The common conclusion of my two encounters with Bill Browder was that his intensity and the time he was devoting now to putting in place anti-Russian sanctions in Europe was in no way comparable to the behavior of a top level international businessman. It was clear to me that some other game was in play.
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One of the clear missions of Russian state television in 2016, the year of elections to the State Duma has been to discredit Alexei Navalny, the long established blogger, wily critic of the Kremlin and leader of the new generation ‘non-systemic’ opposition by exposing him as a fraud in the pay of Russia’s Western rivals and ill-wishers.
Several weeks ago Russian state television broadcast hidden camera recordings of Navalny’s first meeting with Carl Bildt, former Swedish premier and foreign minister, best known in this part of the world for leading the Eastern Partnership program aimed at removing former Soviet republics, notably Ukraine, from the Russian sphere of influence.
This past Sunday, the Vesti nedeli program, a prime time Sunday evening wrap-up of the week’s news presented by the senior journalist and manager of Russia’s informational broadcasting resources, Dmitry Kiselyov, showed excerpts from a documentary film about Navalny and his mentor, or handler, William F. Browder. (Video below - in Russian only)
The film, entitled “The Browder Effect,” was assembled by the channel’s investigative reporter and presenter in his own right, Yevgeni Popov. The full version of “The Browder Effect” will be aired on Wednesday evening, 13 April on Russia’s flagship network, Pervyi Kanal. However, from the lengthy segments shown on Sunday it is possible to draw some conclusions about the sensational material it sets out.
Both Vesti 24 and Pervyi Kanal are Russian language stations directed at the domestic audience. From the standpoint of their management, whatever is sensational about the film has to do with the way it conclusively details Navalny’s recruitment by Bill Browder in 2007 for a program run by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, also known as Military Intelligence (MI6), intended to destabilize the Russian government. Navalny came to the attention of MI6 because Browder determined he was “the most suitable candidate for future political leader” given his creativity, new media mastery and speaking skills on politics, law and economics.
We then follow Navalny’s progress as a foreign-paid trouble-maker engaged in standing up for minority shareholders and exposing corruption in major Russian, partly state-owned companies, meaning that he was busily attacking Vladimir Putin’s direct appointees. We are told Navalny was next a useful aid to U.S. authorities in compiling a list of high Russian judicial and penal administrative officials for inclusion in the Magnitsky List on the basis of their alleged involvement in the torture and murder in detention of Browder’s erstwhile accountant, Sergei Magnitsky. One document from 2010 indicates Navalny received large sums of money, at one point a $300,000 payment, from his overseas handlers to apply his skills with social media and disseminate a positive spin on American sanctions to Russia’s liberals and creative classes. The objective was to undermine popular trust in the courts.
The last documents involving Navalny shown on the Vesti nedeli program Sunday date from just before the State Duma elections on 4 December 2011, which were followed by massive street demonstrations against what was called electoral fraud perpetrated by the ruling party. Notwithstanding the advice from his mentor, Browder, to stick with his economic warfare on Russian big business and stay out of politics, this was the point when Navalny went on to emerge as a key leader in the new generation of forces opposed to the Kremlin.
For Western observers, there is nothing sensational in the exposé of Navalny as a paid agent of British intelligence operating under the code name “Freedom.” He is a remote personality, has been denounced by some in the West as a Russian nationalist and he is at liberty, not a prisoner of conscience. The truly sensational nature of Yevgeny Popov’s film lies elsewhere, in its material on Browder. If Navalny was recruited by Browder, then Popov was obliged to show how it was that the billionaire co-founder and owner of Hermitage Capital, which was at one point the largest foreign portfolio investment company in Russia, could be an agent, code named “Solomon,” in the MI6 documents presented on screen.
To answer this question, the film flashes back to 1995, and a Memorandum for the Chief of Secret Intelligence dated 12 July describing the attraction of Browder for his new bosses: “he is an important figure in integration of financial structures into the Russian economy. [He] has extensive contacts with [sic] international banking community and has [sic] wide range of relations with representatives of business communities in the UK, the USA, Europe, China and India.”
This was about the time when Browder was making a transition from highly paid employee heading up the section of private investing in Russia at Salomon Brothers (hence the coy code name, a corruption of Salomon) to setting up his own investment company with seed capital from the elderly Syrian-Jewish-Brazilian banker and entrepreneur Edmond Safra. It was also the time when Browder, a US citizen became a British subject.
And so that we may understand why such talents and contacts could be useful to British (and by extension to American) intelligence, a further flashback to 28 August 1986 shows us a CIA document entitled “Change the Constitutional and Political System in Eastern Europe and the USSR” signed by the agency director Wiliam Casey. Among the specific actions within the scope of this program would be “getting control over financial flows and removing assets from the economies of developed countries.”
The narrator explains that even more than 25 years after the disappearance of the USSR, this CIA policy, known as “The Quake” (Drozh’, in Russian) remains in effect.
Not content with proving that a billionaire investment fund owner could also be an MI6 operative, the film’s producer also saw fit to demolish via documentary proof the entire Browder story about the reasons for his being declared persona non grata in Russia in 2006 as a threat to national security and about the persecution of his loyal retainer Magnitsky at the hands of rapacious Moscow officials plundering the remains of his company.
It emerges from a memorandum to the Director of Central intelligence written on CIA letterhead and dated 20 September 2009 that Browder had discussed with MI6 the deteriorating health of Magnitsky in detention and that he was involved in plans to have the penitentiary service arrange the termination of medical services. The report went on to say that this ‘medical error’ could lead to Magnitsky’s death.
A follow-on interview with one political analyst explains that Browder was the only one who could profit from Magnitsky’s demise. We are told his former protégé was about to start talking to prosecution against his employers. Then his death provided the material for the cause célèbre that Browder would ride to nation-wide prominence in the USA and in Europe with the eventual passage of the sanctions on Russia he promoted as the just punishment for corrupt and murderous officials of the Putin regime.
Thus, the collateral damage resulting from Yevgeni Popov’s exposé amounts to a devastating attack on the political situation in the United States, where the CIA is shown to have been complicit in setting up the case used to move the American political mood and legislation in a harshly anti-Russian direction via the Magnitsky Act sanctions. Here is a smoking gun of great potential importance for those who care about who is actually controlling the US government if not our elected leaders.
Part of the documentary rests on expert testimony of Russian political analysts. Part rests on skype texts and on telephone conversations intercepted by the Russian intelligence agencies. But the most important material, including the aforementioned ‘smoking gun’ come from documents in a cache prepared by Kremlin-nemesis Boris Berezovsky in London as he tried to negotiate with Vladimir Putin a possible return to his motherland that would land him in good graces and not in a prison cell.
One sequence in the documentary introduces us to Sergei Sokolov, the former chief of security for Berezovsky who, at his boss’s instructions, hid copies of this cache of documents in several locations and eventually brought a set with him to Moscow, where we may assume Russian intelligence officers pored over them. Sokolov is not a new face to viewers of Russian state television. Several months ago he was shown in a documentary examining the death of Berezovsky in one of his London properties. The cache of documents was mentioned then but not described.
This peculiar provenance of the documents means that they should have been subjected to special scrutiny by Mr. Popov’s team before presentation to the general public. Considering the possible impact of the content of these documents on US-Russian relations, such caution would be doubly recommended. Regrettably, that appears not to have been the case.
In the information war that has been ongoing and escalating to fever pitch ever since Vladimir Putin made his famous accusatory speech directed against the United States at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, I have examined closely a succession of key documents produced by the American side and its close allies and discovered patent fraud and forgeries.
In my essay on the article “Containing Russia” signed but not written by Yulia Tymoshenko and published in Foreign Affairs magazine in the spring of 2007, I demonstrated how textual analysis could turn up inconsistencies that give the lie to official attribution.
The same essay pointed out the fraud perpetrated by the German Marshall Fund in the summer of 2008 when it commissioned an open letter denouncing Barack Obama’s recently launched policy of re-set which was distributed to and published by The New York Times and other mainstream media as a cri de coeur from Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and other Cold War heroes in the struggle against Soviet domination.
Still another essay of mine devoted to the launch of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program at a summit in Prague in May 2009 pointed to the American spelling used in the Southern Corridor papers presented in the concurrent summit on the New Silk Road for energy. While interference by MS Word spellcheck cannot be totally eliminated as an explanation, the greater likelihood was that these ostensibly European documents on a new, anti-Russian energy policy were written in Washington, D.C. See my book Stepping Out of Line, pp. 315 ff.
It is with this background of interest in textual analysis that I have approached the documents presented by the film “The Browder Effect” and at once serious questions arose. In one or two documents, my reservations are at the level of tell-tale signs of Russian speakers’ intervention: namely absence of or poor control over the use of articles. In the one memo where this occurs most, it could be just telegraphic style, but it stands out and differs from the other texts. Another document has one specifically Russian turn of speech. More generally, it is disconcerting that memorandums from the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the one memorandum on CIA letterhead are formatted identically The most recent document, from MI6, the “Report on performing duties under special operation ‘Magnitsky list’” is dated ‘Jan 23, 2010,’ American style; it has the American spelling of “program” and British punctuation. Such mongrel style does not usually exist in nature.
It is impossible to say what is the source of the problems cited. One possibility is that the documents, which are said to have come from the US embassy in London, were copied out by hand and mistakes were made in the transcription. Then they were retyped in a single style. Another possibility is that they are forgeries, pure and simple.
Having called attention to these issues, I hasten to add that the content of the documents as they concern Bill Browder ring true to my understanding of his possible role in the entire Magnitsky case. I say this on the basis of my personal reading of Browder during his two visits to Brussels in 2013 when I saw him and his road show exhibits up close.
In his first visit, at a public seminar on Russian political prisoners held in the European Parliament building on 5 June 2013, Browder brought a collection of spiteful witnesses intent on blackening the reputation of Vladimir Putin and his ‘regime.’ The seminar, which was sponsored by the neo-Liberal ALDE faction in the Parliament, was scheduled to take place one day after the publication of an Address to Foreign and Interior Ministers of the EU signed by 47 European Parliamentarians pressing on the EU executive the adoption of a law similar to the so-called Magnitsky Act.
Notwithstanding the various particular messages and particular concerns of the diverse panel, united only in its opposition to the Putin regime, the event was called to promote such a Magnitsky bill and those on the podium spoke in unison in its favor, disseminating the (manifestly false) idea that the bill enjoyed broad support within Russia and was only opposed by the regime itself. The entire proceedings were video recorded, presumably for future use in the halls of power by the event’s sponsors.
At that event, Browder spoke very little. His task as master of ceremonies was to introduce his assembled witnesses. These included Mikhail Kasyanov, former prime minister and leader of the Parnas Party, together with Boris Nemtsov, the allied party to ALDE in the Russian Federation. A tearful speech was delivered by Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of the then still imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But perhaps the most passionate speech was by the iconic freedom fighter Ludmila Alexeeva, former leading personality in the Moscow Helsinki Group. In her mid-80s but still very active, Alexeeva likened the environment in Russia to 1937, year of the Great Purge.
When I saw mention in one document presented by Popov of the Moscow Helsinki Group as the vehicle that MI6 used to get money to Navalny, this clicked perfectly with the reality Browder brought with his road show to Brussels on that day.
I wrote up my impressions of Browder’s second visit to Brussels that year, in a November essay. On that occasion, which was nominally to present a book he financed promoting a Magnitsky Act for Europe at the Brussels Press Club, Browder once again presented assorted witnesses, including the particularly odious Vladimir Kara Murza, an unrestrained propagandist against the Putin regime and fellow-traveler of the Parnas group. What was most revealing was the Q&A session in which Browder dropped his genial mask and spoke openly about the need to punish by sanctions the million thieves and murderers who run Russia. His stated objective was regime change.
The common conclusion of my two encounters with Bill Browder was that his intensity and the time he was devoting now to putting in place anti-Russian sanctions in Europe was in no way comparable to the behavior of a top level international businessman. It was clear to me that some other game was in play. But at the time, Browder was enjoying vast popularity in the USA, was not doing badly in Europe and no one could stand up and suggest the man was a fraud, an operative of the intelligence agencies.
Whatever the final verdict may be on the documents presented by the film “The Browder Effect,” it raises questions about Browder that should have been asked years ago in mainstream Western media if journalists were paying attention. Yevgeni Popov deserves credit for highlighting those questions, even if his documents demand further investigation before we come to definitive answers.
The author is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His most recent book, "Does Russia Have a Future", was published in August 2015.
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