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Tragedy? Farce? Confusion? The Method Behind That Russian Poisoning Interview

Jakub Kalensky, who leads efforts to counter disinformation at the head of a European Union unit in Brussels that analyzes Russian disinformation, said the two men’s story was so hard to believe that Russia’s “message may simply be this: ‘We just don’t care how credible or incredible what we say sounds.’”

But the two men did manage to build a high — if not very believable — wall of denial. And they also “succeeded in turning the tragedy in Salisbury into a farce,” said Mr. Pomerantsev, the former Russian television producer.

Still, on Saturday, Russian claims that Mr. Petrov and Mr. Boshirov were innocent, fun-loving civilians took a blow when Novaya Gazeta, an opposition Russian newspaper, reported that the Moscow telephone number listed for Mr. Petrov in official records belonged to the Russian Defense Ministry.

And an investigation by Bellingcat, an online platform, found that there is no record of either Mr. Boshirov or Mr. Petrov in an official database of residential and passport information before 2009, when they were issued internal passports under the names they now use. It said this suggested that the two men had previously used other names and that their current names are “cover identities for operatives of one of the Russian security services.” Mr. Petrov’s official file, Bellingcat said, is marked “top secret.”

The overriding message from the RT interview, as with all of Russia’s responses to foreign accusations against the country, was that blameless Russians have again fallen victim to Western lies and prejudice. In a near-permanent state of high-dudgeon over Western accusations of misbehavior, Russia invariably responds to criticism by condemning the critic.

Just this week, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss and Dutch ambassadors to Moscow to complain that their countries were damaging relations after reports the Netherlands expelled two Russian spies accused of plotting cyber-sabotage of a Swiss defense laboratory analyzing the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

In their interview, Mr. Petrov and Mr. Boshirov adopted the same plaintive tone used by Mr. Putin and his officials in response to past accusations. Among them: that Russian missiles shot down an airliner in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine; that Russian troops supported a bloody separatist rebellion there; and that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

“We just want to be left in peace,” Mr. Boshirov said, demanding that Britain apologize for all the grief it has caused him and Mr. Petrov.

Source: NYT > World

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