Since the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned with a nerve agent in Salisbury last month the Russian government’s denials of any involvement have become more and more elaborate.
The theatrics climaxed on Thursday at a meeting of the UN Security Council, called by Russia, where its ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, referenced "Midsomer Murders", "Alice in Wonderland" and "Crime and Punishment" as he attacked Britain for Goebbels-style propaganda over the poisoning.
Yet Russia’s outraged denials and outlandish accusations seem to conform to a similar pattern of behaviour its government follows when facing serious questions.
When under international scrutiny for the annexation of the Crimea and alleged doping at the Sochi Winter Olympics, Vladimir Putin’s government launched similar campaigns of denial and deflection.
The tactics also mirror those deployed in the aftermath of the murder of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, to the point were Mr Nebenzia used the same phrase yesterday as another top Kremlin official did in 2016 to describe the Litvinenko accusations.
Viktor Ivanov, a former KGB officer and a close ally of Putin , denied accusations he was involved in the Litvinenko murder and labelled the British inquiry into the Litvinenko poisoning as a “theatre of the absurd” in 2016.
Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Telegraph that Russia’s basic strategy is to “use international forums like the United Nations (UN) to sow doubts about the British version of events”.
“By challenging the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Moscow gives the impression that they are playing by the rules of global diplomacy. It is a cunning way of turning the West’s faith in international law against the UK.”
He added: “Nebenzia also seems to be deliberately make the debate a bit absurd, talking about Alice in Wonderland in the Security Council.
“I think the goal is to undercut the British claim that this was a serious breach on international law, and make look like this look like a silly spy game that has gone too far.
“The UK did a good job of pressing home the gravity of the case last month, including through the UN and OPCW. But now the Russians are playing on the sense that this is all a bit of a fuss about nothing, and aiming to make London look a bit hysterical.”
Russia doping scandal
The explosive Russian doping scandal exposed in a 2014 documentary was branded “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport” against a backdrop of staunch denials and apparent subversion tactics from the Kremlin.
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A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-commissioned report found more than a 1,000 athletes benefitted from a state-supported doping programme, with “systematic” cheating by Russia at London 2012 and Sochi 2014 uncovered.
Russian officials forcefully and repeatedly denied the urine-tampering allegations made by Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory turned whistle-blower, claiming to be victims of a smear campaign orchestrated by the US.
The Kremlin insisted Dr Rodchenkov’s “baseless accusations” were the “slander of a turncoat”, while Dmitry Medvedev, the country’s prime minister, claimed the WADA probe was “anti-Russian”.
Key moments in the Russia doping scandal
In December 2016, Mr Putin flatly denied allegations of a sophisticated doping programme, insisting it was “simply impossible” to implement.
He diverted attention towards the US with an aggressive rebuttal of the accusations, claiming Dr Rodchenkov was “controlled by the US intelligence service” and suggested it was an attempt to “create problems” before the Russian elections.
“What drugs are they giving him to make him say what they want him to say?” Mr Putin said of the FBI in December. “This is just ridiculous.”
Just six weeks later, Mr Putin admitted there were “instances of doping use in Russia”, but insisted it was a widespread international issue.
The biggest doping scandal in sporting history had enormous ramifications, resulting in Russia being banned from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics and a number of the country’s athletes being stripped of their medals.
Russia denies sending troops to eastern Ukraine
Tensions flared between Russia and Ukraine in 2014 following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which had been Ukrainian territory since 1954.
Russia frequently denied any involvement in the bloody conflict and rejected reports it was assisting pro-Russian separatists fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow maintained reports of Russian troops being dispatched to Ukraine as tensions increased were “not true”, despite eyewitness accounts of armoured vehicles and military trucks crossing the border and Nato urging them to withdraw its forces.
“Russia has played very similar games over Syria,” says Mr Gowan, “refusing to accept UN reports on chemical weapons attacks and creating a smokescreen of accusations that anti-Assad forces are responsible.”
In January 2015, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, vehemently denied Russia had sent 9,000 troops to the Ukraine.
“I say every time: if you allege this so confidently, present the facts. But nobody can present the facts, or doesn’t want to,” he said.
“So before demanding from us that we stop doing something, please present proof that we have done it.”
The denials inevitably provoked ire from the US, who said that Russia “has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied”.
Mr Putin had earlier claimed Russian troops in unmarked uniforms who appeared in Crimea during the 2014 crisis were “self-defence groups” who purchased their own uniforms and equipment, but later backtracked.
The Russian leader saw tensions over the conflict as another opportunity to attack the US, hitting back: “Our actions are often described by the West as not legitimate, but look at US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya
“Our actions are legitimate from the point of view of international law, because Ukraine’s legitimate president asked us for help.”
An inquiry into the death of former spy Litvinenko, who was poisoned with a rare radioactive isotope at a London hotel in 2006, echoing the Skripal case, found President Putin “probably” approved the murder.
A top Russian official denounced the inquiry into the death of the outspoken Putin critic as a “theatre of the absurd”, the exact phrase repeated by Moscow this week in response to the UK’s claims the Kremlin was involved in the Salisbury poisoning of Skripal, a former double agent.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the inquiry was “politicised”, while Mr Ivanov, a long-term ally of Putin who was implicated in the murder, called it “lies from start to finish”.
Key conclusions | The Litvinenko Inquiry
Russia slammed the result of the inquiry as being “politically motivated, highly opaque and prepared with a pre-determined ‘correct’ result in mind”.
In the fallout from the Skripal poisoning, Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to London, suggested scrutiny should instead be on the UK.
“We have a lot of suspicions about Britain,” he said. “If you take the last 10 years, so many Russian citizens died here in the UK, under very strange circumstances … My question is why is it happening here?”
Mr Gowan believes that Moscow “capitalises on the fact that there is a deep-seated distrust of anything UK and US officials say about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) at the UN dating back to Iraq”.
“British diplomats cannot reveal all their intelligence on the Salisbury incident in public at the UN. So the Russians keep on hinting that this is another Iraq-style facade, and a lot of people who will buy into this implication, including in the West,” he said.
Diversion and distraction tactics
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Soviet Union implemented diversionary and disinformation tactics amid heightened tensions with the US.
Officials repeatedly denied deploying surface-to-surface missiles in Cuba, with USSR claiming it was only supplying defensive weapons to the communist island nation.
Nikita Khrushchev even sent President John F. Kennedy the message that “under no circumstances would surface-to-surface missiles be sent to Cuba”.
Russia aren’t the only ones to effectively use divert, distract and deny tactics as a propaganda tool.
Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf, the former Iraqi information minister dubbed Comical Ali, became an international figure of ridicule during the 2003 invasion of Iraq with his implausible claims.
He regularly appeared on TV to deny coalition forces had reached the capital city of Baghdad and claimed they were “retreating”, despite the presence of American tanks over his shoulder.
US President Donald Trump has also been accused of stirring up controversy with his provocative tweets to distract and shape the news agenda to his own advantage.