Updated Daily. Yet another provocation against State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, this one involving an outright fabrication of quotes. Will the Russian government end up blocking Twitter or will the American social media company’s executives manage to make a workable deal? The killing of two Russian state TV journalists has sparked a debate about reporters’ safety and war propaganda by correspondents embedded with pro-Russian separatists. Nationalist and socialist party activists demonstrated on behalf of the Donbass Russian-backed separatists in Moscow, and some protesters responded to vandalism of the Russian Embassy in Kiev with attempts to attack the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow.
For last week’s issue on how Kremlin propagandists have targeted the State Department’s spokesperson for ridicule in a social media campaign; surveillance of Internet users and particularly bloggers to increase under new Russian laws; the tracking by Russian independent media of the return of soldiers’ bodies to Russia from fighting in Ukraine, proving that Russian Federation soldiers are present, but the debunking of the FSB connection; and the sentencing of the murderers of prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya have been sentenced, but not the mastermind behind the assassination, go here.
For the previous week’s issue on new Western media investigations of the Kremlin’s paid troll army building on past Russian journalists’ work; the rounding up more suspects in the Bolotnaya Square demonstration case even two years later; Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov threats to send 74,000 volunteers to protect Russia’s interests; a lawsuit against opposition member Boris Nemtsov by Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin for his report alleging corruption in the Sochi Olympics; the break-up of the gay parade in Moscow; and the funeral of Andrei Mironov, translator slain in Slavyansk go here.
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June 22, 2014
2235GMT: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that after a search in the early morning of 20 June, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced they were investigating opposition leader Alexey Navalny on criminal charges for the alleged theft of an art work from Vladimir, a town 170 kilometers northeast of Moscow. LifeNews claimed that Georgy Alburov, an ally of opposition leader Alexey Navalny had stolen the painting and given it to Navalny as a gift for his birthday, 4 June.
The satirical sketch, made by street artist Sergei Sotov, portrays a “bad” and “good” person. The “bad” person is wearing a tank-top with the word “Russia” and is holding an i-Phone and smoking a cigarette. The “good” person has a button-down t-shirt also with the word “Russia” but is holding a basket of fruit. The characteristics of the “bad” man written on his sketch are:
The characteristics of the “good” man are:
Respect for elders
Criticism of phenomenon
Love for Motherland
Love for parents
Love for nature
Sotov, employed as a janitor in Vladimir, displays his drawings from a fence in his spare time — he does not sell them — and said someone had evidently removed it to give Navalny. Earlier, Navalny had displayed the humorous gift on Twitter.
The Insider (theins.ru), an investigative news site, featured a story 21 June with a video containing a leak from “Anonymous International,” which purports to be a branch of the Western hackers’ movement Anonymous. It appears to be a new group that surfaced during the forcible annexation of the Crimea, and has claimed first to leak instructions to state TV on how to cover the Crimean events, then a batch of emails from GRU Col. Igor Strelkov. The links to the former leak has been removed; the latter is still there. Neither of these leaks in fact proved very sensational.
In the video, Sotov is interviewed as follows:
[Narrator] How do you react when your works disappear? Here, we see…
[Sotov] Oh, at first I am surprised, and afraid, and then I smile at it. Well, what of it. That means I’ve bothered someone, nothing terrible.
[Narrator] When your works disappear, do you turn to the police?
[Sotov] No. Nooooo.
[Sotov] I don’t feel like wasting the time, why. It’s just somebody tearing it down. Or it’s just some drunks, perhaps, or perhaps it’s out of anger. Such things happen. Here this spring. They were all scattered, because they were torn down, for example, so I have to replace it.
[Narrator] Yes, here some marks are visible.
[Sotov] You mean here?
[tape breaks off]
[Sotov] Many of them are torn down, they write some uncensored words, then I take down those works, I have them saved…And I replace them, I hang other things in their place. If someone has torn down my work, it means it bothered someone, they didn’t like it. Someone could tear it down with that purpose, and someone could just do it out of vandalism.
According to Russian blogger Dmitry Trunov, Anonymous International claims that the video appeared 19 June, a day before Navalny’s search, and that the person talking with Sotov in this video is Artur Omarov, a member of a radical wing of the state-funded youth movement Nashi called Stal’ [Steel] which has been involved in scandals in the past (for example, when it was discovered that its manifesto was drawn from Goebbels’ “10 Precepts of National Socialism”). Omarov has become the leader of a new Kremlin-backed movement Set’ [Network] (which has been reported by bloggers as paying youth to take participate in indoctrination sessions).
Anonymous International says they believe “Omarov’s people forced Sotov to file a statement” about the “theft of the painting” and that their video will lead to dropping the criminal case.
Not surprisingly, the pro-Kremlin NTV has already used the Anonymous International video in its program “Emergency,” with a voice-over saying that Sotov had already written the complaint, although in the original video he said just the opposite, that he wasn’t going to bother. (NTV has also produced sensational programs attacking Navalny in the past, using clandestine videos of the opposition blogger meeting with foreigners likely obtained from Russian intelligence.)
The entire story seems like yet another frame-up or harassment suit, of which Navalny has suffered a dozen as we have reported in the past, involving trumped-up charges of embezzlement or mismanagement of funds or libel of officials.
June 21, 2014
0718GMT: Rossiyskiye Gazeta (RG), the government newspaper of record, in an article titled “Jen Psaki Found the Mountains in Rostov Region” published a blatant falsehood about State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki yesterday, claiming that she dismissed reports of refugees as “tourists” and mixed up the terrain of Rostov.
Rossiya 24, the state TV channel, also broadcast the fabrication, slon.ru reported.
The entire story was made up, and was refuted both by Psaki and an AP reporter.
As we have reported, Psaki has been a frequent target of the Kremlin’s troll army as she has expressed the US government’s condemnation of Putin’s military action in Ukraine, and regularly exposed disinformation and propaganda stunts.
In this latest episode of the long-running harassment campaign, RG outright fabricated Psaki’s supposed statements at the daily noon briefing at the State Department, regarding the issue of refugees from Ukraine reported to have fled to Russia.
The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
“‘There are no refugees in Ukraine,’ stated Psaki. “Everything is calm there and under our control.’
Then the journalist Matt Lee of AP, who regularly argues with the red-haired American, asked who these women and children were who were arriving in large numbers in regions of Russia.
‘Those are tourists. There is wonderful curative air in the mountains of Rostov,’ the US State Department representative replied without a thought.
Where Psaki has found mountain resorts in Rostov Region remains a mystery.
RG then notes that Rostov is actually the river basin of the Lower Don River, and is covered with valleys, but not mountains.
The entire story had a factual feel to it, but was made up.
To add to the fabrication, RG added a video clip from a Russian TV show where journalist Aleksandr Gordon quotes from the faked quote about the refugees to stir up outrage. At the end of that clip, Vyachelsav Nikonov, the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov and a popular conservative figure, makes a cameo appearance, grinning — the same Nikonov who was at the airport conference of lawyers with Edward Snowden, and who mounted a major attack on former US envoy to Moscow Amb. Michael McFaul, after he published a critical op-ed piece.
But on 20 June, at the daily noon briefing, Psaki exposed the story as a provocation, taking a question from a reporter:
“QUESTION: In Russia, in the region, there was sort of the latest example of Russia’s fabrication of stories. I would also defer to Matt on this line of questioning, because it involved him, but –
QUESTION: I just wanted to stay clear of it, but go ahead.
QUESTION: But I just want to get your take on it, and what do you make of that story that was out there today.
MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, and I used social media to tweet about this earlier today, but there was a report about comments I made that were comments I never made, and so I would first clarify that. But I would say broadly speaking that the tactics of fabricated news stories and a range of vicious personal attacks that I and others have been a victim of are not steps you take when you’re operating from a position of strength. And there’s no question that the more we talk about our support for a strong, sovereign Ukraine, the greater the attacks become, so I will leave it to others to draw their own conclusions on that front.”
The transcript and video from 19 June is not published yet, but no such conversation on refugees took place in the 18 June briefing, either.
Meanwhile, Matt Lee of the AP also refuted the fabrication:
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) June 20, 2014
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) June 20, 2014
Psaki retweeted Lee’s tweet, and another one:
— Marilyn Justice (@mkj1951) June 20, 2014
June 20, 2014
0718 GMT: An article on the pro-government Russian news site Vesti published 17 June, a day after the release of Zvezda journalists Evgeny Davydov and Nikitia Konashenko, is important to read to understand the strange story of the letter sent by the reporters to Channel 5 on 18 June, apologizing for lying about the use of “white phosphorus” bombs by the Ukrainian military.
As we reported, according to regional media, after they returned to Moscow, the two journalists were said to have sent their letter of apology from the editorial office of Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s TV channel, to Ukraine’s independent Channel 5. We pointed out that the admissions made on videotape by Davydov could have been coerced; he showed signs of a beating, although he later said his black eye came before his arrest reportedly at the hands of Right Sector, an ultranationalist group, some of whose members have fought alongside the National Guard against Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine.
Channel 5, owned by President Petro Poroshenko, was instrumental in his election victory; while he has pledged to sell off his chocolate business and other concerns, now that he has assumed office, he has said he refuses to part with Channel 5.
Vesti said on the 17th that the two journalists told the Investigative Committee, the body that investigates high-profile crimes in Russia, that they had taped the interrogation on a mobile phone and that their employer, Zvezda, would submit recordings of the interrogation of their journalists. Yury Salimov, first vice president of Zvezda said the Investigative Committee was interested in the audio recordings:
“‘At this time, it is a question of opening a criminal case. There is a lot of useful information for our law-enforcement agencies. It will turn out to be a big surprise for those who did the interrogation. We know how did it,’ he said.”
Although they had denied mistreatment when being interviewed by the Ukrainian press after their release, now Davydov and Konashenko told Vesti that after they were arrested, Ukrainian law-enforcers confiscated their valuables and money. (They don’t explain how they managed to hang on to a cell phone to tape their interrogations.)
The pair said they were beaten during interrogations. Konashenkov said, “I immediately got a punch in the jaw and then questions began about why I am lying.”
Aleksey Pimanov, president of Krasnaya Zvezda, the military newspaper, said that the interrogation was conducted by fighters, and not by representatives of the official law-enforcement agencies of Ukraine.
The reporters were force to perjure themselves, they said.
“‘We were given clean pieces of paper, a pen, and told to write what we were doing in Ukraine, and how we had ended up there. If we wrote something wrong, we were forced to rewrite it. Under dictation, until they were satisfied with the text obtained. Then a young man came in with a camera. He let slip that we would be answering questions. If the answers weren’t liked, the cameras were turned off and the blows rained down,’ said Davydov. During the interrogation, he was able to answer a phone call from the editorial office undetected, so they were able to hear everything and record it.”
Zvezda said they did “major diplomatic work” to free their reporters, working with the Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry, and Presidential Administration and also the Russian Embassy in Ukraine.
“‘We began to call the official agencies of Ukraine, the SBU, the Interior Ministry in Dnepropetrovsk and officially announced that we knew where our journalists were located. That evidently played a significant role,’ said Aleksei Pimanov. He added that after they arrived in Moscow, the journalists were brought to the Burdenko Hospital. They had numerous bruises, and Davydov had a punctured ear drum,’ said Interfax.”
It’s not known why, the next day, when the Ukrainian media published their letters of apology, the journalists and their employer didn’t have any further comment. Have they dropped their claims, or will they cooperate with Russian authorities to try to prosecute Right Sector? The Russian justice system has already announced a number of times that they have investigations underway into Right Sector, which they believe has been active on Russian territory.
No doubt we have not heard the last of this story; interestingly, Vesti doesn’t even mention the “white phosphorus” claim anymore, but focuses on the question of the persons who detained and questioned the journalists before they were turned over to the SBU. But the elaborate hand-over of the two reporters in the presence of Ukrainian parliamentarians and military officials may have been the last instance of formal cooperation with the SBU and Russian officials, as the SBU announced it was ending its cooperation with Russians’ Federal Security Service (FSB) today.
0400 GMT: Following recent threats from state censors that Twitter might be blocked in Russia — and a walk-back from the claim by Prime Minister Demitry Medvedev discounting the threat — Twitter executives are headed to Russia for talks, the pro-government newspaper Izvestiya reports.
— Известия (@izvestia_ru) June 20, 2014
Translation: Leadership of Twitter traveling to Russia for talks with state agencies.
Colin Crowell, Vice President of Global Public Policy plans to visit Moscow 23-25 June, sources in the Russian government told Izvestiya.
Crowell is supposed to meet with Roskomnadzor, the state media monitoring organization that serves as a censor, on the first day of his visit. It was Maxim Ksenzov, deputy director of Roskomnadzor who recently complained that Twitter didn’t block accounts and tweets that violated restrictive and arbitrary Russian law on “extremism” — and therefore had to be shut down. That Twitter maintains a tweet-by-tweet and country-by-country policy regarding conformance with “local law” seemed not to impress Russian bureaucrats — possibly because they know themselves how easy it is to switch your location on Twitter and see a tweet blocked only in one country.
There’s also the matter of whether Twitter will comply with the new Russian law requiring the placement of all Russian citizens’ data on servers on Russian territory. Twitter is not known to have any policy on such placement.
Kzenzov’s statement for Izvestiya in a recent interview was stark:
“In consistently refusing to fulfill our demands, they [Twitter] are deliberately creating conditions in which blocking of this site on the territory of our country is becoming practically inevitable. Even by tomorrow we could in the course of several minutes block Twitter…in Russia. We dont see any big risks in this. If at some moment we estimate that the consequences of ‘turning off’ social networks will be less substantive by comparison to the harm that the non-constructive position of the leadership of international companies will cause Russian society, then we will do everything that is required by low.”
Medvedev reacted swiftly and sharply on his Facebook page, but most observers agree that he has little influence on high Russian politics these days, and the area entrusted to him at a time when Putin was willing to allow some modest change — innovation and technology — is now in a shambles.
As Izvestiya aptly put it:
“However, as the development of the situation illustrates, the statements by representatives of Roskomnadzor forced the American company to think hard about their work in Russia and search for a compromise with domestic bureaucrats.”
It was fashionable for some Internet skeptics to discount Twitter in Russia several years ago, or the prospect of any “Twitter revolution,” especially when protests against Putin in 2011 failed. But far from dropping off, Twitter has surged since then in Russia; according to one study, as of 1 January 2012, a total of 4.5 million Twitter accounts were created in Russia, a three-fold increase over the 1.5 million recorded a year later. Of course, a lot of these could be bots and Kremlin troll alts, but still… It’s a lot.
And while revolution doesn’t come delivered on smart phone micro-blogging platforms as easily as once thought, Twitter has been indispensable for maintaining connections between the growing Russian opposition diaspora and internal dissenters and most importantly, mounting a substantive alternative narrative to the Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda and disinformation campaign attempting to cover up its brute military force in Ukraine even as it cracks down on civil society at home. And the Russian government knows that, which is why it is keen to curb Twitter now.
The Twitter developers are not going to want to lose the large and growing Russian market — after all, they are not in business merely to expose the latest Kremlin lies from Slavyansk. So they are likely going to find some compromise — or even do what Russia wants, just as Google once did what China wanted and put servers in China (they later withdrew them when it was abundantly clear the government was hacking them.)
A source in Roskomnadzor who spoke with Izvestiya indicates that these talks are not going to be happy and flexible.
“Crowell’s chief purpose in coming is to decide whether to register a Russian representative office and comply with local legislation or continue to conduct the current policy”.
And by implication — then be blocked.
Crowell was also said to be scheduled to meet with Nikolai Nikiforov, Ministry of Communications and Mass Media to discuss regulation of the Internet, although his office said there was no such meeting in the minister’s scheudle.
The Twitter VP will also meet with Yandex, Mail.ru Group, Rambler&Co and the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEK), although the Internet providers’ recent meeting with Putin lets us know that not much activism can be expected from that quarter. None of the companies would provide any details. Serge Grebennikov of RAEK said Twitter would discuss the possibility of joining his association. He added that Twitter should think about starting commercial activity and paying Russian taxes.
Навальный на обыске. pic.twitter.com/ApcJSS9aEf
— Вадим Кобзев (@advokatkobzev) June 20, 2014
Translation: Navalny at the search.
— Ukraine Reporter (@StateOfUkraine) June 20, 2014
Navalny was recently warned that his house arrest could be extended or even cancelled and changed to jail because has allegedly violated the terms of his parole.
BBC’s Russian Service reports that the search relates to a case that has dragged on already 8 years involving the Union of Rightist Forces SPS party and charges of embezzlement of $3.2 million when a contract was made for advertising services during an election campaign.
У Навального в ходе обыска изымают картины pic.twitter.com/oAiJYHoS4K
— Вадим Кобзев (@advokatkobzev) June 20, 2014
Translation: During the search, Navalny’s pictures are being confiscated. [Picture: Bad Boy. Good Boy]
June 19, 2014
2032 GMT: Radio Svoboda and UNIAN reported today that Russian journalists from the Russian Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda sent a letter of apology to Ukraine’s Channel 5, saying they had lied on Russian TV when they claimed in a 12 June program that the Ukrainian army had bombed the village of Semyonovka near Slavyansk with “white phosphorus” bombs. Their program first led to all of Russia state media making the claim that the same type of bomb used by the US in Iraq was used, and angry demands by the Russian Foreign Ministry for an investigation.
But ultimately, after discussion on forums, the propaganda gambit led to exposure and ridicule because it was determined that Russian state TV had used footage from the Iraq war in 2004, claiming it was in Slavyansk.
Not before State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was grilled, however, by Matt Lee of the AP about the claims.
The State Department as well as the Ukrainian government denied the reports.
Then a video of one of the detained reporters, Evgeny Davydov, appeared on pro-Kiev media, showing him confessing while he was still in captivity that he was forced to put in false information by editors in Moscow, and that in fact he wasn’t even in Slavyansk when the broadcast was edited and had obtained no footage from the town.
The two correspondents from Zvezda, a TV channel of the Russian Defense Ministry, Davydov and Nikita Konashenkov had been detained 14 June outside Slavyansk, reportedly by Right Sector militants who transferred them to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) where they were investigated on suspicion of espionage.
The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
“Interrogator: In your materials, we found information, you conveyed information that supposedly in Slavyansk the Ukrainian Army was firing GRAD rockets, about rampaging Ukrainian soldiers, when you made these materials, did you personally witness this?
Davydov: Personally, I was already in Donetsk and I was no longer in Slavyansk when those materials were done. It was from a phone call from the bosses, a phone call from the editors, they called and said, essentially, you have to say that they fired from a GRAD, that there were phosphorus bombs there, I didn’t have the relevant pictures to go with that because I was in Donetsk, not Slavyansk, so how they covered that, what pictures they used, I don’t know. It was done in Moscow, the program was put together there.
Interrogator: So in sum, did you see your reports that then came out?
Davydov: No, I didn’t. On principle.
Interrogator: What kind of principle did you have?
Davydov: Because there were cases when I would look up my reports on the Internet and see them and then I didn’t like how they came out because I didn’t want to lie. At first it was interesting to see how it came out, but then — no longer.
Interrogator: So have I understood correctly that all your reports are concoctions by your editors?
Davydov: Yes, there were orders about how to do the topics, about how to cover events in Ukraine are given by the editorial office
Interrogator: And the pictures that go with your reports…
Davydov: Now that I’m in Donetsk, then correspondingly, all the pictures from Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Krasny Liman… Maybe there are some stringers that send them. There are videos that are posted on the Internet. Probably the broadcasts are made up from those pictures.”
Davydov’s admission, made while in detention, was coerced, and therefore doesn’t close the issue. Given that he was taped with a bruised eye, there were concerns that he had been beaten while in detention — a claim he himself dismissed by saying that he got the black eye in a fight in a restaurant on 13 June.
To be sure, the statement from Davydov and Konashenkov was sent to Channel 5 from their editorial office in Moscow after their release, which means Zvezda decided to fall on its sword on this one. We can’t be sure it wasn’t a quid qo pro for the release of the reporters, however — even though it came 2 days after they were freed — and questions remain about other videos purporting to show the use of phosphorus by the Ukrainian military.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently published a report in which the practice of the use of false statements and pictures by Russian media was condemned:
“On 27 May, LifeNews posted a photo of a wounded child stating he was shot in the Donetsk International Airport; however the StopFake.org experts discovered that the photo was from the Syrian city of Aleppo in April 2013. Although the original publication in twitter was deleted, the photo was widely used for similar posts on alleged shootings of children. A different photo with a dead boy’s body in a coffin was used for similar messages of alleged shooting of children in eastern Ukraine. The photo, however, was made in 2010, in the Crimean city Dzhankoy, of a boy killed by a local criminal.
Similarly, various videos became viral, allegedly showing either atrocities by the Ukrainian army, seizing of “Grad” complexes by armed groups, or of the use UN symbols on Ukrainian helicopters used in the security operations. It was also demonstrated that originals of such videos were also filmed earlier in the Russian Federation or in other countries, and had nothing to do with the current events in Ukraine.”
1713 GMT: The Union of Journalists of Russia, a Russian-wide civic organization devoted to promoting journalists’ rights, issued a statement 18 June after the killing of Rossiya 24 journalist Igor Kornelyuk and his sound engineer Anton Voloshin. The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:
“After the tragic killing of Russian journalists covering events in Ukraine, immediate and decisive actions are required to ensure the safety of media workers.
The Union of Journalists of Russia urges immediate amendments to the Law on Media to protect journalists working in combat zones. In particular, the following measures are necessary: additional life and health insurance for staff and freelance workers sent to risk zones; provision of such employees with special equipment and ‘identification as a journalist on dangerous assignment.’ Employers must be required to provide special training for correspondents sent into risk zones, registration of their DNA, and also psychological support for them and their family members upon return. Non-fulfillment of these obligations should entail administrative liability for the employers.
The Union also called on the UN to discuss compliance with the Geneva Conventions on journalists’ safety and on the Council of Europe, OSCE and UNESCO to discuss the recommendations concerning journalists’ safety in conflict zones.”
Western journalists and media outlets prefer self-regulation to mandates imposed by press laws, and would rather see issues like insurance or war-zone training provided by news organizations themselves, to avoid the issues that would occur with state involvement in things like “mandatory DNA registration” or some kind of all-purpose “dangerous assignment ID” for journalists issued by the state — which raises definition issues.
But in Russia, where the overwhelming number of media are state-owned or controlled, journalists reach for solutions that involve compelling state employers to take responsibility for training, insurance, and ID when sending their employees into war zones.
1610 GMT: Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of the US-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, has a report today by Elena Rykovtseva on the killing of Igor Kornelyuk and his sound man Anton Voloshin from Russian state TV (VGTRK) on 16 June. She raises the issue of whether Kornelyuk was sufficiently trained and protected as a war correspondent, and questions whether the management of the state channel Rossiya 24 should have even sent him into a combat zone — where he and his crew were embedded with Russian-backed separatists.
It is understood that any journalist working in a combat zone is taking risks to get the story, but Rykovtsev asks whether Kornelyuk should have been sent to Lugansk Region at all. She says there are seasoned war correspondents who are eager to go to war zones, but this didn’t fit Kornelyuk’s profile. The Interpreter has summarized and translated excerpts from the article:
“He was not a war correspondent. He did not have experience working in war at all. His own colleagues said so. He had graduated from the Institute of Culture in St. Petersburg. He had worked for Yamal TV for years. He had even run the children’s programming, as they themselves emphasized. Last fall, he got a raise — he was made Rossiya’s own correspondent in Murmansk. Again, he did quite peaceful reports — ships, sailors, boats.”
Rykovtseva says Korenelyuk may have been looking for greater challenges; he wrote on his LiveJournal on 29, “My material is at a dead end. Interesting people and events, but I’m being ignored.” He was also separated from his wife and daughter, who had started first grade, at this remote border location. Only he and those close to him know why he made the abrupt career shift, says Rykovtseva but we note a fact often mentioned about him by state TV — he was originally from Zaporozhye, grew up in Ukraine, and identified with the southeast region. Was it more than he bargained for? A colleague at Rossiya 24, in Brazil to cover the World Cup said Kornelyuk called him from Lugansk just to talk. But Rykovtsev asks the larger question: “Why did the company’s management send into a war a person who was completely unprepared?”
To be sure, in some of the broadcasts, Igor is seen doing stand-ups in a helmet marked “TV”. But his colleagues were surprised to see others.
“‘Even in a zone of combat actions, Igor taped his stand-ups in a white shirt and tie.’ And with horror, I saw how this clean and neat Igor, completely unprotected, follows a fighter in camouflage, in a mask, with an automatic rifle in his hands, how this fighter hunkers down or takes aim, and Igor imitates his movements behind him. And he is in a shirt and tie!”
Rykovtseva asks whether Kornelyuk was given training on how to conduct himself in a war zone and notes: “On that tragic day, the Rossiya camera crew went out to this dangerous area under shelling without bullet-proof vests and without helmets.”
Oleg Shishkin, special correspondent for Channel One, describes it as follows: ‘Usually he would go out to a shoot in a bullet-proof vest and helmet, but this time, the journalists decided to leave them in the hotel. They said that there was just a little work, and they would quickly return.”
Rykovtseva discounts the idea — now being flogged heavily by RT.com and other channels — that even had he been wearing the helmet with the “TV” on it that it would have been visible; it wasn’t on a jacket (many reporters in Ukraine have been wearing large, loose yellow or other bright-colored vests with PRESS stamped on them). Rossiya 24 has broadcast that the Ukrainian National Guard took deliberate aim at them, but Rykovtseva found that even Kornelyuk’s own colleagues who sympathize with the separatists think this is nonsense. The video taken by his own cameraman from the scene shows that a mortar that had landed unexploded suddenly began smoking and went off — and that — not reporters without helmets or flak jackets or visible markings — seemed to have attracted additional fire.
Rykovtseva then asks just what the story was that they were covering, such as to take such a risk; they had already filmed a story on homes destroyed by shelling in the area. We’re wondering if he went back to find “100 villagers stabbed by the Ukrainian military” claimed by a separatist fighter Kornelyuk had interviewed the day before; they didn’t seem to exist but that hadn’t stopped his bosses from airing the claim.
There are various accounts that the crew had been sent back by editors to film the “flow of refugees” from Schastya and Metallist, says Rykovtseva — another story that Russian state media was flogging and exaggerating as we report on our Ukrainian Liveblog today. A LifeNews reporter gave yet another explanation:
“They did not intend to go there. They had gone to the area of Kamenny Brod, in order to check certain information. It was not confirmed. And since the village of Metallist was there, where combat was underway, they decided to go there. The taxi driver that was driving them telephoned and said he had brought them there. Just as usual. A group arrives on the side of the militia (I emphasis this in particular. Russian crews, of course, can only come ‘from the side of the militia’). They drove up and decided to see what was up further, that is, to show what positions there were.
That generally seems to match what a Channel One journalist said, that they had only gone there to make a short clip, and even matches what as the taxi driver said, ‘The guys went to film what that smoke was about….'”
It’s another matter, that they went to a very dangerous place like that, for a brief time, without helmets and bullet-proof vests. What this place was is explained by Artur Matveyev from LifeNews:
“‘When we worked there, we were told by representatives of the militia that if you hear whistling sounds, you have to run to the woods, lie down, and try to cover yourself, so that you are not on the road. There was shelling yesterday, and they could shell again starting in the morning.'”
He also added that he had spoken to Igor the day before when he taped the stand-up, and asked him if he were coming back, and he said they had finished shooting and were going back to base to file the material. He wondered why he went back. An investigation is underway to determine what happened. This is what Matveyev said:
“‘There on the foothill there is a village, Metallist, which kept getting in the shelling zone one way or another. They went there and moved forward. The road is blocked by two amphibious tanks so that heavy vehicles cannot pass, and they went only a few meters with the militia. A truck was burning there on the road. A mortar had fallen into the truck yesterday when it approached the roadblock. It had already burnt out. And they all stood around there. And seeing this group from the top of the hill, two volleys were aimed at them. I cannot prove it, but they aimed to hit people.'”
He said 25 separatists were wounded along with the journalists. So it’s completely possible that the Ukrainian military fired on the separatists; it’s just that this time, says Rykovtseva, there were unprotected journalists among them.
Denisov, the cameraman, had gone in the bushes and was filming from underneath a tank, and then followed some refugees and a separatist through the woods to the other side because “right by our guys it was dangerous, mines were exploding all the time” — his words. Rykovtseva reported another odd detail; even though a LifeNews reporter had been interviewed and was broadcast immediately after the killing, and had stated that Anton was instantly killed and his body had been left with the other dead on the road while the wounded were carried off, this part was later removed, and for hours the state channel — and AP and other Western news media that copied them — broadcast that “Anton’s fate is unknown”.
“Now they are demanding from Kiev that they ‘guarantee the safety of journalists working in Ukraine’. But what are they themselves doing to guarantee it?” asks Rykovtseva.
Other TV channels aren’t removing their crews, she says, because they feel that to do so would not just let down their viewers but only make the Ukrainian government only too happy to “flatten villages without witnesses” and because “we and our journalists are at war with fascism.”
A Vesti anchor advanced another propagandistic notion — that hardened war correspondents who had been everywhere from the North Caucasus to Afghanistan to Iraq said “this war is different” because they were “deliberately aiming at journalists” and “this is the first war where they so fear the truth.”
Rykovtseva dismisses the idea that reporters are deliberately shot in Ukraine, but agrees that this war is different: because it’s the first time Russian state TV is sending reporters into an area illegally, circumventing the border. Ukrainian border authorities told her that nearly all the crews are getting through unprotected areas of the border in Lugansk Region without permission. There’s this fact as well: it’s a war that Russian journalists are not trying to cover both sides of the conflict; they have taken sides.
1035 GMT: When Igor Kornelyuk, a correspondent, and Anton Voloshin, a sound man from Russia’s state media company (VGTRK) were killed on 16 June, the anchors for Rossiya 24 ran a somber memorial collection of his reports and others from the armed conflict in southeastern Ukraine with funereal music.
They showed footage made by cameraman Viktor Denisov of the moment he and his colleagues were caught in deadly artillery fire near a separatist checkpoint outside the town of Metallist in Lugansk Region — shelling for which they blamed the Ukrainian army.
The State Department expressed condolences to the families, and called “on all sides to ensure the safety of the media,” although Russian media claimed that they didn’t.
Rossiya 24 also ran Kornelyuk’s last broadcast:
This also appeared in print form on the Internet site vesti.ru — and that’s where the debate began. Kornelyuk made the claim that “100 civilians” were killed and “dozens of homes destroyed” between Shastiya and Metallist by the Ukrainian military’s heavy artillery and tanks.
Worst of all, he claimed that like the Russian military in the Chechen wars, Ukrainian soldiers were supposedly going door-to-door killing villagers; the headline of the story blared, “In the Village of Schastye, a punitive expedition stabbed to death almost the entire local population” — and it garnered 4,995 Facebook recommendations, 950 tweets and 397 VKontakte saves.
“In the village of Schastye now a massive cleansing is under way. They are destroying the civilian population, stabbing women and children, everyone from 16 to 50 years of age — stabbing them to death. This information was received from a woman who lives right there. She is the neighbor of one of my militiamen,” a fighter from the [separatist] South-East Armey nicknamed “Varan” reported.
Kornelyuk then made another interview that seemed more measured and credible with another fighter, “Sergei,” who said people on their way to the marketplace in the morning, hauling their tomatoes and cucumbers, fell under shell fire. Then Kornelyuk made the sort of remark that Western journalists make all the time about the Ukrainian army’s firing on insurgent positions:
“In the opinion of fighters, the artillery gunners are shooting in an untrained manner, without spotter planes, and therefore the mortars are falling randomly. They have no humanitarian corridors…”
Korneyluk then visited the hospital — which is what every good journalist in a war zone should try to do to see if the reports of mass killings had any merit. He found an eerie silence, as some of the staff were on vacation and some had fled. Only the most severely ill were in the wings, he said, and he was asked not to film there because the nurses feared the National Guard’s retaliation. He was only able to pan the camera around a damp basement where some shabby bedding and tables were being used as a makeshift bomb shelter. He never commented further on whether he could confirm the stabbings and shellings — he himself was killed soon afterwards.
1000 GMT: The widely-read last report of a state correspondent killed in Lugansk Region in artillery fire, Igor Kornelyuk of state TV (VGTRK) sparked debates in web site comments and social media about whether such government reporters in war zones should be considered journalists, if they are one-sided reporters or even propagandists.
Groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Reporters Without Borders don’t discriminate in including such state journalists in their lists of reporters harassed or jailed or killed in the line of duty; for them, drawing the line around RT.com or Rossiya 24 would mean they couldn’t justify including Western government-sponsored broadcasters like BBC or VOA.
Of course there’s a world of difference between programming that covers the news but reflects the policies of a government like the US or UK, and outright fabrications and lies of the sort that have abounded on Russian TV and Internet news sites, such as those The Interpreter has debunked and analyzed, and as Julie Davis has reported and the Ukrainian site Stop Fake exposes regularly.
Prague-based Russian blogger Rustem Agadamov posted Kornelyuk’s last report without comment to his Facebook page, and hundreds of people poured out their condemnation for the distortions and lies, even as they expressed condolences.
In an indication of how social media can sometimes face the same issues as state broadcasters, a comment purportedly made by one of Agadamov’s readers, that Kornelyuk’s broadcast “made him want to take up arms and go shoot fascists,” covered by Censor.net.ua and other sites was either removed or was interpolated to start with; it not on the page.
Other bloggers like Oleg Leusenko were far more condemnatory — and his readers even more cruel and vengeful.
The reality is, not a single report of any mass stabbings or killings in the Schastye/Metallist area reported by Kornelyuk has appeared anywhere but on Russia’s propagandistic state TV. And this apparently false report, burnished with the tragedy of Kornelyuk’s death, is being used now both by the state and its out-sourcers of hate to cause more harm. It is precisely this mixture of more or less accurate reporting; one-sided coverage or opinion resonating with domestic critics of Western governments; and outright falsehoods that makes Kremlin propaganda so pernicious.
June 17, 2014
1935 GMT: Andrei Soldatov, the journalist and expert on cybersecurity and Internet policy, posted an article titled “Congress of Losers” on 12 June at the Ezhednevny Zhurnal, the independent web site blocked by state censors, and at his site agentura.ru with his reflections on the recent long-anticipated meeting of President Vladimir Putin with the leaders of Russian Internet companies.
The theory about this class of technical entrepreneurs has been for some time that they would act in their own interests to preserve their businesses, and that would wind up protecting their customers’ interests as well along the way. For example, in an interview last year, Igor Asmanov, one of Russia’s top Internet architects, implied that those with Internet technology in their hands — Internet service providers as well as tech-savvy users — posed a challenge to the Russian government. He predicted the Kremlin would respond to these “aliens” through legislative measures, but he also predicted (wrongly) that either for technical reasons, or customer preferences, services like LiveJournal, purchased from its American founder and adapted by a Russian company, would die, and Twitter and Facebook, embraced by the liberal intelligentsia, would plateau or fall off. That didn’t happen.
Instead, entrepreneurs like Pavel Durov, founder of the largest Russian social network VKontakte, first tried to stand up to demands from the government to close certain politically-unacceptable groups and not turn over user data, but then he wound up fleeing the country. Yandex, the search engine, withdrew its blog traffic counters just as a law was announced that those with more than 3,000 readers would have to register as regular media and face more restrictions or be blocked. While it claimed the move was due to “outdated technology,” perhaps Yandex didn’t want to facilitate the Kremlin’s monitoring of their customers. This was one of many independent actions taken by this domestic company that only earned from Russia’s leader a smackdown, causing millions of dollars of its stock value to be lost.
But despite the evidence to the contrary, the theory persists that the Internet technical class (or any group of oligarchs or industrial leaders) is a bastion against the Kremlin’s political class and that its interests will be a tide that lifts all boats. This follows the line of thinking of those who support doing business with Russia, China and other authoritarian governments and their state companies and government-run entrepreneurial programs under the “perestroika” theory of sequencing first economic reform, then political reform that will ostensibly introduce liberal concepts like a free press.
That’s not working out anywhere, least of all Russia. And this group of Russian Internet oligarchs seem to have been particularly disappointing for those hoping to see them as an engine of change, because they wilted in the face of Putin making paranoid pronouncements like “the Internet was created and is controlled by the CIA.” Russia is getting a sovereign Internet, which more and more people are in fact embracing tacitly by implying that it is the only way to get security from NSA snooping and native-language and cultural comfort levels. It’s just that they aren’t getting an independent business class to go with it, and even if they had one, this “new class” alone would not be enough to ensure genuine freedom.
The following is a translation of Soldatov’s article provided by The Interpreter:
The last thing that makes sense to discuss after Putin’s meeting with the leaders of Runet [the Russian Internet] is what Vladimir Putin himself said at the meeting. As often happens with the Russian president, he got by with some extremely general assurances about support of all kinds of liberties, even while making the pretense that all the latest legislative initiatives on the Internet are related exclusively to combating pedophiles, propaganda of narcotics, terrorism and suicides.
What is worth discussing, however, is the position of the leaders of the Internet industry themselves. Many observers recalled the conversation Vladimir Putin had with the Internet providers on 29 December 1999, the first and only conversation Putin had in that format in 15 years with the Runet.
In these 15 years, the Runet has turned into a serious business in which 1.3 million IT workers are employed. The Runet constitutes 8.5% of the GDP, and the markets involved in one way or another in business on the internet are valued at more than 5 trillion rubles ($143.5 billion); Internet trade is 2.5% of all trade in Russia. Furthermore, Russian companies have been able to demonstrate that they are capable of dominating the local market even after the arrival of global corporations in it.
However, the people invited to the meeting with Putin did not look like the leaders of such an industry.
Many hoped that the meeting would manage to turn into a discussion of the catastrophic situation in which the Runet has found itself as a result of state regulation of the last two years, and a presentation to the president of a consolidated position of the industry. In the final analysis, Putin personally made several notorious announcements about the global web — from the remark that the Internet is a creature of the CIA to the attack on Yandex, which dropped the stock of Yandex, and along with it, Mail.ru and Qiwi on NASDAQ.
Instead, the topic of regulation somehow didn’t come up. Even the bloggers’ law was mentioned only once. This was done by Boris Dobrodeyev, the son of Oleg Dobrodeyev, the deputy general director of VKontakte, who has worked at the social network only since late January, but is already recommended by the Mail.ru Group for the post of general director to replace Pavel Durov. Dobrodeyev mentioned the law only as another reason to demonstrate achievements — at VK, it turns out about 80,000 groups have more than 3,000 followers, which nearly exceeds the number of Internet publications in the country and emphasizes the importance of this sphere of business. In fact, this statement was made at the open meeting, before the president arrived.
At the meeting with Putin, however, only Dmitry Grishin from Mail.ru dared to mention regulation, and immediately hastened to assure the president that the Internet providers were not at all callous people as was customary to think about them; that often the ideas incorporated into the regulation “were very correct” and it was only their implementation that “frightens.”
The public presentation of the consolidated position of the industry didn’t take place. No matter what was said in the hallways and no matter what guarantees Putin personally gave the participants of the meeting, that doesn’t change at all the fact that the industry couldn’t speak up in its own defense faced with the main player, even when they got that opportunity. And no one has any illusions that we might have to wait another 15 years for the next such opportunity.
And it cannot be ruled out that the hypothetical next time, completely different people will represent the Runet to Putin. The fact is that the only real beneficiary of this meeting was the All-Russian Popular Front (APF). The meeting was organized by Kirill Varlamov, the Fund to Develop Internet Initiatives, created by the Agency for Strategic Initiatives back in March 2013, which in turn was formed by the Russian government. The Fund is headed by a former Uralmash engineer, one of Putin’s campaign managers in the 2012 elections and an APF protege. He sat at the right hand of Vladimir Putin, and used 100% of the opportunity to represent the start-ups of his Fund to an audience that included Arady Volozh from Yandex, Dmitry Grishin from Mail.ru Group, German Klimenko from Liveinternet and Mael Gave from Ozon.
These simulacra financed by the government ended up legitimized by the presence of real leaders of the market. Mission accomplished.
June 16, 2014
1904 GMT: About 20 Russians came to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on Sunday with signs saying “Forgive Us” and the colors of the Ukrainian flag, obozrevatel.com reported.
They laid flowers in front of the mission and shouted “Glory to Ukraine” and “Heroes Don’t Die” and also sang the Ukrainian national anthem.
There were no arrests.
1842 GMT: Opposition leader Aleksey Navalny has been warned that his probation could be revoked and he could face jail time, gazeta.ru reported today, citing Navalny’s blog.
The Federal Corrections Service (FSIN) said in a statement of warning that Navalny had committed violations by “taking part in an unsanctioned rally” and not appearing for “prophylactic chats” with the prosecutor. He had also allegedly refused to provide written testimonies. FSIN is asking for Navalny’s probation to be extended by another three months and to order him not to commit any further administration violations.
Navalny, a popular blogger and head of the Party of Progress and the Anti-Corruption Fund, has been under house arrest since he was detained among protesters at a court house in February who gathered in support of the Bolotnaya defendants.
Navalny already had a suspended sentence in connection with a case involving claims of misreporting of a lumber company’s funds, and also faces an ongoing investigation into another charge of mismanagement of funds in a case involving the French company Yves Rocher. Navalny and his attorneys deny the charges as fabricated by Russian authorities to curb his popular opposition movement which won him 30% of the votes in the Moscow mayor elections.
The opposition leader has also been banned from using the telephone or Internet, and his social media and blog accounts are being maintained by his wife and colleagues. During this period, he has also lost several libel suits from conservative figures.
1717 GMT: While a lone poster with flowers saying, “Forgive us, Ukraine” was placed by a Russian dissident in front of Kiev’s Embassy in Moscow this weekend, most of the protesters were supporting Kremlin-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine, or Donbass.
Four activists of the unregistered party Other Russia were detained in Moscow for trespassing on the grounds of the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow, grani.ru reported today. Followers of the radical National Bolshevik party leader Edward Limonov threw smoke bombs at the Ukrainian diplomatic mission. Protesters said they were responding to the vandalism of the Russian Embassy in Kiev, party representative Aleksandr Averin told grani.ru.
Grani.ru reports (translation provided by The Interpreter):
“Other Russia is actively supporting separatism in southeastern Ukraine. Many members of the party at the present time are among the ranks of the fighters as volunteers. Actions in support of the so-called ‘Russian Spring’ in Donbass and Lugansk Region are regularly held by activists of the party in Russia.”
On 4 June in Nizhny Novgorod, 8 Other Russia activists were arrested and sentenced from 2-7 days of administration detention for taking part in a “Russian Spring in Ukraine” action. They unfurled a banner in the center of town with the slogan, “For a Russian Spring! Nation! Homeland! Socialism! and also hoisted the flags of Crimea and Donbass and their own party flags.
Earlier on 31 May, for the first time in many years, the traditional “Strategy 31” demonstrations in Moscow, advocating for full compliance with Art. 31 of the Constitution on freedom of assembly took place with the permission of the authorities. Before that, police usually rounded up picketers because they had not asked for permission to demonstrate in parks. Limonov and his followers were provided a cordoned-off area to demonstrate, after first passing through metal detectors.
1707 GMT: Some 1,400 demonstrators gathered on Suvorov Square in Moscow on 11 June, on the eve of Russia Day, also known as “Independence Day,” expressing supporting for the fighters in southeastern Ukraine, Vovka Kolenkin reported on ridus.ru. Protesters called on the Kremlin to come to the defense of the Donbass.
Demonstrators brought their children; here one girl is holding a sign saying “Fuhrer Obama Bloody Hands OFF Novorossiya,” referring to the imaginary country that would be created out of parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova for ethnic Russians. A second child holds a sign “Putin Defend Russian World! Defend Novorossiya!”
Right-wing celebrities turned out for the rally including actor Ivan Okhlobystin, science fiction writer Sergei Lukyanenko, Lt. Gen. Leonid Ivashov and writer Vladislav Shurygin.
The demonstrators carried portraits of GRU Col. Igor Strelkov, defense-minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
Money was collected at the rally to help the cause, but it wasn’t clear if it was only going to humanitarian relief. Kolenkin reported that organizations collecting money for humanitarian assistance are a variety of right-leaning environmental and consumer groups and parties: Zelyonaya Lenta, Moy Dvor, Russkaya Moskva, Drive2-Domodedovo, Opora Rossiya and Rodina, which have organized drop-off locations for food and first aid.
The leader of the head of the ill-named Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, member of parliament was present of course, as was ultranationalist Aleksandr Dugin, advisor to Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of parliament, who is considered the founder of the “Russian Spring” ideology.
There’s now a Russian pop song by the group Kuba, “Rise, Donbass!” — the group was present at the rally to perform their song about “driving out the junta together” from Kiev.
Denis Pushilin, the “people’s prime minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” who is visiting Moscow, reportedly spoke at the rally although a photo was not provided.
Petro Getsko, “the people’s prime minister” of the self-proclaimed “Republic of Trans-Carpathian Rus” (which so far hasn’t taken over any buildings) said that Uzhgorod and adjacent areas would declare their autonomy in due course, that he was confident of support from Hungry, and that eventually the territories of Donbass and Trans-Carpathia would gain their autonomy.