Death of GRU chief sends Western media and pundits into tailspin of conspiracy theories
Korobov died “after a long and serious illness,” the Defense Ministry announced on Thursday. Various sources have informed media outlets that this illness was cancer. There had also been rumors of illness circulating in Russian media in recent months.
As the news broke, however, Western media, journalists and pundits wasted no time in deciding that this explanation for Korobov’s death simply could not be true. Generously, many began to offer up their own suspicions as alternative possibilities — and they pulled no punches.
While most headlines in Western media included some form of implication that not all was as it seems, true to form, the UK tabloids took things up a notch. The Sun’s headline screamed “SPYMASTER DEAD” amid “suspicion he was assassinated for botching Skripal poisoning enraging Putin.”
The Daily Mail also opted to immediately link Korobov’s death to the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal — but added a throwback to the 2014 downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine for good measure. The lengthy headline also claimed Korobov had “collapsed following a dressing down” from Putin — a tidbit which seems to have originated as a rumor from anonymous sources, but which is now making the rounds due to its juicy, sensational nature.
It was on Twitter, however, where imaginations truly ran wild. Unconstrained by any commitment to even the most basic journalistic standards, Twitter pundits let loose.
First up, people began to notice that Korobov had been absent from the GRU military intelligence agency’s centenary celebration at the beginning of this month — a sure sign, they implied, that something fishy was going on. Perhaps, many suggested, he was poisoned. Few thought to consider that perhaps Korobov was absent because he was genuinely ill — with non-poisoning-related symptoms.
On November 2, Putin celebrated the centenary of GRU, not uttering a word of criticism. Remarkably, the head of GRU Igor Korobov, was not visible on any of the official photos or mentioned. Today, 19 days later, he reportedly died.https://t.co/X3YbGWROAC— Anders Åslund (@anders_aslund) November 22, 2018
Wouldn't surprise me if Korobov has been bed-ridden in government-induced plutonium-pains until his death for his costly screw-up. Flanked by his two flunkey operatives, who I highly doubt are alive at this point.— Daniel Röjnemark (@DanielRojnemark) November 22, 2018
😳Korobov was absent from a ceremony in Moscow this month where Putin and other senior officials celebrated the centenary of the GRU, with the Russian leader praising its skill and "unique abilities."— Venture Capital (@kelly2277) November 22, 2018
head of GRU military intelligence agency, General Igor Korobov, linked to Salibury Skripal attack, has died aged 63.. was he poisoned?— Andrew Pierce (@toryboypierce) November 22, 2018
An honest question: before today, had you heard anything about GRU Director Igor Korobov being in a “long battle” with a “serious illness”?— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) November 22, 2018
Top Twitter conspiracist Louise Mensch had a different take, proffering that theory that maybe it was the United States who killed Korobov in revenge for alleged election interference during the 2016 presidential election. “Next time, don't mess with America,” she tweeted, before warning her followers not to give Putin “the complement” of assuming he was responsible.
So, the head of the GRU is dead after a "long and serious illness". Definitely true - being killed can make you very sick. Next time, don't mess with America. cc @Mod_Russia#USAhttps://t.co/f68kUbPMIh— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) November 21, 2018
Even the supposedly restrained BBC Newsnight got in on the action, with its host John Sweeney suggesting that Korobov must have mysteriously fallen out of a window.
The long and serious illness lasted two seconds as he fell out of a window, some say. https://t.co/zrt0W0zftR— John Sweeney (@johnsweeneyroar) November 22, 2018
Perhaps the oddest theory of all, though, was that Korobov is not actually dead — and instead preparing to take on a new identity in order to circumvent US sanctions after he was placed on a sanctions list in December 2016.
Hard to tell if this is true or not. Korobov was on the sanctions list. They could be retiring him and giving him a new identity as a means of getting around sanctions.— JusticeforAll (@trumpsanquentin) November 21, 2018
A few journalists and commentators were less sensational in their Twitter coverage, noting the knee-jerk reaction of others to jump to conclusions about Korobov’s death and that while official explanations shouldn’t always necessarily be believed, leading liberal opposition media in Russia have reported that Korobov was indeed suffering for months with a serious illness.
Interesting. Ekho Moskvy ed says GRU boss Korobov genuinely had been ill. Novaya Gazeta suggests the same. Its sources say his deputy Kostyukov had basically been in charge since summer, due to Korobov being sick. Illness not specified https://t.co/5zqja9Qvdv— Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) November 22, 2018
Not saying Russian government line on death of GRU chief Igor Korobov should be taken at face value, but journalists immediately looking for conspiracy angle smacks of low standards. FWIW, @aavst, opposition hack & editor of @EchoMskRu: "he really had a long, serious, illness." pic.twitter.com/I9OBPMnp1l— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) November 22, 2018
Subscribe to RT newsletter to get stories the mainstream media won’t tell you.