find that the problems with the documents which I detected have been flushed out in great detail. They would be the subject of great mirth if the case made against Browder, Navalny and the U.S. government on the basis of these documents were not so grave.

In the panel discussion of the film that Yevgeni Popov moderated on 13 April we heard from several key personalities in the affair, including the all-important Sergei Sokolov, Boris Berezovsky’s head of security who transferred to Russia the cache of documents from a part of which the film was assembled.  Popov mentioned in passing that criticisms had been made of his documents, saying dismissively these had to do with grammar. His response to doubters was that the documents shown are just a tiny fraction of those received from Berezovsky. These now remained secret because they may be used in court cases presumably against Navalny and against Browder.  Indeed, one of the key figures in the Magnitsky case, Pavel Karpov, who was placed under U.S. sanctions in the first List of those held responsible for Magnitsky’s death, is now reported to be bringing murder charges against Browder in Moscow, all of which would be a very dramatic turn of events. On the other side, Alexei Navalny has denied that he was ever recruited by Browder and has threatened to bring a libel suit against Dmitry Kiselev and the Russian State Broadcasting Company.

It would be an understatement to remark that the provenance of the cache of documents is murky and that so far no serious effort has been made by Kiselev or Popov to provide  credible explanations. We have been told only that the documents were found on 60 servers kept by foreign intelligence services in Ukraine and brought out with the help of Sokolov’s men after the Maidan revolution.

 There is no need to assume that the documents were forged by agents of the Kremlin and that the forgeries were done by dummies possessing no adequate knowledge of English who were dependent on google for automated translations.  That is what the opposition media is saying in their snarky comments. 

But it is entirely thinkable that they were forged by Berezovsky’s men, who had unlimited resources at their disposal and whose boss had every reason to bring to Moscow as his price for freedom a set of uniquely valuable materials to feed the Information War.

Last but not least, it is also possible that the allegations in the documents are correct but that the texts were corrupted one way or another en route to their ultimate destination in Moscow.

In a word, gentlemen, it is time to put up or shut up. The expert evaluation that Yevgeni Popov has said was done on the documents, including by native English-speaking investigators, should be made public.



© Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




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 G. Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites.