“I promise to make a juicy beefsteak out of you in just a few minutes.”
This was the message to opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny in a video statement published on 11 September by the head of Russia’s National Guard, Viktor Zolotov, who is known as President Putin’s former bodyguard.
Mr Zolotov also promised Mr Navalny “payback” and called for Navalny to accept a duel, as a way of making up for allegations recently brought forward against the National Guard by Navalny’s anti-corruption team.
Alexey Navalny is currently being held in prison; Amnesty International calls him “a prisoner of conscience“.
Navalny’s imprisonment made Mr Zolotov’s invitation to sort disagreements out with a fair and gentlemanly duel look unconvincing – a point which was underlined below by the popular Russian cartoonist Sergey Elkin for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
Zolotov’s video address spurred a wave of reactions from Russian social media users with the hashtag #ЗолотовЧеллендж (#ZolotovChallenge).
The National Guard commander was, for example, called to duel in swimming by the Russian World Aquatics Championship bronze medallist Viktor Soldatov, who in a widely shared video address told Zolotov that “next to me, you are going to look like a canned fish in tomato sauce.”
Other users invited Zolotov to duel in pillow fight, in tic-tac-toe , in Minecraft; Heroes of Mind and Magic; Pokémon and other computer games, as described in an article from the Russian online magazine The Village.
As we saw in the case of RT’s clumsy interview with the two Salisbury suspects, awkwardly produced videos and humoristic reactions to them might sometimes be viewed as helpful from the side of pro-Kremlin communicators; laughter distracts audiences’ attention from the serious background for the incident – in this case one of Russia’s highest ranking law enforcers who threatens an imprisoned, and thereby already helpless opposition figure with violence.
Asked by state-controlled RIA Novosti if the Kremlin views Zolotov’s statement as a physical threat against Navalny, the President’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s reply was: “No, we don’t”. We have now included this statement in our database of pro-Kremlin disinformation.
Top image: An online caricature of Mr Zolotov by an unknown author, which was widely shared in Russian social media.