The Big Navalny

Last week, a slew of Aleksei Navalny’s personal emails leaked onto the Web. The emails were originally available at but that site is now dead. For those of you with moral qualms about reading over this man’s private correspondence, it’s worth noting that Navalny himself has invited the public to have a look:

To read or not to read? [...] Just go get it and read it. You have my permission. Better you read [the original] yourself than the interpretations of these gangs of bloggers, who post nothing but nonsense that all misses the mark.

There are excerpts floating around the Web by now, but here’s how I downloaded the full archive of what’s been leaked: follow this link to a website run by ‘Hacker Hell,’ the individual who claims to have broken into Navalny’s gmail account and stolen the data. A few paragraphs down, you will find links to files (“1 часть, 2 часть, 3 часть, 4 часть, 5 часть”). You will need to download all five sections. Once you’ve done that, unzip the first часть and enter the following password (reported here): “navalny-zalupa-0201″. Next, you’ll need to download a Windows-only email client called “The Bat!” (available here). Set up any dummy email account (you don’t have to use a real one — just button-mash through the installation), and then import the TBB file. The total file space is significant (more than 3GB), thanks mostly to file attachments in many of the emails. (This is a mix of work documents and personal photos.) The timeline for the leaked emails is from January 11, 2007, to August 16, 2010. In an interview with, ‘Hacker Hell’ claimed to have hacked three of Navalny’s email accounts — two belonging to him and one to his wife. Describing the leak, ‘Hell’ says that he’s so far only released one mailbox (leaving it unclear whether or not this refers to both of Navalny’s own accounts or just one).

Vladimir Pribylovsky has put some time into revealing ‘Hell”s true identity (despite reported threats). So far, he’s convinced that the hacker is actually Sergei Nikolaevich Maksimov, a 37-year-old resident of Germany. Pribylovsky has even posted photographs of the front of Maksimov’s home in Bonn, saying:

It’s clear that Mr. Maksimov has some psychological problems (he’s severely psychotic at a minimum, and possibly schizophrenic, as well). He demonstrates vicious homophobia combined with obsessive fantasies about sodomy (usually fantasizing about sexual violence involving ‘rail tracks’ against ‘fags’). Usually, such sado-homophobic fantasies indicate the presence of serious [sexual] orientation problems. Equally, he is an extreme White supremacist and anti-Semite (despite Jewish heritage on his mother’s side of the family).

For a taste of Hell/Maksimov’s particular flavor of crazy, have a look at his October 27th blog post, where he (a) calls Navalny a “dumb hayseed fag,” and then (b) explains with surprising sophistication how it is actually possible to verify the genuineness of the leaked emails. (For an separate confirmation of Hell’s authenticity claims, see here.) In his blog (, Hell/Maksimov blogs in pure ‘padonok‘ speech, using intentionally misspelled Russian that heavily relies on profanity and slang.

So What Did the World Learn About Navalny?

There are several chains of correspondence in the leaked emails that at first glance could compromise (or at least complicate) Navalny’s public stature. For critics seeking evidence that Navalny is an American spy, there is his correspondence with Michael Murphy of the National Endowment for Democracy in April 2010. Navalny asked Murphy to put him in touch with someone who could help him lobby the U.S. government to apply the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the FCPA) to businesses in the Kirov Oblast’, where he was advising Governor Belykh at the time. Murphy worked to introduce him to Thomas Firestone, the State Department’s representative to the Justice Department and a Moscow embassy legal advisor.

On April 19, 2010, Navalny wrote the following to Murphy:

[...] I collected a huge crowd to fight corruptionists with the Daimler and HP case. About one thousand [people] have written complain[t]s after my watchword in blog [sic] and about one hundred [have] registered for constant activity. I [am] really sorry that I was not successful with [...] contacting Tom F. and [other] U.S. officials. We really need it.

Your neighborhood, sweatervested electronic theft victim.

There is also a host of emails that occurred during Navalny’s stay at Yale for the World Fellows Program. Most of these messages involve the scheduling of meetings with other fellows and with Yale scholars. You can even read Navalny’s correspondence with Ed Verona and the staff of the U.S. Russia Business Council (which invited him to present at a conference), or see the massive number of unsolicited random emails from perfect strangers all over Russia and the West, offering Navalny their skills in the fight against Russian corruption. I personally was most disturbed by the emails from Navalny’s wife, which often included photos of their children. (Whatever his dirty secrets, it’s hardly pleasant that anonymous hackers are trafficking images of Navalny’s small kids.)

What’s So Compromising About Any of This?

Roman Dobrokhotov (the man who recently debated Navalny on Ekho Moskvy about the ‘Khavtit kormit’ Kavkaz’ rallies and lost 11% to 89% in listener voting) offers an interesting defense of Navalny in the email leaks scandal. Regarding Navalny’s involvement with NED and attempts to utilize the FCPA, Dobrokhotov explains:

Although [the FCPA] is an American law, it can prove very useful because Russian companies that want to do business in the U.S. are subjected to scrutiny by their potential [American] partners, driving them to want a guarantee that any [future] cooperation won’t be marred by illegal bribes. In other words, Navalny tried, through American experts, to strengthen the fight against corruption in the Kirov Oblast’ — which is quite far from what the pro-Kremlin commentators are saying about him.

Dobrokhotov has a point: much of what’s found in the emails does more to vindicate Navalny than damn him. The evidence shows that he has been the one to lobby the United States for intervention and assistance — not the other way around. In specific cases, like correspondence concerning the Kirovles scandal, Navalny indeed shines as a genuine champion of entrepreneurs.

In May 2009, he wrote:

The Ilim Group includes the Kotlassky pulp and paper mill, which is located in Koryazhma, in the Arkhangelsk Oblast’. This mill produces raw materials: pulp wood. One of the  major suppliers of these materials is the Kirov Oblast’. In 2008, the oblast’ shipped by railway about 520 thousand cubic meters of wood to the facility [in Koryazhma]. The damned problem is that the suppliers are mostly crooks. [They're just] intermediaries who add no extra value. The real producers can’t break through, and can’t reach their delivery quota.

For many different reasons, we decided to change the situation and we are trying to consolidate the raw materials [located] outside the oblast’, using procurement platforms [zakupochnye ploshchadki]. This enables our producers to sell their pulp at market prices, legalizing all kinds of shadow economy sawmill activity, because they can [now] sell the materials at a normal price, instead of [selling] to crooks for kopecks. It’s also profitable for the pulp and paper mill, because it provides the platform to consolidate the resource stream and delivery schedule, and also control quality.

As you can see, there’s nothing here about torpedoing Kirovles for private gain, or even in service to some political ally. The private records reflect what Navalny has said openly: he was working in the public’s interest to reform a corrupt system. In this instance, Navalny comes away looking quite good.

But There’s More!

Responding to the emails leak on his own LiveJournal blog, Navalny said that roughly 90% of the correspondence is genuine. Describing the allegedly falsified bits, he cites an email from “Oleggio Boticelli” (whom bloggers have argued is really Stanislav Belkovsky). The Boticelli messages (as well as emails from a second Belkovsky pseudonym, “Gustav von Aschenbach”) document a close relationship that includes funding, political advice, and extensive coordination in both nationalist politics and stockholder activism. (You can find the full records of the Belkovsky-related emails in three installments: here, here, and here.)

Belkovsky & Friend.

The most scandalous emails concern Navalny’s work on behalf of the minority shareholders of Sberbank and VTB in January 2010. It was then that Navalny publicly called on the banks to review their acquisition of Rusal stock, purchased on the Hong Kong market in a January 27th IPO. According to the logs, that project was initiated as late as January 20, 2010, when Boticelli wrote Navalny to say:

[...] Do you remember in December, during our last regular meeting at ‘the Academy,’ that we discussed the question of Deripaska? So that the state banks don’t buy his shares? In short, the time has come. If you don’t mind taking this up in the next few days, I have two requests for you:

(1) Accept a letter from me later today that details the facts and content of the task, and (2) tomorrow or the day after, meet with Roman, whom you already know, in Kirov for a thorough talk. I would come myself, but I don’t want to scare Belykh by suddenly appearing, as I’m sitting in Italy now, and it’s a long away to Kirov. [...]

Days later, Boticelli wrote Navalny again:

[...] Your capitalization over the last year has really increased qualitatively. Here I have only one comment. As you remember, I was one of the investors that helped jumpstart that capitalization. This was back before you were a world star. In return, I never asked anything for myself. So please take that factor into consideration now.

My counter-proposal is this: $50,000 for four months (January 25th to May 25th). The first installment will be $20,000. Roman is waiting to give it to you on Monday in Moscow. It’s about a month more than you suggested. What I’ll do for my part is make every effort in this timespan to extend [our] cooperation. For up to six months or more. I have an interest in this myself, as you might have guessed. [...]

I would also like to note that, in this project, I’ll operate as your ghost speechwriter and public relations coordinator, and Roman will be my secret staff. Our services are far less expensive that those typically used by world stars, but I trust we can still expect [fair compensation].

Navalny specifically denied the authenticity of these messages, saying:

Why would it all appear in a single email? Clearly, [the hackers] decided the public would find it too difficult to piece together the plot, if people had to work through subtleties and several messages.

LiveJournal blogger ‘Politrash-ru,’ however, highlights that these Rusal-themed Boticelli/Belkovsky emails correspond to Navalny’s late January 2010 explosion of Rusal-related stockholder activism. On January 26th, Navalny authored an article in Vedomosti titled, “IPO US Rusal: There Will Be No Modernization.” One day later, Navalny published another anti-Deripaska article on called “Deripaska’s Life-Line.” The next day, on January 28th, Navalny rallied the minority shareholders of Sberbank and VTB against the previous day’s purchase of Rusal stock by those banks.

I think it’s significant that the Rusal ‘kompromat’ emails are curiously subtle in their shame — quite the opposite of what Navalny said about the scandal’s “plot.” There’s nothing criminal in the alleged scheme: Navalny’s cooperation with Boticelli/Belkovsky is — as Dobrokhotov described it — quite voluntary. Assuming the proper income taxes were paid, neither is there anything illegal about Navalny receiving payments to lobby against state investments in Rusal’s IPO. This is all standard ‘behind the scenes’ interest group politics, and it would hardly shock anyone familiar with K Street.

And There’s a Catch

While Navalny should escape this scandal without suffering anything really devastating, there is a quiet poison in the Boticelli/Belkovsky intrigue. I suspect that Navalny worries about this, too, otherwise he might simply have acknowledged that Boticelli is Belkovsky, and suffered the immediate embarrassment in order to fast-forward to when all is forgiven and forgotten. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Boticelli messages are indeed as phony as Navalny says.)

The reason I think these emails could cause Navalny problems later on is precisely because the Boticelli-Rusal implications are so typical of Russian politics, where the ‘who funds whom’ question is eternal. (This issue permeates politics everywhere, but Russia’s particularly byzantine system justifies certain suspicions.) If it’s true that Navalny sometimes operates as a hired gun, it could severely damage his credibility as an independent actor. I raised this idea with a friend, who thought I was underestimating the cynicism of the Russian electorate. If Russia’s circumstances so radically shift that Navalny finds opportunities for elected office, the cynical interpretation says that no one will remember that he may or may not have accepted $50,000 to generate bad press against a hated oligarch.

That could certainly be true.

But what if, sometime in the near future, we find out that Navalny’s machine of bad press (otherwise known as his anti-corruption campaign) is paid for by some different hated oligarch? Would that be a stigma ugly enough to blemish the White Knight’s brand?

In a bizarre edition of the webcast series, ‘FSB: the Stanislav Belkovsky Factor,’ Belkovsky joked yesterday (with remarkable deadpan delivery) that Navalny’s work against corruption in Transneft was ordered and financed by a Chinese competitor oil company. He added that Boris Berezovsky is paying them both a million dollars for ongoing PR work, and concluded with a satirical conspiracy involving national sports leagues in badminton and darts.

Kudos to Belkovsky for achieving a feat of strange that I’ve not witnessed in recent memory. All kidding aside, however, the question remains: where is the money coming from?


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  4. Well, good for my old friend Prybylovsky, and I appreciate the summary of the emails’ relevance because I’m not going to bother to go dig in all those files. It seems Navalny comes out looking good more than anything, but at some level he has to be an operator, and maybe he plays one group off another.

    That’s what Novodvorskaya thinks in this video, and she’s now denouncing him as a fascist, but that according to your pal Sean’s blog is all fake, and actually a made-up artist in a black PR operation. Hmm, not sure I believe that, but it sure stretches the imagination to think of Navalny going around with a Seig Heil, too weird. But then, Russia can be weird like that.

    I don’t really have an informed opinion about this, and I post a link to Novodvorskaya not because I’m endorsing it but because I’m trying to figure out what is really going on with Navalny and looking at a variety of sources.

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