By Pascal Najadi
Contrary to the belief that Putin is an unstoppable tyrant, something may be up. Is it a palace coup in the making? Or is it an improbable string of blunders?
The answer may lie in the saga surrounding the declared poisoning of Putin's domestic foe, Alexander Navalny.
You may have heard that in late August he became ill in Siberia and fell into a coma. He was whisked off to a German hospital as soon as Russian doctors found him stable enough for evacuation. In Germany doctors declared him a victim of Novichok poisoning.
A key part of that story is absolutely untrue. He did not fall into a coma from his illness. Doctors at the Russian hospital that first received the ailing Navalny placed him into a medically induced coma to protect him in case he had been poisoned.
Despite the seriousness of this tragedy, an international political squabble erupted between Russia and Germany and its allies. I've been following it from my vantage point here in neutral Switzerland.
I've seen this quickly grow into a major global news story. That's where the "fell into a coma" descriptor arose. Navalny's staff and others seemed bent on blaming Putin. Western political actors and media organizations added the notion that Navalny's illness was so acute that it made him comatose. "Fell into a coma" became an adversarial emphatic.
That's why I was surprised to see that RT, the Kremlin financed international news agency, used the same allusion.
On August 22, RT reported, "The Kremlin opponent has been in a coma since falling critically ill on Thursday." Why was RT siding with Russia's self-avowed enemies? Was this the sign of a budding Kremlin coup?
This may seem like splitting hairs. But it hit me like a blockbuster. Indeed, why was RT using language so similar to the blatant distortion invented by Putin's enemies? Surely they knew that Russian doctors had placed Navalny into an artificial coma. In fact, in Germany the doctors there kept him in a coma for the same reasons the Russian doctors initiated it: to protect Navalny.
I asked myself, are there any other signs to support the Kremlin coup suggestion? I saw none immediately connected to the Navalny case. Then I asked, what about long term? Have there been any historical signs?
There is one thing that popped to mind. It is even related to today's situation. I noticed that in the face of all the international condemnation of Putin regarding Navalny, the Kremlin asserted absolutely no cogent defense. That's nothing new. When Putin has been subjected to international ridicule in the past, even over things that were obvious fabrications, the Kremlin offered no sensible or effective response.
That's why Western politicians talk about Navalny's poisoning as just the latest in a series of attempts by Putin to murder a critic. That succession of failed murder attempts makes Putin look like a flaming incompetent. How could that happen? Is the person charged with protecting Putin's reputation a saboteur?
We've seen how Trump has had trusted people in his administration that were covertly working against him. Is that what's happened to Putin? Has there been a saboteur at work all along?
These failed murder attempts make Putin appear to be a bumbling idiot. Certainly if a man with Putin's resources wanted to kill someone he should be able to have it carried out with precision. Even a lesser person could have done better than Putin.
Sadly, I know that from personal experience. Just seven years ago my own beloved father was assassinated in broad daylight in the center of Malaysia's capitol city. He had been a very prominent figure in that country's banking industry. In retirement, though, he became aware of government-linked corruption in the bank he once directed. As he tried to expose it, someone close to the top of the then-ruling government must have found that inconvenient. That apparently sealed my dad's fate.
Consequently I find it hard to believe that Putin has tried and failed so many times to silence people who purportedly were embarrassments for him. It just does not make sense.
Neither does it make sense now to think that Navalny is just another blundered Putin attempt at murder.
There are other inconsistencies in the Western story about the case. First, of course, there is the "fell into a coma" trick to exaggerate the situation. But there is more.
Dr. Richard Parsons has something to say about that. He is senior lecturer in biochemical technology at Kings College in London. According to Parsons Novichok, the agent German doctors claim poisoned Navalny, is a binary weapon. That means it comes in two parts. That allows them to be transported safely. Novichok does not become toxic until the two are mixed. Parsons offered those insights in an interview with Claire Bryne at Irish RTE Radio.
Now insert Parson's knowledge into the scenario Navalny's people would have us believe about the lead up to his poisoning.
Navalny was at an airport coffee shop in Tomsk, Russia. One of his staff went to get him a cup of tea. Who prepared that tea? Was it Navalny's employee? Or was it made by a barista? Whichever one it was, that person would have had to mix the two part Novichok and put it into Navalny's cup.
According to Parsons, touching or even smelling activated Novichok would be enough to poison someone. Given that, does the purported scenario sound like something that could really have happened? It doesn't to me. It sounds like something fabricated by someone who was not too smart.
But yet we have the Germans telling us that Navalny's blood was found to have a cholinesterase inhibitor later identified as Novichok.
That presents the rest of us with a dilemma. It's because the Russian doctors claim to have tested Navalny's blood for cholinesterase inhibitors and found none. How can they both be right?
I think there is a very simple way to settle this dilemma. The Germans claim to have a Navalny biological sample with a cholinesterase inhibitor. The Russian doctors say they tested for cholinesterase inhibitors and found none.
Isn't the simple solution obvious? Both countries should send their respective samples to a credible, impartial testing laboratory. We have one right here in Switzerland, a neutral party. It is called the Spiez Laboratory. There are only five laboratories in the world that are permanently certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Spiez is one of them. It could be relied upon to do a competent job. Technical representatives from Germany and Russia could be present to assure that the testing is performed satisfactorily.
There could be one obstacle, however. The Russians claim the Germans have been unwilling to share a sample of the biological material that they tested.
But if that's true, it is really no problem at all.
Russia could merely have its sample tested at Spiez. If it's found devoid of a cholinesterase inhibitor, it would give the Germans something to explain. If they have been bluffing they'd be caught. If they later produce a sample showing a cholinesterase inhibitor, one would have to explain how it got there after Navalny left Russia.
So there is a clear initiative Russia could take. In fact, it is curious that the Russians have not already proposed this showdown.
Is their inaction another result of a possible coup plotter within Kremlin walls? Is there any foreign instigation or support? It's high time for Putin to look into this.
For now the whole Navalny escapade lacks a believable and coherent storyline. Frankly, if this were not so deadly serious it would sound farcical. The media's quest for the truth would be as laughable as a Pink Panther episode with Inspector Clouseau.
I hope that the authorities in Germany and Russia will rise up and put a stop to the nonsense. It is having an unsettling effect on a world already troubled by a global pandemic and an impending financial crisis.