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Russia's Feds Now Using Bloggers to Investigate Bloggers

Last week, blogger and corruption fighter Alexey Navalny was on top of the world, after he published information that led to the eventual resignation of a Duma deputy. The Russian Internet, however, is a fickle mistress. Today, Navalny is himself the victim of bloggers.

On February 27, 2013, Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin tweeted [ru]:

Следствие установило факт незаконности получения Алексеем Навальным адвокатского статуса. Подробности скоро на сайте sledcom.ru

An investigation determined that Alexey Navalny has unlawfully received his attorney's credentials. Details to follow on sledcom.ru

This was an odd statement to come from the Russian agency sometimes compared to the FBI. Although Navalny is indeed a lawyer, and is being investigated by the Committee on several matters (investigations many say are politically motivated), his credentials as an attorney are irrelevant to those cases and are outside the scope of the Committee's jurisdiction.

Alexey Navalny, photo by Valya Egorshin, CC 2.0.

Alexey Navalny, photo by Valya Egorshin, CC 2.0.

Nevertheless, the Committee soon published more information in a press release [ru], alleging that Navalny never completed the two years of relevant work experience that is required for receiving the credentials (in addition to law school). Navalny allegedly submitted documents to the Kirov Bar Association claiming to have worked part-time as the Deputy Director General for Legal Affairs at a firm where he was also the Director General. The press release further claims that the firm did not exist at the time.

Of course, such allegations are a direct attack on Navalny's credibility as an anti-corruption activist. However, putting aside their validity and pertinence, where did the Investigative Committee come up with these accusations? Incensed blogger Maksim Kononenko had his own theory, first tweeting [ru] at the spokesman:

@VladimirMarkin Владимир, вам бы, конечно, научиться работать. Пресс-сопровождение у вашей конторы отвратительное. Вы некомпетентны.

@VladimirMarkin Vladimir, it would be nice if you learned how do do your job. The press support of your office is abhorrent. You're incompetent.

(After Markin's retweet of this statement, Kononenko reacted [ru] with “I'm f*cked”.)

Kononenko later explained why he was so upset on his blog [ru] Idiot.fm:

Но вот такое ощущение, что начальники Следственного комитета о существовании этих следователей не подозревают. Они рапортуют об успехах, скомпилированных из публикаций в газетах и блогах. [...] Спасибо, Кэп! А откуда вы это узнали? Закон прочитали? Или же пост на Идиоте?

I have a feeling that the heads of the Investigative Committee don't know about the existence of investigators. They report successes compiled from newspaper and blog publications. [...] Thanks, Captain [Obvious]! Where did you learn this? Did you read the law? Or a post on Idiot[.fm]?

The complaint is understandable — Kononenko has single-handedly tried to force the issue of Navalny's legal experience for more than a year [ru] with little traction. The Committee's press release contains no new information to one of his readers. The document Navalny submitted to the Kirov Bar is widely available on the Internet. As is the fact that his firm OOO “Allekt” was essentially a one man show. Furthermore, some of the language of the press release follows almost word-for-word a LiveJournal post recently written by NASHI-member and Navalny-hate-blogger Konstantin Goloskokov, linked by Kononenko. Compare Goloskokov [ru]:

[...] при этом директором указанного ООО был также он. Т.е. он был заместителем самого себя.

[...] at the same time he was also the director of the mentioned OOO. That is, he was his own deputy.

and the press release [ru]:

При этом следует отметить, что генеральным директором этой компании также являлся А.Навальный. То есть он сам себя назначил и руководителем, и своим заместителем.

At the same time we should note that A. Navalny was also the general director of this company. That is, he appointed himself the boss and the deputy.

Although there are definitely questionable aspects about the way Navalny got his credentials (while he received his law degree in Moscow, he was accredited in the provincial Kirov, where he worked closely with regional governor Nikita Belyh), Kononenko claims that his own motivation is an innocent quest for truth. According to him, he is just trying to get to bottom of case, and Navalny is being evasive in his answers [ru]. Unlike Goloskokov, Kononenko doesn't particularly mind if Navalny got his experience by working for himself (likely not illegal) — he just wants an unequivocal answer [ru]:

Меня совершенно не волнует, лишат Навального статуса или не лишат его статуса. [...] Я просто хочу, чтобы Навальный ответил на один простой вопрос

I don't really care if Navalny loses his accreditation or not. [...] I just want for Navalny to answer one simple question.

In fact, Kononenko even went as far as to defend Navalny, debunking [ru] Investigative Committee accusations that Navalny claimed experience when the firm didn't yet exist. Navalny's own response to the Investigative Committee accusations was outraged in tone, but low on details [ru]:

Все документы изъяли какие могли – так и жалуйтесь в палату адвокатскую. [...] Пока все такие жалобы были безуспешны, потому что написано в них полная туфта, которая при критическом рассмотрении моментально вскрывается.

You've got all the documents you could – so complain to the bar association. [...] So far such complaints have been unsuccessful, because they are filled with utter poppycock, which is immediately evident to the critical eye.

While Navalny did not specify which part of the allegations is poppycock, he did get some support from a fellow lawyer, Mark Feygin, who defended [ru] Navalny in a comment on Snob.ru:

Вопрос о лишении статуса будет решать Московская адвокатская палата. И я уверен, что адвокатская палата не сдаст Алексея Навального по столь надуманным обвинениям.

The question of loss of accreditation will be decided by the Moscow bar. I am sure that the bar will not give Aleksey Navalny up on such spurious accusations.

Meanwhile, other bloggers have also began to question Navalny's credentials. Journalist Oleg Lurie, for instance, hit the law books [ru] in order to find out what happened. He claims that even Navalny's version of events (that he worked self-employed to gain legal experience) still would not fulfill the credential requirements, because the firm never had a Legal Department.

Though Navalny certainly has ‘bigger fish to fry’ than his attorney-status, one wonders if he will eventually take the time to explain what happened. It would be high irony indeed, if Russia's most notorious anti-corruption blogger decided to ignore the muckraking of his netizen cohort.

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