Russia's diplomats in Kirkenes removed Navalny portrait before staging propaganda photo session

By admin - February 23, 2024 The Independent Barents Observer
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Consul General Nikolai Konygin arrived with his team at the Second World War monument in the afternoon on Defender of the Fatherland Day, February 23.

The diplomat’s bouquet consisted of roses tied together with a ribbon in white, blue and red, the colors of the Russian flag. 

On the photos posted on the Consulate General’s Telegram channel, the ceremonial part of the event at first sight looks all good.

A closer look at the three photos, however, reveals the shocking fact that the Russian diplomat or some of his staff had removed Navalny’s portrait.

Aleksei Navalny’s portrait is out of sight as the Consulate’s photographer captures the staged moment when Nikolai Konygin pays tribute to Russia’s war soldiers. Photo via Telegram / Russian Consulate General in Kirkenes

 

The Barents Observer has repeatedly tried to get a comment from the Consulate and Konygin, but phone calls remained unanswered, or cut off, all Friday. 

When our reporters shortly before the arrival of the Russian diplomat visited the monument, the portrait of Navalny was there. Barents Observer was not present when the diplomats laid flowers and arranged the photo session. 

 

The Barents Observer took this photo at the war memorial in Kirkenes earlier on Friday. Aleksei Navalny’s portrait in front of a candle light.

 

After the Consulate General held their ceremony, the Barents Observer again went to the memorial and could see that Navalny’s portrait was placed back again, but not in the same place.  

 

The Russian diplomats placed back Navalny’s portrait after staging the photo session when laying flowers with the Russian tricolor ribbon. Photo: Barents Observer

 

Russia’s war against Ukraine has strongly affected Norwegian-Russian relations in the small border town.

Over many years, official representatives of both Norway and Russia have assembled by the local war monument to commemorate fallen Soviet soldiers. In 2019, Sergei Lavrov laid wreaths together with Norway’s then-foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.

Such joint ceremonies have come to a definite stop.

Last Friday, after the death of Aleksei Navalny was announced, locals in Kirkenes gathered in a silent memorial across the street from Russia’s Consulate General where candle lights and Navalny portraits were placed. 

 

Outside Russia’s Consulate General in Kirkenes. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Propaganda 

Joakim Aalmen Markussen, a postdoc at UiT The Arctic University of Norway is an expert on how Russia uses Second World War memorials in Norway as a means of propaganda. 

“What happened in Kirkenes on Friday was another illustration of propaganda,” he says to the Barents Observer. 

“Since 2014, the consulate general has commemorated important dates in Russian memory culture, including the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland at WWII memorials in Northern Norway.”

Markussen explains that until the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, this policy aimed to create an impression that people in northernmost Norway, who were frequently invited and attended commemoration ceremonies with the Consul General, shared the key elements of the Russian WWII narrative, namely that of liberation and victory.

Joakim Aalmen Markussen. Photo: Private

“By utilizing an increasing number of war memorials in Northern Norway since 2014 to propagate both the official liberation/victory narrative and the supposed shared Russian-Norwegian interest in commemorating this narrative, the Consul General has sought to enroll Norway – or, at the very least, the local communities in Northern Norway – as memory allies in Russia’s ongoing memory wars against countries in Eastern Europe,” Joakim Aalmen Markussen elaborates. 

Over the last two years, he adds, there have been several examples indicating that Russia appears to have shifted its approach.

“It appears the Russian diplomats have changed from focusing on alliance-building to using memorials as platforms for provocations and more openly as channels for state-sponsored propaganda.”

“For instance, social media posts from the Russian embassy’s own ceremony in Oslo yesterday were surrounded by a stream of Kremlin propaganda about the events in Kyiv and Ukraine around these very same dates ten years ago. This clearly demonstrates the Kremlin’s linkage of the WWII narrative with its ongoing aggression in Ukraine,” Joakim Aalmen Markussen says.

 

Russian Ambassador to Oslo, Teymuraz Otarovich Ramishvili, together with the defense attache, laid wreath at the war memorial in Oslo on February 23. Photo: Russian Embassy in Oslo via Facebook