Then there’s the third story: President Donald Trump finally breaking his silence
about the cyberattack — changing the subject only briefly from his obsession with the November election he lost — and doing it only to downplay suggestions of Russian involvement; contradicting experts in his administration and in the private sector who say Russia’s fingerprints
are all over it, with evidence that it was done by a group called Cozy Bear,
linked with Russian military intelligence.
What we have, in short, is mounting evidence of the Russian regime headed by Putin attacking at home and abroad. Inside Russia, allegedly sending a squad to kill a man whose crime is demanding democracy and an end to corruption; abroad, presiding over the infiltration of major U.S. government and private networks.
Eventually, the three storylines could become part of a flood of productions. Countless movies and series might grow out of the madness of our times.
One of the first to get green-lighted will probably be the real-life spy thriller about the Navalny assassination attempt, made more satisfying by its most recent twist, when Navalny tricked one of his would-be killers into confessing.
Just a few days ago, investigative journalists from Bellingcat and CNN released a bombshell report,
of a Russian intelligence team specializing in the use of toxins and nerve agents. Navalny barely survived an assassination attempt last August, when he fell violently ill during a flight over Siberia, causing the plane to make an emergency landing in the city of Omsk. After unexplained delays, authorities eventually authorized his release to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists and familiar from the attempted assassination
of Russians in the U.K. in 2018.
Bellingcat investigations had already unearthed evidence of Russian’s role in that 2018 hit, as well as Russian poison attacks in Germany,
and the shooting down of a civilian airliner
by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. This time, working with CNN, they detailed how Putin’s men allegedly tracked Navalny for years. The gripping story is complete with pictures, names and titles of the men believed to be involved in the August hit.
Then, Navalny, phoned one of the men, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, disguising his phone number and pretending to be a Russian security official. The recording, now translated, is not to be missed
. Kudryavtsev describes putting poison in Navalny’s underwear, traveling to Omsk to retrieve the poisoned clothing, and coming chillingly close to killing his victim.
Putin denied trying to kill Navalny, claiming the stories are all fabrication by U.S. intelligence, but admitted that Navalny has been under surveillance. If Russia wanted to kill him, Putin said,
they would have “finished it.”
What emerges is a picture of Putin less as statesman than as mustachio-twirling cartoon villain, or perhaps a run-of-the-mill mafia boss.
That’s why it is so shocking to hear Trump insist on defending him.
US officials and Microsoft experts
say the US is under major attack even now. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it
“a very significant effort,” adding, “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.” Russia denies any involvement here too.
In the US this has been described as the worst intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor.
The infiltrators have entered deep into the US government. Hackers have accessed
the departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, and others. But Trump, shortly after Pompeo’s statement, jumped to Russia’s defense, tweeting
, “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality…..Russia, Russia, Russia,” he mocked, accusing the “Lamestream media” of ignoring the “possibility that it may be China (it may!)”
It was a preposterous claim, at odds with the views of experts.
On Monday, outgoing Attorney General William Barr, while rejecting Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, also weighed in
on the cyberattack. “I agree with Secretary Pompeo’s assessment,” he said, “It certainly appears to be the Russians.”
One day, the explanation for Trump’s devotion to Putin will become known. Until then, perhaps the screenwriters will have to leave that question open, a cliffhanger. In the meantime, we are learning more about how Putin operates, making Trump’s behavior only more perplexing. It all feels like fiction, but here we are. We believe it because we see it.