FSB Searches Ekho Moskvy and Summons Editor-in-Chief for Interrogation Over Articles

July 5, 2016
Offices of Ekho Moskvy. File photo by Mikhail Dzhaparidze

LIVE UPDATES: Vitaly Ruvinsky, editor-in-chief of the web site of Ekho Moskvy, described as the last independent radio in Russia was summoned to the Federal Security Service (FSB) for questioning.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Recent Analysis and Translations:

NATO Got Nothing From Conceding To Russia In the Past, Why Should It Cave To The Kremlin Now?
Who is Hacking the Russian Opposition and State Media Officials — and How?
Does it Matter if the Russian Opposition Stays United?


Russian Anti-Maidan Group Sends Complaint About TV Rain to Prosecutor General

In yet another ominous attack on the independent media today, the Anti-Maidan movement of hard-line supporters of President Vladimir Putin announced it had appealed to the Prosecutor General of Russia to investigate TV Rain, Novaya Gazeta reported.

In a statement on its website, Anti-Maidan said TV Rain had failed to characterize ISIS properly as a group entered into the list of terrorist groups and banned in Russia. Such a description is mandatory for all media in reporting on ISIS to avoid falling afoul of a law forbidding the “justification of terrorism.”

Anti-Maidan found 32 instances where TV Rain had failed to make the disclaimer and said they had sent screenshots with their complain to Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika.

Nikolai Starikov, co-chairman of Anti-Maidan movement told TASS that his group did not attempt to obtain an explanation from TV Rain for the omissions. Starikov noted (translation by The Interpreter):

“The Anti-Maidan group was created so that all political changes occur under the law. When we discovered that TV Rain was violating the law, we informed the Prosecution General of the fact that the notice is missing from the TV channel’s publications that ISIL is banned in Russia.”

Earlier we reported on FSB searches at Ekho Moskvy, often described as the “last independent radio station” in Russia, and the dismissal of the editor-in-chief of Gazeta, a relatively independent news site.
The incidents are part of a long stream of indications of mounting pressure on any form of independent media in Russia, particularly with the upcoming parliamentary elections in September.
Three editors of RBC, an independent wire service, were fired in May. 

In each case, the articles deemed objectionable at the media outlets relate either to President Vladimir Putin and his family in particular, as in the case of RBC, or on sensitive topics such as Chechnya and allegations of official corruption, as with Ekho Moskvy, or coverage of ISIS, as with TV Rain.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Trump Adviser Carter Page Arrives In Moscow; Peskov ‘Does Not Know’ If He Will Visit Kremlin

One of Donald Trump’s main foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, is reportedly in Moscow today, where he is due to give a talk on Thursday.

Komsomolskaya Pravda reported this afternoon that Page had flown into Moscow today.

According to a press release on the website of the prestigious New Economic School, he is due to give a lecture titled “The Evolution of the World Economy:  Trends and Potential” at the International Trade Center on Thursday evening. 

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, told reporters today that he “did not know” if Page was going to be received at the Kremlin.

Trump’s publicly-expressed admiration for Putin, and his intended realignment of US foreign policy along lines that would doubtless please the Kremlin have been given considerable media attention, with the latest compendium of the Republican presidential candidate’s Russian connections published by Franklin Foer in Slate yesterday:

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Vladimir Putin Has a Plan for Destroying the West-and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump

Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West-and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive.

View full page →

Jul 05, 2016 15:20 (GMT)

But Page himself has even closer links with Russia, having worked in Moscow for three years with Merrill Lynch.

Zachary Mider wrote for Bloomberg in March:

Page’s interest in Russia dates to his youth in New York’s Hudson Valley. Watching a TV news program on arms control talks, he says he noticed that the adviser sitting behind President Ronald Reagan wore a Navy uniform. A few years later, Page enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy. He later worked in arms control at the Pentagon and completed a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Over his career, he’s earned three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D from SOAS University of London.

In 2000, Page took up investment banking, getting a job at Merrill Lynch’s capital-markets group in London. After impressing a colleague with his relationship with Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire, he says he was dispatched to help open the firm’s Moscow office in 2004.

In Russia, Page developed relationships with executives at Gazprom, the former Soviet gas ministry that was partially privatized in the 1990s. By the time Page arrived, Putin was consolidating his grip on the country’s economy, and in 2005 the government boosted its stake so that it again owned a majority of the stock.

Page says he advised Gazprom on its largest deals during this period, such as buying of a stake in the Sakhalin oil and gas field in the Sea of Okhotsk. He also helped the company court Western investors, assisting in setting up the first regular meetings with shareholders in New York and London. Before he moved back to New York in 2007, he says, many of its top officials showed up at his going-away party, at a restaurant near the Kremlin.

Mider notes in his article that Page says that he is still an investor in Gazprom, a firm that has vital strategic importance to the Kremlin and plays a key role in foreign policy through its ability to restrict gas supplies to Europe.

Page’s association with Russia is not just financial, as he has espoused the line pushed by Kremlin propaganda on the Maidan revolution in Ukraine  — that  it was somehow orchestrated by the US government.

From a Robert Zubrin piece in the National Review:

As the invasion unfolded, however, the Obama administration chose to ignore this pledge, limiting its help to Ukraine to non-lethal military equipment and symbolic sanctions. But even this was too much for Carter Page, who, in an article on the Center for National Policy website, peddled the Kremlin line that the broad-based Euromaidan revolt was a CIA coup, and denounced Obama for doing anything at all: “Many critics of the Obama Administration may consider the President weak, feckless or worse,” wrote Page. “Such reviews are patently unfair as the opposite problem stands at the center of the current situation. Instead of any weakness of the Administration impacting the Russian government’s position, aggressive steps taken by Assistant Secretary of State Nuland and other U.S. officials to stage-manage the recent revolution in Ukraine represent a primary force which created the hostile situation we now see. . . . Washington’s political tactics represented the principal driving force toward proactively attempting to redefine whose fold Ukraine would fall under.”

In another article, Page represented Ukraine as a runaway province of Russia, and excused the Kremlin’s aggression by saying that the United States would take similar action if Quebec tried to secede from Canada. “Although Canada is slightly smaller than Ukraine in terms of the population living across the U.S. border,” wrote Page, “Ukraine is similarly important to Russia in terms of trade and other aspects of its relationship. From a U.S. perspective, Washington would likely come down hard if Russia precipitated in such a destabilizing revolution in Canada. Potentially much harder than Russia is responding now.” 

In another piece cited in the above article, Page even went as far as claiming that “a few officials in Washington” had annexed “the entirety of Ukraine.”

Peskov’s non-denial of a meeting is in itself rather interesting. Reporters in Moscow will likely be keeping a close eye on Page’s movements over the next few days.

— Pierre Vaux

Editor-in-Chief of Russian Gazeta Fired; Reports Owner Rambler ‘Unhappy’ with Political Articles

Svetlana Babayeva, editor-in-chief of Gazeta.ru, was dismissed from her position today for unknown reasons, Ekho Moskvy reported.

An “informed source” told Ekho Moskvy that Babayeva was summoned to the head office of Rambler & Company, owner of Gazeta.ru and given notice that her contract would not be renewed. According to the source, the owner was not happy with a number of articles that Gazeta has run recently on social and political topics. The nature of the articles was not indicated. She herself had no comment.

Olga Alexeyeva, who has worked at Gazeta.ru for 10 years has been made the new editor-in-chief, Gazeta.ru reported, citing a press release from the owner Rambler & Co.

Translation: Mamut fired Babayeva (Gazeta) and Timchenko (Lenta) – a sweetheart.

His reference is to Aleksandr Mamut, a Russian billionaire who owns SUP Media and Rambler & Co.  In 2014, he fired Galina Timchenko, then editor-in-chief of Lenta.ru, for publishing an interview with Dmitro Yarosh, leader of the nationalist Ukrainian group Right Sector. Timchenko fled Russia for Latvia, taking with her some of the editors and journalists of the site, and founded the news site Meduza.io. Mamut had earlier fired then-editor-in-chief of Gazeta.ru, Svetlana Lolayeva, in similar fashion. The moves were widely believed to have come under pressure from the Kremlin.

Gazeta is a relatively independent news site that is critical at times of the government but supportive on some topics. In the past, Gazeta has published leaks from the Kremlin and critical live blogs of such events as President Vladimir Putin’s television marathons.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

FSB Searches Ekho Moskvy and Summons Editor-in-Chief for Interrogation Over Articles
Vitaly Ruvinsky, editor-in-chief of the web site of Ekho Moskvy, described as the last independent radio in Russia was summoned to the Federal Security Service (FSB) for questioning, Novaya Gazeta reported.

The paper also reports that the FSB has begun searches at the Ekho Moskvy’s offices.

Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the radio station also tweeted about the FSB:

Translation: the FSB is confiscating correspondence of the site editors with Andrei Piontkovsky, and summoning the editor-in-chief of the site for interrogation #Ekhodailylife

Translation: Tomorrow the Interior Ministry will question the editor-in-chief of the Ekho Moskvy site about Navalny’s blog, and the day after tomorrow about Piontkovsky. Living fine while I’m gone.

Venediktov posted that he was on his way to Geneva for business meetings. 

Meanwhile, anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny’s July 4 blog post alleging that Igor Shuvalov, first deputy prime minister, maintains apartments he has not declared on his income. remains posted on the site under a rubric where he is regularly posted.

In January, hard-liner Irina Yarovaya, chair of the State Duma committee on security and anti-corruption, had called for prosecution of political commentator Andrei Piontkovsky over an article on Chechnya. 

The article, titled “The Bomb That Has Not Exploded,” still on the site, implied that Russia would be better off with Chechnya independent, although editors removed the last two lines explicitly calling for secession.

In February, Piontkovsky fled Russia, fearing prosecution, RFE/RL reported.

TASS reported today that the search was connected to publications of articles on the site (translation by The Interpreter), citing an FSB statement:

A criminal case is being investigated at the Investigative Department of the FSB of Russia, based on evidence of crimes under Art. 28-1 and 2802 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, based on the fact of a publication on the site Ekho Moskvy of articles containing calls for carrying out activity aimed at the violation of territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and commission of actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity based on ethnic affiliation. 

The FSB said electronic correspondence with Andrei Piontkovsky was being confiscated.

Mark Feygin, Piontkovsky’s lawyer, said he knew nothing about the searches and that his client was abroad, TASS reported. He added that earlier he had sent an inquiry to the FSB and been told there was no case pending against Piontkovsky.

Piontkovsky, a long-time and prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was among the first to sign the opposition’s “Putin Must Go!” statement in 2011. 

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick