Andrew Osborn








Kremlin activists' Photoshop smear 'sign of Vladimir Putin's desperation', 11th January 2012 11:53

By , Moscow

An attempt to smear Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny by publishing a crudely doctored photograph of him is a sign of Vladimir Putin's desperation, it has been claimed.

Earlier this week, pro-Kremlin activists in the city of Ekaterinburg were caught handing out tens of thousands of copies of a propaganda newspaper carrying a photo of Mr Navalny that had been Photoshopped to suggest he was being illicitly funded by a controversial anti-Kremlin oligarch.

The trick, which was swiftly unmasked on the internet, comes as Mr Putin, the prime minister, is trying to ramp up his popularity ahead of a March 4 presidential vote which he is widely expected to win.

But according to Evgeny Roizman, one of Ekaterinburg's best-known opposition politicians, the stunt smacked of Kremlin desperation.

"United Russia (Mr Putin's party) won far fewer votes here during the parliamentary elections than elsewhere in Russia," he told the liberal Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

"On March 4 Putin's result could be even lower. That is why they crossed the line making this fuss. They do not understand that such propaganda aimed at the ignorant will not win him any more votes. People here are much brighter and exacting and such tricks do not work on us."

In a sleight of hand used repeatedly by the Soviet authorities to support their own version of history, pro-Kremlin activists photoshopped a picture of Mr Navalny to make it look as if he had met with and was being funded by Boris Berezovsky, a UK-based oligarch who is wanted in Russia on criminal charges.

The paper, which was handed out by young people wearing blue vests declaring their loyalty to Mr Putin, held up the doctored photograph as proof that Mr Navalny had allegedly never hidden the fact that he was bankrolled by the runaway oligarch.

That was a potentially damaging allegation as Mr Berezovsky has been portrayed as a crook in Russian state media for years, a charge he strongly denies.

The trick was quickly exposed as a lie on the internet however with the original photographer publishing the real undoctored picture of Mr Navalny standing next to a completely different oligarch, Mikhail Prokhorov, online.

The photographer said the picture, which was never published, had been stolen from Mr Navalny's hacked email account.

Mr Navalny, who has risen to prominence by using the internet to expose high level corruption, mocked the attempt to smear him by publishing the same photograph on his blog doctored to show him standing alongside Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Vladimir Putin and even an alien.

Mr Navalny has emerged as one of anti-Kremlin opposition protesters' favourite leaders and spoke at a big rally in Moscow just before Christmas calling for Mr Putin to step down. The opposition is due to hold its next big rally on February 4.

Despite the protests, Mr Putin remains Russia's most popular politician as he continues to enjoy the support of tens of millions of Russians who live outside Moscow and St. Petersburg.