Russian state TV has sought to smear Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, by filming inside his rented home in Germany and portraying what appears to be an Ikea-furnished bedroom as luxurious interior design.
Mr Navalny, who rose to prominence because of his investigations into high-level corruption in Russia, was arrested last month after he returned to Moscow for the first time since he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent and airlifted to Germany.
His arrest and last week’s court ruling that sent him to jail for nearly three years sparked Russia’s biggest wave of nationwide protests in over a decade.
Public anger was also fuelled by an investigation Mr Navalny unveiled after coming home, which detailed claims of how President Vladimir Putin’s close friends and family members built him an opulent 18,000 sq. metre palace on the Black Sea coast.
Mr Navalny’s team last week paused the protests after police detained over 10,000 people across the country in just two weeks, but Russian state television hasn’t lost its interest in the jailed politician.
In an apparent attempt to match Mr Navalny’s video showing photos and 3D visualisations of Mr Putin’s alleged palace, flagship Sunday news TV show Vesti Nedeli sent a reporter to expose Mr Navalny’s lavish lifestyle in the German town of Freiburg where he was renting a 300 sq. metre property for himself and his team last year while they were working on the video.
For the lack of any actual luxuries to boast, the TV reporter pointed to a coffee machine in the kitchen, “two sofas, a TV and fresh fruit on the table in a spacious living room.”
A small bedroom much like one seen in Ikea catalogues was described as “a luxurious bedroom with a terrace.” Complimentary wine spotted on the kitchen counter turned out to cost no more than £2 a bottle.
The reporter went as far as to examine the bathroom in a nod to Mr Navalny’s claim that the company managing Mr Putin’s palace bought toilet brushes for the property at £500 a piece.
“The toilet brush is here too,” she said, showing the brush to the camera.
“It shines but not that much.”
Dmitry Kiselyov, Vesti Nedeli’s host, on Sunday spent nearly one hour of his two-hour-long show portraying Mr Navalny as a criminal who belongs in jail and a puppet of foreign spies.
“Intelligence agencies of three Nato countries were working on the fake documentary about the fake palace, and Navalny was only invited to do a voice-over,” he said.
“The goal was definitely to harm President Putin personally as the country’s leader, and Russia itself as a result.”
The Levada Centre, Russia’s only independent pollster, on Monday published a survey, showing that one in six Russian adults now have a worse opinion of President Putin after watching Mr Navalny’s video about the palace.
In a rare reaction to a YouTube video, the Kremlin last month was forced to publicly deny any links between the president and the palace, while Arkady Rotenberg, Mr Putin’s childhood friend and former judo partner, declared that he was the actual owner of the property and that it had nothing to do with the president.
Reuters on Monday quoted two unnamed government sources, saying that Russian authorities were considering a £5 billion social spending package to address discontent over the steady decline of Russians’ incomes ahead of the parliamentary elections in September.
Separately, Germany and Sweden on Monday each declared a Russian diplomat in their country “persona non grata,” retaliating in kind to last week’s decision by Moscow to expel several European diplomats from the country.
Russia had accused diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany of attending a rally in Mr Navalny.