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By John Helmer, Moscow 

Russia-hating Russians have long made a business of selling their bile to Americans with a  profit that makes Israel-hating Jews, Greece-hating Greeks,  and Cecil Rhodes-hating South Africans quite envious, though not quite as lucratively as Russia-hating Ukrainians have been selling since they lost the last war in Europe.    

Sergei Lebedev (lead image, right) — “arguably the best of Russia’s younger writers” says a British historian with a history of regime-changing opinions – is doing well at this business. With a blurb endorsement by Anne Applebaum as “one of Russia’s most interesting young novelists”, and a translation into English by the former chief executive of the Soros Foundation in the Soviet Union, Lebedev’s place is assured in the market for information warfare against Russia.

His book, released in Russian as Дебютант (synonym Новичок, “Novichok”) by the Eksmo publishing group in 2020, was published in English this past February as “Untraceable”; the publisher is Head of Zeus. Eksmo, the beneficiary of Lebedev’s book sales in Russian,  is owned by Arkady Rotenberg, one of the better known friends of President Vladimir Putin who is sanctioned by the US. Head of Zeus is a branch of IPG, an international book distributor based in Chicago.  The book is the latest reprise of the CIA’s and MI6’s Nobel Prize-winning OPERATION BARRY PARSNIP (Boris Pasternak).   

Like Pasternak’s father, mother and sisters before him, Lebedev has moved to Berlin. According to Luke Harding, arguably the most verbose of MI6 promoters in the Guardian, Lebedev keeps  a special grudge against the Bolsheviks, the Soviets, and President Vladimir Putin on behalf of his hard-done-by German forebears.  “Between 1917 and 1991 state security wrote my family’s story. We lost about 20 people,” Lebedev told Harding.  Harding, who doesn’t check these details, adds: “His relatives were targets for Bolshevik persecution. They included Orthodox priests from St Petersburg, provincial nobles from Kaluga and Vladimir, and the descendants of Germans who emigrated to Russia in the 19th century.”

Harding and Lebedev agree that Lebedev’s newly published Novichok book hits the marketing jackpot. “Lebedev says there is something ‘supernatural” in the way Navalny’s case coincides with the release of his latest book.” Lebedev repeated this pitch for an interviewer from the Salisbury Journal: “With the Skripal attack happening so close to Porton Down, Lebedev explained how ‘I saw these baffling and amazing circles of history.’” Lebedev isn’t very fluent in English; he doesn’t mean baffling or amazing. That’s for  readers to think.

Left to right: Arkady Rotenberg, owner of Lebedev’s Russian publisher; Antonina Bouis, Lebedev’s translator,  in New York; Luke Harding, Lebedev’s promoter in London.

In Lebedev’s plot the inventor of an assassination poison he called Neophyte defects to Germany after the collapse of the Soviet Union removes state funding for his laboratory, along with the standard of living privileges he enjoyed. Also, his wife – a KGB informer who loved him — died in one of his experiments.

The Germans aren’t interested in his poison – even though it was German scientific expertise from the pre-war and then the Nazi period which helped the Soviets, according to Lebedev,  perfect his poison at Shikhany, in the Volga region near Saratov. Lebedev calls the place “The Island”.

It has been a Russian chemical warfare centre since the 1920s  — the same age, purpose and secrecy of the US Army’s Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Japanese Army’s Unit 731 in Manchuria, IG Farben in Frankfurt;  and the Italian Army’s ACNA in Piedmont; but much younger than the British centre at Porton Down. In Lebedev’s version of the history of chemical warfare’s origins, they start and continue to this day in the evillest parts of Europe; that’s to say east of the Rhine River, on the Volga to be precise. Lebedev’s story ignores the British, American, and Japanese chemical and biological warfare operations as if they never existed, let alone came first.  In Lebedev’s scheme of historical equivalence – Soviet Union equals Nazi Germany, Stalin equals Hitler, Putin equals Stalin, etc. — Russia is Satan on earth and can have no external enemy except humanity itself. Now read on…

Sitting in his Black Forest chalet one day, Lebedev’s lead, named Professor No-first-name-or-patronymic Kalitin (from the Russian “garden gate”),  is miffed at reading of an assassination by Russian agents against a Chechen which sounded suspiciously like the poison he had invented, and had taken with him when he defected to keep handy for his pension. Not very originally, Lebedev places his Дебютант, Neophyte, Novichok in an “opaque bottle of men’s toilet water , long out of fashion and no longer produced, an eccentricity of a gentleman averse to change in his habits”. That’s at the start of the book, as Lebedev is warming up. Close to the end, as Kalitin is on his way to a lethal car crash, it has turned into “a light blue bottle, looking like a wind filled sail”.

Lebedev writes in the style of Brown University’s creative writers’ summer camp, every metaphor loaded with double meaning, every snippet of dialogue heavy with multisyllabic profundities. The Russian sky in one of Kalitin’s dreams, for example, “was filled with visible wind, fluttering, flickering, like the potent milt of gigantic flying fish”. Is that evil fish monster singular or monsters plural?  The translator from Soros headquarters isn’t sure.

Cherries appear more certainly in the plural “like Goliaths among cherries so large they were disproportionate, ungainly giants.”

The sympathetic fallacy of all Mother Nature’s creations has a grip on Lebedev – greenhouses “exhaling hotly, oozing toxic sweat, gathering strength to escape outside”; a brunette in a restaurant is wearing “a dark metal necklace resembling a dog collar – a sign of exotic passions, kinky torment insolently displayed in a restaurant by a church;” a hazmat suit that’s “a rubber womb, a live infant in the body of a dead reptile”. In case the reader hasn’t got Lebedev’s subliminal message, on the very last page he portrays Lieutenant Colonel Shershnev, the GRU assassin who’s just missed his mark and is about to be captured by the German police, “crawl[ing] out, covered in leaves like a forest demon.” Shershnev, if you don’t know Russian, is meant to sound like the word for hornet.  

As he goes down, the colonel drops his own bottle of Novichok. Kalitin too, as he loses control of his car on a country road, then loses his Neophyte through “the tiniest crack in the bottle’s spray pump…off into the astral plane, lost among the atoms and molecules.” He had fallen “asleep not knowing that he died, as had the swallows, wood beetles, worms, woodlice and moles.”

Lebedev wants you to make no mistake that all Russians are Mother Nature’s lowest beasts—especially those in charge of Russia. The name of the current prime minister of Russia,  for example, Mikhail Mishustin, is given to a Russian Army sergeant in Chechnya – “drunkard, fornicator, executioner and trader in prisoners… he handled financial affairs of generals”.  The disfigurement by poison of the face of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko in 2004 is revived in the face of the priest who tries to warn our hero that he’s been marked and to whom Kalitin confesses his sins; his face was the work of – who else? — the Stasi. The poisoning death by telephone receiver of Moscow businessman Ivan Kivelidi in 1995 is also revived as “pointing to Neophyte”.

Lebedev has dutifully learned Creative Writing Summer Camp Lesson No. 1 – remember the moral of the story. He dots this as clichés throughout the text until he draws this line at the end to join up all the dots: “[Kalitin] understood that the appearance of death, its eternal fate to leave traces, be known, is a natural good, the red signal thread sewn and woven into the fabric of the world. The original law of retribution is encoded and realized in matter….The possibility of the existence of the concepts of crime, guilt, revenge, retribution, repentance. Morality per se.”

And there you have it – the evil Russians think, the evil they do, the evil Russians are, will always be discovered by the forensic brilliance and moral superiority of the boys on our side – at Fort Detrick, Porton Down, even the Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie der Bundeswehr (IPTB) in Munich.  There can be no untraceable Russian crime, no successful Novichok assassination – our side will always win.

The author got a little carried away with this, and forgot his geography of Germany. He places the evil Kalitin with his perfume bottle in the Black Forest in western Germany; he places the two GRU assassins enroute with their deodorant bottle on the German side of the Czech border, in the Bohemian Forest. He claims they were very close to each other before The Garden Gate gives up the ghost and The Hornet is captured by the German SWAT team. Lebedev, Bouis, and their fact- checkers have failed to check the map: this shows that at its shortest, the distance between them must have been more than 300 kilometres. Geography can’t be truth, not in Europe.

Lebedev’s book ends in such a tearing hurry, it appears his stipend, along with Bouis’s, were  running out, and that the secret services supporting the publisher  wanted to make sure the book could be in the bookshops before Navalny’s case had ceased to be breaking news. The only  improbability matching this outcome is the argument still raging between the Pushkin House Book Prize judges over whether to give Lebedev another £10,000 for his Novichok.

Pushkin House calls itself “the oldest independently funded, non-governmental UK charity specialising in Russian culture. We were established in 1954 by Russian émigrés and British enthusiasts to celebrate, explore and share aspects of Russian culture. We are a charity and as such our work depends on donations.” Its board of trustees includes a US banker to Russian corporates and a lawyer from White & Case.  The financial report of the organisation can be read here.  It reveals that Alexei Navalny gave £25,500 to Pushkin House in 2018 concealed behind the name of his political party, Future of Russia.  

Navalny’s cash didn’t quite make up for the loss of £50,000 which Len Blavatnik, the one-time oil and aluminium oligarch now a British citizen, gave in 2017, and then stopped. The charity  has been running in the red since then.


Source: https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/ The chief Trustees of Pushkin House Trust, Sergei Ostrovsky and Craig Kennedy, have been asked to clarify how taking money from a Russian political party and the well-known oppositionist Navalny complies with the UK Charities Commission rules. They refuse to answer. 

Pushkin House is dedicated to anti-regime propaganda like the Navalny Novichok story, and before that the British government’s version of the Skripal Novichok case.

Source: https://www.pushkinhouse.org/ In 2015 Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, was promoted.

James Nixey is employed by the Chatham House think-tank. He is a paid-up operative of the “central core” of the British Government’s Russian war propaganda unit, Integrity Initiative. At Chatham House he and Sir Roderic Lyne, a former ambassador to Moscow,  work on Russia topics this way.

The annual Pushkin House Book Prize is paid for by Douglas Smith, a former Soviet affairs analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at one time an interpreter for President Ronald Reagan;  and by the Polonsky Foundation, a father-and-son charity whose income comes from Russian investment operations. Two of the judges for this year’s book prize are Fiona Hill, the junior Russia warfighter on the National Security Council during the Trump Administration;  and Baron George Robertson, the senior Russia warfighter who was UK defence minister in 1997 to 1999, then NATO Secretary-General from 1999 and 2003. He’s also been in charge of Chatham House, and of British Petroleum’s Russian Investments subsidiary with TNK, then Rosneft.   Sir Rodric Braithwaite of Chatham House, a former ambassador to Moscow, and a former BBC reporter in Moscow are on the advisory board for the book award.

According to the Pushkin House website, the annual prize “was created to encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world. The prize is for a book published in English, but translations from other languages, including of course Russian, are encouraged and actively sought.” This appears to rule Lebedev’s Novichok in the running. The headline says the prize “rewards the very best non-fiction writing on Russia.” That appears to rule him out.

The short-list of candidates should have been announced in the spring, so that the winner will be awarded in June. There’s been a delay, however. Are Hill and Robertson arguing with the other judges, or with Braithwaite, over whether Lebedev’s book qualifies as fiction or as non-fiction? True or truer?

Two staff members of Pushkin House, Rebecca Ostrovsky (“The Islander” in Russian) who runs communications   and Rafy Hay, events, were asked when the Prize short list will be announced, whether Lebedev’s book qualifies, and whether that’s a point on which the judges currently don’t agree? They aren’t replying.

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