The Free Russia Foundation, a US-based think tank founded by a group of Russian expatriates and dissidents, is reporting that the Kremlin has launched a propaganda campaign to undermine Western solidarity with Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny and utilizing Russian and Western left-wing commentators. According to the report authored by Ukrainian academic Anton Shekhovtsov:
February 6, 2021 The current attacks against Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny alleging his nationalistic leanings bear all the traditional markings of a reflexive control operation initiated by the Kremlin. Their goal is to undermine the legitimacy of Navalny in the eyes of the West and paralyze action in his support. […]
Moscow’s 4D approach to eroding the European solidarity on the Navalny case has been the following: dismiss accusations of poisoning the leading opposition figure, distort the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s poisoning by suggesting multiple theories of his sickness, distract European attention from Navalny’s attempted assassination sanctioned by the Kremlin, and dismay European politicians by expelling diplomats for supporting the jailed opposition activist.
The “mechanics” of the “distract” element consist of a reflexive control operation involving three phases. First, the Kremlin conveys the narrative (“Navalny is a nationalist”) privately to its agents of influence and publicly via state-controlled media (such as RT) setting up the agenda. Second, Russian “leftists” reproduce the sanctioned narrative in Western national and international left-wing media. Third, the narrative “travels” to more moderate, centrist media space and becomes part of the mainstream discussion, which is Moscow’s main goal of the “distract” element. By “laundering” this reflexive control operation through Russian “leftists”, the Kremlin partially removes traces of its influence in “Navalny’s nationalism” debates among Western left-wing commentators and activists.
Read the full report here.
The report further identifies Russian left-wing activist Alexey Sakhnin as “one egregious specimen” for this kind of propaganda campaign. According to the report, Sakhnin is:
…a member of the Russian organisation “Left Front”. Introduced to Western left-wing audiences as an opponent to Putin, Sakhnin has been continuously involved in the Kremlin’s information war against Ukraine since 2014, as well as in several operations aimed at smearing and discrediting European experts and politicians critical of Putin’s regime. While living “in exile” in Sweden in 2012–2019, Sakhnin was busy packing Sweden’s Left Party and Green Party with pro-Kremlin narratives packaged as genuine left-wing analysis of international relations.
Sakhnin regularly publishes for US left-wing magazines such as Jacobin, and his articles on Navalny carry titles such as “Russia’s Trump” or “How a Russian Nationalist Named Alexei Navalny Became a Liberal Hero.”