Head of Rosgvardiya, army general Viktor Zolotov, has apparently lost his own head following accusations by Aleksey Navalny about corruption. Russia Today:
The head of the Russian internal security agency has dismissed charges of graft and corruption made by Aleksey Navalny, calling the activist a “cloned US puppet” and challenging him to a hand-to-hand fight.
“You have allowed insulting and slandering theorizing about me and it is not a habit among officers to simply forgive such things. Since time immemorial, scoundrels get slapped on the face and are challenged to a duel,” General Viktor Zolotov said in a video address posted on Rosgvardiya’s website on Tuesday. “Mister Navalny, no one can prevent us from bringing back at least part of these traditions. Here I speak about demanding satisfaction,” he added.
“I simply challenge you to hand-to-hand combat. In a boxing ring or on a tatami, wherever you see fit, and I promise to turn you into minced meat.”
Well, I am not an expert on these things, but I would wager that Navalny has hit a sore spot for mr. Zolotov. In any case, it is discomforting to have a person with so poor impulse control in charge of Russia’s biggest branch of armed forces. Rosgvardiya was essentially created to protect the current regime against internal uprisings.
Zolotov speculates in the video that Navalny has unpatriotic sentiments because he has never received a proper beating. That is apparently the motivation for the unusual call for a duel.
But just as interestingly, and I am surprised that most media have not picked up on this, Zolotov finishes the video with a very direct threat against the personal safety of Navalny (my transcription):
“I have one final thing I want to tell you. If you again, mr. Navalny, in your exposures allow yourself to use an insulting or slanderous tone against me or my family, I promise you, that instead of walking over you and wiping you off your feet, I will arrange a show for everyone in Rosgvardiya to see. And I tell you, after that it will be embarrassing for you to go outside.”
Navalny is currently in jail, serving a 30 day sentence. His Anti-Corruption Foundation published the investigative report about corruption in Rosgvardiya on 23 August, and on 25 August Navalny was unexpectedly detained by police concerning a demonstration back in January. In a very speedy trial process, Navalny was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which also kept him away from the big demonstrations on 9 September against the unpopular pension reform.
I personally find it hard to understand Zolotov’s concluding words as anything but a threat that next time, Navalny will not get away with only 30 days in prison.
Unsurprisingly, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says that the Kremlin does not see any threats about physical violence in Zolotov’s video. However, as Andrew Roth points out, it is worth noticing that Zolotov’s address to Navalny breaks several rules of normal practice in the Russian government. This includes the taboo of mentioning Navalny by name. Peskov’s defense of Zolotov’s video seems about as lukewarm as can be, so it is possible that Putin is dissatisfied with his general’s adventures into the world of public communication. Zolotov is Putin’s old-time friend and former bodyguard, so there is a long history of mutual loyalty between them.