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Hello and welcome to The Stand with Ayman Dumphy.

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The stand is proudly supported by Tesco and Tesco, our exclusive house for over 65 family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine 9am. Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now more than ever. Every little helps. Now, there are two big stories in our newspapers today. Both involve Russia. One is situated in Belarus, where on the 9th of August there was an election. The ruling strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, claims that he won with 80 percent of the vote.

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However, yesterday, more than 100000 Belarusians demonstrated in the Santeros capital city, Minsk, against the president, who's been president for the last 26 years. And also in towns and cities around the country, there were demonstrations. It is believed that the opposition, in fact, won the election. But that has got to be decided. However, Russia is part of this story and they accuse foreign interests of interfering, possibly with their very ruthless independence. The two closest countries are Poland and Lithuania.

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Belarus is different to other former Soviet satellites. They didn't welcome a liberal economics and democracy. They didn't embrace it the way many other countries did and remained faithful to a version of communism. However, people want change. Clearly, that's one story. The other story is even more sinister. A Russian anti-corruption activist, Alexei Navalny, is in Berlin now in a stable condition in a hospital in Berlin.

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It is believed or argued by his supporters that he was poisoned and he is an anti-corruption campaigner and said to be one of the people in the country that Vladimir Putin fears the most is 44 years of age. And he was in Siberia on a tour, a campaign tour when on a return flight to Moscow on last Thursday, he fell ill. It is thought that he may have been poisoned and his family insisted on flying him to Germany for treatment. And it took them 48 hours to persuade the Russian hospital to let Alexei Navalny go.

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We're joined now from Sochi, which is the Russian city where the 2014 Winter Olympics were held by Brian MacDonald, who is an Irish journalist working for Aute, the state backed English language broadcaster. Brian, can we start with Belarus? And thank you very much for joining us. And the claim by the president of 80 percent of the vote. It appears not many people believe him, but it also appears that he is very determined to remain in power and if necessary, do so with the support of the army.

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Yeah, I mean, look, from the very start, the 80 percent figure is clearly ridiculous. I mean, like, nobody believes that. Nobody in Russia believes that. Nobody in the West believes that. Nobody in Belarus believes them. And you can see from the size of the street movements now, it's very important to remember, though, that he does have a certain amount of support in the country. I mean, it's not like he has, you know, 10 percent or five percent support.

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And you can see that there have been protests against him, but they've also been large protests, you know, backing him as well. Yes. And both sides have different flags, which makes it very obvious that people who support him use the official state flag, which is green and red, and the opposition use a red and white flag, something similar to the Polish flag that was the Belarusian flag at different points in history, including the first three years after it was independence from the Soviet Union.

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And so it's important to note that. But there's no way the guy got 80 percent. The vote was clearly falsified. There's also no way that the opposite, the main opposition candidate, Svetlana Skya, only got 10 percent. I mean, you can see it in the streets. I mean, if 100000 people are willing to march on the streets of Minsk, a city of two million, that's people willing to go out onto the streets. Clearly, you know, a more than more than 80 percent did not vote for Lukashenko.

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And every single person who voted for the opposition is now on the streets, you know.

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Yeah, so am I. Am I right in saying. And that unlike Poles, Lithuania, Latvia and other countries that were part of the Soviet empire, Belarus did not go down that route and have stayed much closer to Moscow and much closer to a kind of authoritarian system at Belarus, essentially didn't reform at all.

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I mean, they still have the KGB, for example, that's never been reformed is to actually called the KGB as a secret police. And they essentially I wouldn't say it's still a socialist state. I mean, obviously, it's it's still capitalist, but it's still primarily state controlled. I mean, for example, you don't have oligarchs like you have in Russia, Ukraine, because the big state industries were never privatized. And it's also less unequal in those countries.

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There's not such a big gap between the rich and the poor. And there have been there would notice that. I mean, it still is a poor country, but it doesn't have billionaires like Russia has or Ukraine has, for example, or Poland, for that matter. But what it has instead is them. And also it's worth noting that Belarus is not as poor as Ukraine or Georgia, countries that have moved towards the west. The GDP per capita, when measured by purchasing power parity in Belarus is about twenty one thousand dollars, compared to 10000 in Ukraine, which would suggest that living standards are twice as good.

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So because of this, the fact that living standards are not so bad and better than Ukraine, for example, and other former Soviet republics, a lot of people in Belarus were happy with the status quo for a long time, and they thought that they that Lukashenko, for all of his you know, to say you can also more say totalitarian as much as authoritarian. Yes. And he provided stability for the country was orderly. There were jobs for everybody.

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There was still universal health care, free education, stuff like that, although that came with with, you know, a price as well. For example, if you graduate from a Belarusian university, you're not allowed to leave the country for a certain amount of years to kind of pay back your fees, so to speak. And and, you know, the state is obviously tightly controlled. You know, people are still spying on each other to the KGB in that no, the both the closest to Russia for Russia.

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Belarus is very important because it's essentially a buffer state against NATO. Yes. Because obviously there's NATO troops in Poland, the Baltics, whatever. And having Belarus there is a buffer, obviously keeps them from Moscow's point of view. Far from the Russian border, however, there is no love for Lukashenko in Russia. A number of politicians in Russia, including people from Putin's own party, United Russia, have heavily criticized him in the last couple of weeks.

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I mean, one of the main guys in Putin's party has and said that Russia shouldn't recognize the results, that Lukashenko has clearly lost his mind. You know, and, you know, you get comments like that. The Kremlin itself has been very careful not to publicly back Lukashenko against the protesters.

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Instead, it issued statements about how its standing with the people of Belarus and stuff like that, because for the Kremlin and for Russia, Lukashenko, no matter what happens, even if he survives this, he will be gone one day and they will still have to deal with Belarus after and try to maintain it as an ally about the Western meddling the Kremlin is talking about, like you spoke of.

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Look, clearly, Poland. And if you are interfering in a sense that they have clearly decided to support the opposition. However, this is not like the Ukraine situation in 2010. I mean, there's no American or EU politicians on the streets, you know, addressing the demonstrators. The EU is not offering membership or an association agreement to Belarus. Nobody's talking about Belarus joining NATO. But it is true that the Polish and Lithuanians and Emmanuel Macron, actually the French president, have, you know, issued statements that express solidarity with the protesters.

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There's also no doubt that obviously svitlana kind of skya is in Lithuania in exile. She has met she's supposed to meet with the American deputy secretary of state today. I think she's already met somewhat bizarrely with Bernard Only Livi, the French philosopher who seems to find a way to turn up with all of these things. I when he was involved in Libya and Ukraine and various other things in the past. But, you know, the and obviously Russia is meddling behind the scenes as well, although less publicly.

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I mean, one thing it's important to remember, Aymond, is that no matter what happens, Russia essentially has a veto over who gets to be the next leader of Belarus in the sense that Russia has the escalation dominance here. There's there's a union state between the two countries, which is roughly it's something like a mini version of the EU in that they there's no border. They can work in each other's countries if they want, although obviously the traffic is basically only one way from Belarus to Russia.

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There's a large Belarusian population working in Russia. But the fact is that because something like 50 percent of Belarusian trade is with Russia because of the fact that it's economically reliant on. Access to cheap raw materials from Russia. There's no way that anybody is going to be elected here as leader of Belarus or take power without the tacit approval of Moscow.

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Now, as you said, Brian, Svetlana Technosphere is in Lithuania. She was the leader of the opposition. It is thought by many that, in fact, they won the election. Why did she feel that she had to leave her own country, go into exile in a neighboring country?

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And what by way of policy is she offering as opposed to our old friend Lukashenko? Yeah, the reason she left, just for one thing, she the opposition doesn't really have a specific leader because what actually happened is that kicking off Scalia's husband, for example, was one of them. And Valerius Sakala, another guy, and they were all imprisoned before the election. They wanted to run for office. And Victor Barbacoa, they were all basically Lucashenko. They all wanted to contest the election.

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And Lukashenko had them arrested on various charges to keep them out of the contest, at which point their wives or in this case, his campaign manager. You know, let's think about they became the kind of face of the movement. The reason she went to Lithuania very simply is because she didn't feel safe in Belarus and she didn't you know, she didn't feel that she's got children as well. She should have for safety. Zócalo went to Moscow first for the same reason and I think now has subsequently resurfaced in Poland or or something.

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I'm not quite sure about that. But she left because of fears for her own safety as a policy platform. This is the thing like there's no united platform. There's there's an opposition steering council at the moment, and they all seem to be pulling in different directions. So some of them would prefer to liberalize the economy. Some of them wanted to become a liberal democracy. Some of them want to move closer to the West. But other members of the of the alliance are saying that, you know, they have to stay with Russia for obvious economic reasons.

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As I mentioned a couple of minutes ago, it is a wealthier country than Ukraine and Poland. And of course, there is a risk that if they were to or not Poland, say, Poland as well as your western Ukraine or Georgia. And there is a danger that if they were to try and tilt to the West quickly, like Ukraine did, that it could lead to mass migration, serious poverty, the collapse of industries. Because don't forget that a lot of these state companies are not really viable without access to the Russian market.

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Yes, that's very important to remember. And they would not be able to compete in the European Union because they wouldn't get the same level of subsidy or market access or access to cheap natural resources. Stuff like petrol, for example, is incredibly cheap in Belarus. I mean, when I was there last year, it was about 50 cents a litre. That was last year, which obviously means that the cost of living is low and that that hinges on access to cheap imports from Russia, which are subsidized essentially by Moscow in the same way that the European Union subsidizes poorer members like, you know, Hungary or or Lithuania, for that matter.

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So that's the basic thing. There's no real policy platform at the moment. Aside from that, they want to get Lukashenko out of office. Yeah.

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And he is threatening them with the army. And clearly, if he is falsifying the election results to that extent, 80 percent is quite a big number.

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He's not appealing.

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I also understand that yesterday, Brian, he was seen brandishing a gun out and about and he says he kind of Charlie, I would have gone. Yeah.

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And what's very interesting is that Putin's spokesman this morning, when he was asked about that at a morning news conference, Dmitry Peskov, he failed to back Lukashenko. You know, in reference to that, I mean, it was a complete act of madness. And many prominent people in Moscow are saying that he's lost his mind. I mean, at the end of the day, like he arrived, like it was like something from a Steven Seagal movie. I mentioned Steven Seagal because he's a personal friend of Lukashenko.

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Believe it or not, it was like something from an action movie. He came out of a helicopter with his 15 year old son, Colea in tow, who was dressed like a paratrooper. And they arrived at the presidential palace. He was talking about rats scurrying from the streets in the helicopter, in the propaganda video they released. It looks completely unhinged. He dressed in a in kind of, you know, military garb, comes off the plane, goes to the Oman.

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The riot police in front of the palace are residents and palaces and overestimation and thanks them for protecting him, protecting nothing. I mean, basically, the protesters came within a few hundred meters of the area. The riot police told them to disperse and they did.

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Yeah, I know that the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who's been around a long time, is a heavy dude. And he accused unnamed Belarusian opposition figures of wanting blood, quote unquote, during the protest.

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Is the EU has also rejected the election results and denounced the police violence in Minsk. Now, that would be, I take it, Brian, a red rag to the Russian bull if the EU gets involved or expresses an opinion.

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Yes. And what's more, the opposition in Belarus, some members of the council have basically told the EU to bulldoze and not put sanctions on people or stuff like that because. Anything could be perceived as interference by Moscow and basically Russia is not going to let Belarus go, that's at the moment anyway. It's in a common defense treaty with it has a union state, like I said, and it sees any EU interference or Western interference as absolutely beyond the pale red rag to a bull, like you said.

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Also, they've made comments that as far as they're concerned, this is an issue for the people in Belarus themselves to sort out. Now, obviously, the Russians don't want bloodshed in the streets either, because aside from the moral aspect, it's going to look terrible. But, you know, they feel basically that their point of view, whether it's right or wrong, is that foreigners should keep out of this, including themselves. You know, they think that it should be sorted out by the Belarusians themselves.

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This comes from the principle that Russia has, that it basically refuses to accept foreign interference anywhere. Like one of the reasons they went into Syria a few years ago was primarily because Western countries had kind of basically no longer recognized Assad as the leader of the country. And we're trying to openly trying to topple them. And as far as Russia is concerned, its primary kind of, you know, red line is based around state sovereignty. Yeah. And that's that's how they see it.

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Now, you can question the morals of that. I mean, you can go down various quagmires like, you know, was it morally right to prop up Assad? But Moscow would argue that it would've been worse to let ISIS loose.

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You know, you can control I mean, Russia has a Russia has a military interest and geopolitically they have a base there which may in the Middle East and it's linked to the and the Assad and Syrian regime. But that's not going to be sorted out on this podcast. One thing that we might find out, Brian, is a bit more about Alexei Navalny, who is a very famous figure in Russia. He has said in the Sunday Times yesterday to be the man that Putin most fears out there.

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He is an anti-corruption activist and now it appears he may have been poisoned. And that's not unknown for the Putin regime to be doing.

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He was initially on a flight back from Siberia to Moscow when the flight was diverted to the city of Omsk, where he was rushed to a local hospital. He believed his and his family, his wife in particular, believed he may have been poisoned. They tried to get him out of the hospital. That was denied for 48 hours and eventually he was allowed out and he is now in a hospital in Berlin. What do we know about Navalny that you can tell us?

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OK, basically the situation at the moment is you've given a very good description there anyway, so I don't need to go into that. The situation right now is that Alexei Navalny is in Berlin at the Charity Hospital. It's a world famous hospital INM center of the city. He's there as a personal guest of Angela Merkel. The German government spokesman this morning said that there was a certain probability that he'd been poisoned, whereas the foreign minister he commands said that we should wait and see.

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And he kind of urged more caution until the doctors issue results. The Russian doctors in Omsk claim that two different laboratories tested his blood samples and did not find any poisons. That's what they say. Nobody knows for sure at the moment. We do know that he's in an induced coma at the time we're speaking and that he has been attached to a ventilator when he left Russia anyway, whether he's still on one or not. And what we know is that he was flying, as you said, from Tomsk to Moscow at the weekend and starting at the weekend on Thursday and fell ill on the plane.

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The flight he was taken with S7 Airlines commercial flight, and the pilot made an emergency landing in another Siberian city with a similar name, Omsk, and he was taken to a clinic there. And almost immediately, his associates said that he felt he'd been poisoned. They wanted them out of the country. The next morning on the Friday plane, around lunchtime local time, a plane arrived from Germany, a medical evacuation plan. The Russian doctors said at the time that we're treating them said that they felt he wasn't medically fit to travel.

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And that family, the wife, sorry, and the associates, Yulia, she cried foul about that. The Kremlin said they let him go. There was a bit of stalling going on. The doctors said it was genuine because they thought he wasn't fit to travel. The family said the doctors were lying. On Friday evening, it was agreed that he could go to Berlin and he arrived there on Saturday of a lengthy flight from Siberia to Berlin. And now the situation that's that's how the situation stands at the moment.

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You asked about.

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Yes, well, what fascinates me, Brian, is. And not in a good way as the amount of surveillance and Navalny was under security surveillance by the state, it seems, while he was in Siberia. And where does he stand in the pantheon of opposition figures, should we say OK to the Putin regime?

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Let's explain this in a proper way for a full understanding of the whole situation, because the problem with coverage of Navalny over the years and I've been very vocal about this, is that the British and American press have just settled on this thing. A few years ago, he was the opposition leader, which is not true. And even The Washington Post itself has admitted this. Well, you know, I haven't described him as such.

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I describe to you as an anti-corruption activist.

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Yes, you have. Know, what's actually fascinating about Navalny is that he's way more interesting than this kind of, you know, description that is the opposition leader, which is he's basically his most famous in Russia for being probably the most famous investigative journalist in the country. Yes. A sort of like Russian Veronica Guerin, to an extent, if you want to go down that road, I mean, in terms of his fame, you know, and so basically what he does is he's got this thing called the anti-corruption foundation.

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And what they do is they go after leading public figures in Russia and they expose their dirty dealings and, you know, money and it's unaccountable or or stuff like that. And he has ruffled feathers of hundreds of powerful people in the country. And he's got a lot of enemies because of this, because he's exposed people. He's done he's done reports on people ranging from the former prime minister and President Dmitry Medvedev down to captains of industry, people connected to the Kremlin in various ways and local people that you'd never have heard of around the country.

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He has enemies everywhere. I mean, he's he's you know, he's including inside the state apparatus itself.

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Of course, Mr. Putin has he he's not he's not directly.

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No. And this is where it gets interesting. The Sunday Times is I described him as, you know, Putin's most feared enemy or something like that. That is not really true because of two reasons. First of all, what Putin actually fears more is a split in the elites, because that's what would be really dangerous for him. And, you know, much like what happened to, you know, in the past in Russia, I mean, like Khrushchev got the tap on the shoulder, you know, you have to get out.

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And that's what more is Putin, far more Navalny. Politically, he's not a major figure. His poll ratings are between two and three percent. It's not even the highest opposition figure, you know, in the country. But as a media figure, he's huge. I mean, his YouTube channel has millions of subscribers. Some of his videos can get 20, 30 million views. Like some of his reports. He's got a really popular blog, you know, which is how he started as a blogger.

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His social media presence is huge. He's got millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook and VÉ contacts, which is Russian social media site.

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That's kind of where his you know, he's basically a huge media figure who is very against Putin, very against the Kremlin as a politician. He did run for mayor of Moscow seven years ago, but that was before the Ukraine crisis, the Maidan and before Crimea. And he did well. He got about twenty seven percent of the vote in that election. But nationally, that's his home city, Moscow, which is only eight percent of the country by population outside of Moscow.

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He wouldn't be as well known politically.

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So why the heavy security? Why was he being shadowed by plainclothes Russian security officers monitored? He had to book into a number of hotels and then stay somewhere else. Why are they giving him this grief?

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Well, there's two ways to look at this. One way of looking at it is that all the surveillance theoretically should have made them safer because in the sense that if anything happened to them, there would be people to observe it. Happening now obviously hasn't been the case if it's true that he's been poisoned. But that's what a lot of people used to think, that it was kind of good for Navalny to be shadowed because basically something he learned from having a go at him.

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You know, the second thing, though, is that obviously it was it's incredible. I mean, like the revelations yesterday in MKR, Russian tabloid in Moscow tabloids, I know you looked at yourself and are quite astonishing. I mean, the level of surveillance, the level to which he's being watched may even be illegal on the Russian law. Some people have suggested it was no doubt released by the security services because they wanted to make people understand that they're basically trying to say that what they're trying to say is that if he was poisoned, it didn't happen on their watch, so to speak, that it happened in the airport or on the flight.

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Yes. And that's why it was leaked and put the scale of the surveillance and the scale of the knowledge. Now, some people have said that some of the information in a newspaper article may have been after the fact that when they were investigating, you know, stuff that happened and the surveillance might not be that extreme in real time. So. But but certainly it's incredible, I mean, the level of surveillance is just incredible and it just shows you the power of the state, a state apparatus to watch people.

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In its leading article this morning, Brian, the Irish Times questions Russia. It points to the prevalence of poisoning and refers to the scribbles, for example, in Solsbury Sagi and his daughter Yulia, who were poisoned also to the terrible case of Alexander Litvinenko, who died aged 43 and had ingested polonium. We know that that was a job done by the FSB. And so there is they have form in this particular area. And and the other person that springs to mind is Boris Nemtsov, who in 2015, these are all believed to be direct victims of Vladimir Putin and his regime.

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Yeah, I mean, just to mention the Nemtsov case, by the way, inside Russia, that isn't considered to be Putin, that was considered to be Chechens, that he and the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Right. And it was Chechens who were prosecuted for it afterwards. But then, of course, you could say that Putin is responsible for a system that allows Kadyrov to act with such impunity. Yes, fair point as well. But, yeah, there's definitely a history and a catalog of poisonings and what looks like politically motivated.

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I mean, Anna Politkovskaya years ago, an investigative journalist with Novaya Gazeta who was shot, that's why she was poisoned in 2004 and shot dead in 2006.

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She was investigating Chechnya as well. And that that is a cause celeb. Yes, and there's no doubt I mean, like, OK, whether or not Putin is personally behind these poisonings or assassinations, which is not generally believed in Russia, because especially Navalny case is believed to be very embarrassing for him. As with Nemtsov, there is no doubt that he presides over a system where these things are happening. There's no doubt about that. And that is a definitely legitimate thing.

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I would say, however, that the Skripal and the Litvinenko cases are radically different from the Navalny and Nemtsov case.

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Yeah, because they were Skripal and Litvinenko were former FSB people. It's not the case.

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Yeah, well, I think Skripal worked with the SVR, which is a different intelligence.

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So we're going to tell me what you perceive the difference to be.

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Well, just the difference in that is that they could be legitimately described as traitors to the state because they went and joined MI6 in England ramified. These are just different. You certainly could not call Navalny a traitor or or, you know, Nemtsov. I mean, the sense that they are living and working inside Russia. And that's obviously a totally different kettle of fish.

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In a Channel four documentary that I saw recently, Brian Yeltsin is interviewed and he does make that distinction between someone from your own team and defecting, as it were, and. People who aren't on your team being critics, the latter, he said, no problem, but when someone on your team like this cripples only for Manco when they leave the reservation, then they're a legitimate target.

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Yeah, I mean, but then again, just worth pointing out that when Yeltsin was president himself in the 90s, there were dozens of journalists killed in Russia, far more than there are nowadays, by the way. And many people, political figures were killed or beaten or murdered or warned. This is part of the Russian political culture. Unfortunately, yes. If anything, it's not as bad as it used to be. If anything, it was much worse 30 years ago or 20 years ago.

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And but it's just part of the culture here, unfortunately. Obviously, people are shocked by what's happened to Navalny. I just make a point as well about the Navalny thing that in some ways, Aymond Navalny was almost like a dream opposition figure for Putin. Of course, the investigative journalism, you know, touched nerves and made him a lot of enemies and and made many people in the elite angry. But then there's no doubt as well, by the way, that he was being fed information by different factions and the elite to kind of undermine rivals.

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There's no doubt about that, because you can see in his reports clearly that some of the information just clearly had to come from the top. You know, but the thing about it as a political figure.

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While he has a huge social media presence and a huge media presence in general, although he's not allowed in the state television, by the way, but he's he's all over newspapers and radio and and YouTube. And bear in mind that half of Russians now get their news online rather than from TV. TV's dying out in Russia, basically like it is everywhere.

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I guess, you know, how how free is the online thing? How accessible? How open is it?

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Completely, completely open. Yeah. I mean, it's there's a couple of sites banned porn sites, for example, are banned or blocked and LinkedIn is blocked for the bizarre reason that it won't share servers, it won't be servers in Russia. Now, personally, I can't stand LinkedIn, so I kind of supportive of that because they emailed me 20 times a day. Yeah, but but the point is that for some reason, Facebook is there. It's not censored.

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Twitter is there. It's not censored. YouTube is there. It's not censored. So, I mean, Navalny is obviously able to use those social networks to reach people.

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The point is that the political point of view, Navalny is essentially well known, but not well-liked. I understand that he has a background as a radical nationalist.

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He's made some comments that have upset people about Muslims and then things like that. He's made comments about people from Central Asia, which obviously is not a particularly good thing to do in Russia, which has a large Asian population. You know, he's come across as a kind of you know, he believes in gun rights. He supports, by the way, of Crimea being part of Russia. Worth noting, because the liberals would not be. But the point is that he's been stuck in the Kremlin, by the way.

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He has done everything to block him over the years. That's very important to note. They've tried to keep him out of elections. As I said, they kept him off the state television. But the thing is that he's been stuck on this kind of two, three percent rating for years. So in the sense that he was a kind of, you know, from a political point of view, he was no threat. That's why a lot of people are what the hell is going on here, because it will be far more dangerous for the Kremlin if some charismatic figure arrived, maybe a more left wing figure, for example, arrived and started getting, you know, five, 10 percent support, that would be a catastrophe for them.

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Could I put it to Brian that a charismatic Left-Wing person is much less likely to appear and oppose Putin if he sees people being poisoned and shot and murdered once they begin to accept the great man?

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That's a fair point. I mean, it's a fair point. Like stuff like this would obviously scare people from wanting to get involved in anything political. There's no doubt about that. I mean, that's a fair point. And but the thing is that Navalny had been operating in the journalism and political sphere for over a decade with a very high profile. Why now is the question that nobody really understands. I can't answer that at the time we're speaking now.

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We're still waiting for the reports from the German doctors, of course, as well. The question is, by the way, the Kremlin has promised that if it is if it does turn out to be a poisoning, there will be a full investigation. Now, you can make of that what you will, but that is a promise that was made on Friday.

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OK, final question, Brian MacDonald. The situation in Belarus, how do you see that playing out?

[00:33:42]

Oh, that's that's that's assuming McGee would have said that's a tough one.

[00:33:47]

You know, the problem is basically you have indeed. And the great commentator.

[00:33:53]

But but the problem is with that question is that it's simple. It's impossible to guess here. I would imagine myself I had to make a judgment that Lukashenko will survive in a weakened state. And the reason for the moment anyway, and then in a year or two might be, you know, pushed out perhaps with Russian support. You know, the point is that he's clearly lost his mind the way he's behaving. But the problem is that the opposition there's no clear, obvious way the opposition can get him out of office.

[00:34:22]

They don't want to resort to violence. Thank God we don't want to see violence, but they don't want to resort to violence. He completely controls the political start up state apparatus. The security services appear to be fully on his side, the military and the thing and the riot police. There has been no split in the elite at the numbers. Attending protests is kind of fluctuating to where it looks like the movement was dying out last weekend. And then this weekend there was back over one hundred thousand people and there's no clear pathway to getting them out of the place.

[00:34:53]

That's the problem. And I'd imagine I would imagine that the only way to get him out would be if the opposition could make some deal with Moscow. No, I don't see that happening when the opposition is in Lithuania. Like, of course, I wouldn't support anything in that.

[00:35:08]

I mean, Poland and Lithuania have borders with the others. So we're not a million miles away. And NATO is in the region and and on high alert, one imagines. So it's not something to be taken lightly, is it, this situation?

[00:35:27]

No, but I don't think NATO is. Threat to Belarus, I mean, Lukashenko saying that warning about NATO. I mean, why would NATO want to start a world war with Russia to invade Belarus? It makes no sense. And the same like as I said to you before, when people in the NATO space claim that Russia is a threat to the Baltics, for example. Yeah, but that's it's it's just silly to say that NATO's a threat to Belarus.

[00:35:48]

I mean, why would Germany, France, the United States, Spain, all these countries unanimously agreed to go and invade Belarus? I mean, there's no logic to it in the same way. There's no logic to why Russia would want to say, invade Latvia and start a war with America. Yeah, I mean, you know, so this kind of stuff you get in the media and that a lot of it's basically like completely over the top and people playing to the gallery.

[00:36:11]

But the problem, as I said, is that I don't believe for a moment that NATO was a threat to Belarus. But the point is that unfortunately, I put it another way, because Belarus is a certain kind of almost a protector of Russia. In some ways, yes. It's a bit like, say, a country that's a protectorate of America. For example, let's say the U.S., let's say, for example, obviously, Canada would be a stupid example because the stable country, but let's say a country that's more unstable, let's say Saudi Arabia.

[00:36:36]

Yep. Which is a close American ally. If the House of Saud was to fall there, there's no doubt that any successor would kind of have to be agreed with the US because they have that dominance there. And it's the same with Belarus. Any pathway to getting rid of Lukashenko unless it turns violent, which we hope it doesn't, probably has to go to Moscow. And that's why I think he's probably got to wait for the moment. Now, Moscow may decide that the guy has lost his mind and they can't continue to support him and they may gently freeze them out after a year.

[00:37:08]

OK, Brian, thank you very much for joining us from Sochi, which I believe is a beautiful place. It's a city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Brian MacDonald is an Irish journalist working there for Aute, the English language state backed broadcaster in Russia. Thanks very much to Brian, to you for listening. And of course, the big thanks to Tasco, our sponsors. That's all we have time for now. We'll talk to you soon. The stand is proudly supported by Tesco at Tesco, our exclusive ours for over 65 family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine AM.

[00:37:52]

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