Why Russia keeps laughing at the world

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Keir Giles is a senior consulting fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House. He is also a director of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, which comprises subject matter experts in Eurasian security. The opinions in the article belong to the author.

(CNN)Throwing insults and bizarre accusations has become a normal way for Russia to respond when its own appalling behavior comes to light.

Using official channels and its troll armies to send out a flood of nonsense, counteraccusations, threats and bluster, Russia hopes that by making it difficult to have a serious conversation about real-world events, it can avoid answering serious questions about its actions.
In the case of the continuing confrontation over the Russian state's apparent role in the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, Russia is also consistently attempting humor, especially in social media feeds from Russian embassies around the world.
News conferences by Russian ambassadors in the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere that push the boundaries of the ludicrous may also be misguided attempts at laughing off Russia's culpability.
    This seems to be an additional way Russia is now hoping to distract world attention from the only plausible explanation for what happened in Salisbury -- and in particular from the implications of this for other countries not directly involved.
    Russia seriously miscalculated the likely response to the attack in Britain from the international community. Instead of Britain being isolated, other countries have realized that if Russia can do this in the UK, it can do it elsewhere. That means everyone is at risk.
    So, Russia is trying everything it can to attempt to divert, distract, confuse and bewilder its audiences around the world.
    This also lies behind the bizarre and random nature of some of the digressions in Russian officials' speeches, like the Russian ambassador to the United Nation's references to Alice in Wonderland -- though no doubt he had some choice words for his speechwriter when this set up the UK's ambassador for the perfect putdown: that he, like the White Queen, is proud to go on "believing six impossible things before breakfast."
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    The insults, the attempts at humor and the ever more outlandish suggestions that anybody but Russia is to blame are all tactics for keeping audiences off balance and distracting from the fact that Russia has no real arguments to counter Britain and the Western world pointing the finger at Moscow.
    Sometimes, tactics like this can be successful, even just by sowing confusion and causing delay; Russian suggestions can be so extraordinary and nonsensical that a pause is needed to absorb them and come to terms with the fact that these warped perceptions of reality are being presented in what should be a serious discussion between adults.
    But real success for Russia comes at the moment when the listener suspends disbelief sufficiently to start to consider whether all they know to be real is in fact a lie -- and that Russia might have a point.
    Russia's suggestions that the British government might have carried out the attack in its own city make a classic case study.
    Trying to murder residents of your own country to make a political point is a nasty habit that Britain grew out of several hundred years ago. So, the idea that the UK might be to blame for an attack of this kind is one that could only come from Russia, where murder in the interests of the state or its ruling elite still lies comfortably in the mainstream of political practice.
    Nevertheless, the fact that this suggestion is now repeated not only by Russian trolls (and ambassadors and ministers) but also by real UK citizens represents a significant achievement for Russian disinformation.
    The answer, as always, is to take Russian bluster for what it is: a desperate attempt to shift the blame once the realization has set in, as it did in the case of MH17, that Russia has made a serious mistake and earned not just the disapproval but the disgust of the civilized world.
    Russia will continue to throw up wild accusations, nonsensical conspiracy theories, insults, threats and attempts at tasteless humor.
    But for most intelligent adults in the rest of the world, a swift reality check will be all that is needed to press the mental mute button on Moscow.