My post about how it is very likely that Julian Assange sought asylum in the Russian Embassy before being refused has met some criticism, as well as outright allegations of making things up and being a Russophobe CIA troll.
Consequently, I feel the need to clear up a few issues.
This is entirely up to you. Ultimately, I am just a blogger on the Internet.
But what I can say (and that Ron, at least, can confirm) is that I have been holding off from publishing this post for almost a year. That is because I did not think releasing it before Assange’s eviction was a good idea. As of April 11, 2019, this episode has passed on from “current politics” to “history.” With Assange’s asylum status terminated, there is no more need to keep him in Ecuador’s good graces. As for his coming extradition battle, online allegations of having sought out Russian help does not constitute a crime (and in any case his status as a “Russian puppet” is already well established in the Western MSM).
Are these claims Russophobic?
They can be considered to be so because they don’t exactly paint Russia in the best light. OTOH, let’s be realistic here for a second; Russia had no absolute obligations to go out of its way to protect Assange. Also, 2012 was not 2019. Relations with the West weren’t great, but we weren’t in a New Cold War.
Note that even today, Russia occasionally deports pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens back to the Ukraine, straight into the loving hands of the SBU secret police (e.g. Marina Menshikova; Olena Boyko would be a more recent example). While I personally do not like it that Russia refused Assange asylum, I personally find it orders of magnitude more outrageous that the Russian bureaucratic machine stabs its own direct supporters and sympathizers in the back every so often. Incidentally, though, this would be one more point of evidence in support of the theory that it refused asylum to Assange. If it does things like this to its direct supporters…
Contra an unfortunately large percentage of “Western Russophiles,” Russia is not on some great holy crusade against “AngloZionist Imperialism” today, let alone before the Ukrainian crisis. Note that even with respect to Snowden, who flew directly to Russia and whose only exit out was straight into the gaping maws of a vengeful US had to wait a considerable amount of time before acquiring temporary asylum. At the end of the day, the Russian state is going to be looking out for the Russian state’s interests, not so much those of foreign dissidents.
So you’re going by one anonymous source?
Also one who happens to have been an impeccable position to know had Assange applied for asylum. Far more so than RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan, for instance (who has said that Assange never asked her for help).
Apart from ethical considerations, I am obviously not going to burn a source because some trolls on Russia Insider are calling me a CIA agent or whatever.
Could he have misrepresented the situation to me? I suppose that is possible. (Though what would be the point in that?). If this was the only piece of evidence I had for this, it is unlikely I would have even written this post.
Indeed, I should point out that these claims went against my initial intuitions. Back in 2012, I wrote in “Assange Should Have Picked the Russian Embassy“:
I think ideology played a part. Assange is perpendicular to Russian views, not aligned with them. He is against Assad. He doesn’t like hierarchical power structures, including of the kind operating in Russia. Defecting to Russia he might as have seen as too big a betrayal of his core values.
Ecuador (at least in rhetoric) is far more concerned with stuff like giving legal rights to the environmental, social justice, people’s democracy, etc. Nor does it have the toxic reputation of Venezuela, Russia, China, and (increasingly) Argentina.
Tellingly, this idea that Assange was too independent to reach out to them is pretty much the gist of what Simonyan is saying now.
However, since then, there have been two major developments that have made me much more confident that my source was indeed correct.
1. As I wrote in the original post, a Russia-based journalist with very good connections (sorry – not going into any further details) told me that he has “heard the same.”
2. Also mentioned – the AP investigation last year, which showed that Assange sought and obtained a Russian visa with Israel Shamir’s help back in 2010.
Now unless that investigation has itself been disproven – has it? – then we must concede that Assange had no ethical compunctions against at least entertaining the idea of Putler’s “mafia state” as a potential bolthole.
So you see what happened here?
Not only did I get information from an excellent source – information which would, last year, be loosely corroborated by a journalist with excellent connections himself. I have no reason to think either of them were confabulating, short of a conspiracy theory in which the Russian Foreign Ministry was purposefully pushed these stories just to, I don’t know, paint themselves in a worse light. Then the AP investigation destroys the theory that Assange had ethical or moral qualms about seeking refuge in Russia, well before 2012.
Simonyan claims otherwise.
Simonyan has said that Assange never asked her for help, despite having productive communications (as you recall Assange did a series for RT at that time).
This is perfectly possible and compatible.
For instance, he may have put out feelers previously, and been rejected, and thus didn’t feel the need to broach the subject with her. Moreover, given that Simonyan has hinted that Assange might face the death penalty in the US, it is also perhaps just a little strange that she did not offer to pull a few strings and suggest he seek asylum at the Russian Embassy herself.
Or she’s lying. Or my source is lying. Or I am lying. Point is – there is no hard contradiction here.
Is this an attack on Putin?
If you think that Russia was very wrong to refuse Assange asylum, then yes, I suppose you could consider it an “attack” on Putin. If he was the one who made the decision.
But where did I say it was Putin who refused?
I said that the order came from the “the highest levels of the Russian government.”
In the context of this situation, it could have been Dmitry Medvedev (recall that Putin was only sworn in as President in May 2012; Assange defected to the Ecuador Embassy in August 2012).
Or it could have been Sergey Lavrov, as the head honcho at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
While Lavrov has a reputation as a hardliner in the West, this is something of a misrepresentation. For instance, it is more or less open knowledge amongst the Novorossiya crowd that the Russian Foreign Ministry placed a veto on handing out Russian passports en masse to Donbass residents back in 2015 because of muh Minsk Accords. Would an institution like this be open to the idea of ruffling feathers by giving asylum to some Australian hipster leaking government secrets and stating his intention of laying bare “authoritarian conspiracies”? This is a rhetorical question.
Why didn’t the other journalist scoop this?
Without going into unnecessary details: I am privileged, thanks to Ron, for having much more editorial freedom than the vast majority of journalists.
At the end of the day, this question of whether or not Assange asked Russia for asylum is now a largely historical one. It might have made waves in 2012, or even in 2016. Now this is a historical curiosity much more than anything else. It seems pretty stupid to get overly emotional about it.
Personally, I am 95% confident that Assange asked for asylum and got refused.
Thing is, at this point, even if this were to be confirmed 100%, it wouldn’t really change anything. Assange could credibly claim to be neutral towards/disassociated from Russia in 2012, now he cannot – for reasons much bigger than having considered it as a potential refuge in the early 2010s. It also demonstrates that Russia was not particularly seeking out conflict with the United States; this, given the current reality of the New Cold War, is largely irrelevant, except perhaps to historians decades in the future. Now yes, this should make one cautious about relying on the charity and goodwill of the Russian government a bit too much. But if you didn’t know that already, you haven’t been paying attention.