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#ZolotovChallenge: Russians Throw Down Gauntlet After National Guard Head's 'Duel' Threat

Russian National Guard head Zolotov (center right) challenged Navalny to a duel. But can he compete in breast-feeding, bookkeeping, or jesting?
Russian National Guard head Zolotov (center right) challenged Navalny to a duel. But can he compete in breast-feeding, bookkeeping, or jesting?

Viktor Zolotov, head of the Russian National Guard and President Vladimir Putin's former bodyguard, created shock waves on September 11 with a video challenging opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to a duel.

"I simply challenge you to a duel, in the ring, on the judo mat, anywhere, and I promise to make mincemeat of you," Zolotov said, after denouncing Navalny's charges of corruption against the National Guard, Zolotov personally, and Zolotov's family as "offensive" and "slanderous."

Navalny's wife, Yulia, wrote on Instagram that because her husband was serving a 30-day jail sentence for calling on Russians to participate in an unsanctioned protest, he was unable to respond to the general's challenge.

But the wits on Russian social media picked up the slack, starting a "#zolotovchallenge" hashtag challenge in which they either challenged or mocked Zolotov's show of machismo.

Swimming champion and St. Petersburg-based Navalny activist Viktor Soldatov posted a video in which he called Zolotov, Putin, and other officials "bandits." He said the proper response to Navalny's allegations would be a sensible political debate instead of physical threats. Soldatov then challenged Zolotov to a swimming race in which the loser will be awarded the title "Rotten Boy."

In response to Soldatov's video, Dozhd TV producer Anna Mongait noted that "it wouldn't be easy to turn a lot of Navalny's supporters into mincemeat." She called on marksmen and fencers "with democratic views" to come forward and keep Zolotov busy the entire autumn.

"Let's make mincemeat the main dish for September," she wrote.

Muscovite Aleksandr Yerofeyev challenged Zolotov to run a marathon for offending him and "the entire opposition." He noted that Zolotov did not respond substantially to any of the charges made by Navalny's Anticorruption Foundation.

Sergei Gulyayev, a Navalny activist and lieutenant colonel in the reserves, wrote on Twitter that "while my friend and colleague @navalny serves his time," he is ready to confront Zolotov on his own terms "in the ring, [or] on a tatami in the Octagon."

"I fully support the investigations by [Navalny's Anticorruption Foundation] about the National Guard and sign onto every word," Gulyayev wrote.

Other officers also rose to the challenge, promising Zolotov that if they win the right to the first shot (which, according to tradition is awarded by drawing lots), they will not shoot into the air.

"By shooting into your face, I will shoot every Soviet and Russian occupier who suppressed the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring, and the legal aspirations of the Chechen people for self-determination," wrote Aleksandr Skobov. "By shooting into your face, I'll shoot every Russian prison guard who abuses his prisoners. I'll shoot every riot police officer who beats protesters. I'll shoot every police officer who files false reports against my comrades detained during demonstrations."

Not all the reactions were so menacing, of course.

Quite a few of them mocked military man Zolotov for challenging the lawyer Navalny to a duel in the area of his specialization. They returned the favor by proposing competitions in fields of their choosing.

One Twitter user posted that she had a good harvest of apples and challenged Zolotov to a bake-off of the famous Russian sharlotka apple cake.

Another challenged the general to the popular Heroes of Might video game.

Olga Matei challenged Zolotov to a breast-feeding contest.

Others challenged Zolotov to competitions wearing high heels, selling vegetables at the market, bookkeeping, and apartment cleaning.

Screenwriter Oleg Kozyrev, though, may have thought up the hardest challenge for the ardent Putinist Zolotov to meet.

"I challenge you to a duel of humor," Kozyrev wrote on Facebook. "Which of us can come up with the best jokes about Putin. I promise to make my jokes at only half strength."

RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report.