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How Putin's Russia turned humour into a weapon

In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Russians used humour to escape the bleak reality of economic stagnation, food shortages and long queues.

Political satire flourished on TV in the form of latex puppets during the 1990s, but it was quickly slapped down when Vladimir Putin came to power.

In today's Russia, where the media is largely controlled by the Kremlin and its allies, there is little room for genuine political humour unless it is used to deflect the blame from the government.

Humour and ridicule were a key part of Moscow's response when the UK said it was "highly likely" that Russia was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.

Russian officials and media figures have since tried to turn the English phrase "highly likely" into a mocking catchphrase that implies Russia is being blamed for everything with the flimsiest of evidence.

They have enlisted a range of popular figures from English literature, such as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, to ridicule British allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning which they denounce as unfounded.

In absence of evidence, we definitely need Poirot in Salisbury!

End of Twitter post by @RussianEmbassy

Roman Dobrokhotov, whose investigative website The Insider was involved in exposing one of the two poisoning suspects, Anatoliy Chepiga, says such mockery is a form of trolling designed to "deliberately lower the level of discussion".

"They cannot respond in a serious fashion and to the point, so they start to play-act. This is an attempt to mock, to reduce everything to nothing," Mr Dobrokhotov told the BBC.

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