What They Are Seeing In …. Russia

The original photo (top-left); the Kremlin's altered version (top-right) and a few parodies

It was much simpler in back in Uncle Joe’s days. Countless challengers to the authority of the Kremlin simply disappeared, not just from the streets but also from the photos and history books. And discrediting of opponents was as easy as removing them from pictorial records, or fabricating them. But as a newspaper distributed by the party supporting Vladimir Putin found this week, the digital age that made such fakery so common and so easy has also whittled away power of images and that age-old axiom of “Seeing is Believing.”

In Yekaterinburg, Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts), a popular federal newspaper, and the All-Russia People’s Front, a coalition of Putin supporters published a photograph purporting to show Alexei Navalny, a young Russian real estate lawyer turned blogger and campaigner against corruption, grinning alongside Boris Berezovksy, the exiled oligarch. According to the caption, Mr. Navalny had “never hidden” that Mr Berezovksy — another bete noir of the Kremlin, and a wanted man in Russia — was financing his campaign.

Within hours, the photo was exposed as a crude fake. Alexei Yushenkov, who took the original photo in May 2011 at the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station posted his picture online as well as ones taken just before and after to prove that the newspaper version was fake.

Navalny responded not with outrage but with derision. He posted several photographs on his website showing himself, in the same pose, alongside such figures as Napoleon, Stalin, Lord Voldemort, an Extra-Terrestrial, and — the most devastatingly of all — Mr. Putin. Ironically, the original photograph showed Mr. Navalny with another oligarch, the metals billionaire and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is also running for president against Mr. Putin.

In Mr. Putin’s Russia, journalists are silenced, and opposition leaders are targeted with dirty tricks. Boris Nemtsov’s phone was tapped, and his conversations, in which he insulted fellow anti-Kremlin activists, were published on the website of Tvoi Dhen, Russia’s most popular tabloid, which enjoys close ties to the security services. Nemtsov apologized, but claimed some of the conversations are fake. Many other prominent critics fell victim to honeytraps involving a sultry model named Katya. Among them was Viktor Shenderovich, the satirist behind a Spitting Image-style show named Kukly where puppets mocked the Kremlin strongmen until it was pulled off the air.

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