Russia Update: Ekho Moskvy’s Editor Fights for Independence Amid State Pressure

November 18, 2014
Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, in 2012. Photo by Yevgeny Biyatov/ RIA Novosti

Welcome to our new 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, and see also our Russia This Week.

Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of the last independent radio station in Russia has been fighting for his independence amid pressure from the owner, a warning from the state censor, and now a maneuver by the station general manager, who is close to the presidential administration.

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Will Germany Grow Tougher on Russia?

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is growing tougher on Russian President Vladimir Putin as fighting continues in southeastern Ukraine.

Russia “will not prevail” in Ukraine, she vowed in her speech at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, AFP reported.

But it’s not clear that further sanctions against Russia will emerge from the German political process, recent press reports indicate.

In a fairly friendly interview last week with German TV ARD, Putin claimed that the war in Ukraine was due to the failure of Kiev to bring the southeast into their plans for the EU Association Agreement. This then ostensibly led to “night-time arrests” by Ukrainian police of people in the southeastern Ukraine — which led the rebels to take up arms, said Putin.

the Russian-backed separatists — along with instigators from
ultranationalist groups from Russia bussed into towns like Kharkiv —
staged demonstrations and began taking over buildings by force, kidnapping and killing civilians suspected of supporting the new Kiev

Putin reiterated a previous admission in September that Russian troops had been involved in the takeover of Crimea in March — which he denied at the time.

An editor was unhappy about the sharp criticism the soft ARD interview attracted.

Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared unmoved by the ARD interview — and much else coming from Putin lately. At the G20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, she condemned the forcible annexation of the Crimea, saying it threatened more conflicts in Europe, AP reported:

“Who would have thought that, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the end of the Cold War and the end of the world’s separation into two blocks, something like this could have happened in the middle of Europe?” Merkel said. “Old ways of thinking in spheres of influence, which spurn international law, must not become accepted.”

“It’s not only about Ukraine. It’s about Moldova, it’s about Georgia, if it continues like this … one has to wonder about Serbia, one has to wonder about the countries in the western Balkans,” Merkel said.

Putin denied in the ARD interview that the Kremlin supplied the rebels with weapons, although  heavy artillery and Russian troops have been crucial in pushing the Ukrainian army out of Donbass. The Interpreter has reported on Russian military convoys in Ukraine in the last week, some with weaponry not available to the Ukrainian army and thus not stolen by the rebels — the cover story often given for heavy Russian artillery appearing in the war.

Putin blamed Ukraine for firing back and defending their country:

“You want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents?” he said. “Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.”

The EU is to decide on further sanctions against Russia this week.

Putin met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier today, mainly to talk about the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

Steinmeier said in an interview in Welt am Sonntag before his meeting that ways must be sought to reduce tensions with Russia. He saw no need for further sanctions, RBC reported.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Gazprom-Media vs. Ekho Moskvy: Journalists Tweet From Tense ‘Off the Record’ Meeting

As we reported earlier, Ekho Moskvy, the last independent radio station in Russia, has been fighting for its independence amid state pressure on various fronts.

Now a meeting between Mikhail Lesin, chairman of the board of Gazprom-Media, and Ekho Moskvy’s editors and journalists is going on at the House of Journalists over the issue of the firing of the reporter Aleksandr Plyushchev over an insensitive tweet — with possibly editor-in-chief Aleksei Venediktov next in line.

The journalists were told that the meeting was strictly off the record and not to tweet from it, but the tweets have already started coming.

Translation: Lesin said not to tweet and everyone obeyed: (  @alexborzenko: What Lesin and Venediktov are saying at the meeting.

Translation: what Lesin and Venediktov are saying at the meeting.

Translation: Lesin, who is speaking about morality.

TV Rain was broadcasting live about the meeting:

Translation: Our correspondents are broadcasting live from the talks between Venediktov and Lesin., the independent news site made up of journalists who fled to Riga after they were fired from in Moscow over critical coverage of Ukraine, has a source inside the meeting and has already published Lesin’s remarks (translation by The Interpreter):

“I don’t need Plyushchev’s head. I need the decision of the editor-in-chief [about his firing],” said Lenin. I don’t have the job of bending Plyushchev over and giving him a thrashing. I am not bothered very much by Plyushchev in this story. I have a lack of understanding with the editor-in-chief.

Lesin added that he wasn’t planning to fire Venediktov, either, because if he were to resign, the acting editor-in-chief would be Sergei Buntman, with whom he also finds it difficult to come to an agreement.

Venediktov said that only the editor-in-chief can fire reporters, under the charter. Meduza reported earlier claiming that Plyushchev was forced to apologize to the Kremlin administration chief for insulting him in an insensitive tweet when his son drowned, Venediktov said it was impossible to force Plyushchev to do anything.

“Sasha apologized as best as he could. I can’t educate him,” said Venediktov, using the familiar form of the name “Aleksandr.” He insisted that he would not fire Plyushchev over the incident.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian Sailors Board Mistral-Class Vladivostok In Saint Nazaire

Just hours after it was reported that Russian sailors had been barred from boarding the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok in Saint Nazaire, Russia’s Interfax news agency now reports that a Russian crew has boarded the vessel:

Russian crewmembers of the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Vladivostok have again boarded the ship awaiting its transfer to the Russian Navy, a military diplomat told Interfax-AVN on Tuesday.

“Several dozen sailors who spent the night on the Smolny training ship boarded the Vladivostok this morning,” he said.

The event was witnessed by a number of French journalists drawn where the ship is anchored by reports claiming that the Russian crew had not been permitted to board the ship on November 17.

A report posted on the Saint Nazaire port website a week ago said that the Vladivostok was supposed to leave “in an unknown direction” on November 21, the source said, quoting the local media. However, the report was removed from the website on November 13.

Four hundred Russian sailors, prospective crews of the Vladivostok and Sevastopol helicopter carriers, arrived in Saint Nazaire on June 30 about the Smolny ship to be trained to control the Mistral-class vessels.

Earlier, the Russian state-owned TASS news agency had reported that the Vladivostok‘s French builder, DCNS, had refused to comment on the reports that Russian personnel would not be allowed to board the vessel.

The company also declined to discuss the progress of work on the second Mistral-class carrier, the Sevastopol, which had been rumoured to be ready to float out.

— Pierre Vaux

Defence Ministry Says Russia And China Should Collaborate To Counter ‘Colour Revolutions’

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Anatoly Antonov, a Russian deputy defence minister, has said that Russia and China should collaborate to counter “colour revolutions” following a meeting between the two countries’ defence chiefs today.

Referring to the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where authorities today cleared a section of the protest camp, Antonov said:

“We focused on those events which have recently taken place in Hong Kong, and both ministers acknowledged that no country is immune from ‘color revolutions.

It only seems that these ‘color revolutions’ and these experiments by Western spin doctors, including those from the United States, are being implemented somewhere far from China or the Russian Federation. All this is in fact near us, and we believe that Russia and China should work together to withstand this new security challenge to our countries.”

TASS reports that Antonov also referred to events in Ukraine this year as a “coup d’état.”

Russia and China, in his words, know about the problem of “color revolution” on the example of Ukraine, “where a coup d’etat took place and we now see the trials this brotherly country is living through and we see how much effort is to be exerted by all to establish peace, tranquility and order in that country.

There was no discussion of the means by which the two authoritarian states would counter democratic movements, though Russia has of course demonstrated its determination to crush potential threats to its power, even abroad, by invading Ukraine.

— Pierre Vaux

Ekho Moskvy Editor Barred From Inviting Guests to Radio Studio

Aleksei Venediktov, editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy has been barred from inviting guests to the radio studio by the general manager, reports.

Venediktov has been fighting for the independence of his station ever since a warning from the state censor for “extremism” on a show about the Donetsk airport battle and the recent firing of a reporter Aleksandr Plyushchev who had insulted top Kremlin official Sergei Ivanov.

After these incidents, Venediktov said he may be fired himself by Mikhail Lesin, chairman of the board of Gazprom-Media and owner of Ekho Moskvy, for refusing to concede Plyushchev’s firing without his permission, which he said was a violation of the station’s charter. But a compromise with the owner seemed to have been reached over the weekend.

Yekaterina Pavlova, the general manager, is the wife of Aleksey Pavlov, deputy head of the President’s Department of Press Service and Information, which is headed by Dmitry Peskov. Ivanov is head of the presidential administration. Pavlov’s insertion into the station earlier this year after the dismissal of Yury Fedutinov, the original general manager, caused concern that Ekho Moskvy would come under more government pressure.

Pavlova is only allowing Yelena Kobzeva, deputy editor, and other research and technical staff, to sign the passes needed to allow guests into the studio. That means that Venediktov has been effectively prevented from inviting people to speak on the air. Deputy editor Vladimir Varfolomeev commented on Twitter and published Pavlova’s order on Facebook.

Translation: How else can this be perceived? RT @intuebatur; @Varfolomeev @t_felq @aavst this is some sort of clever version of censorship of guests?

For his part, Venediktov has filed an appeal today, November 18, against the warning for “extremism” he received from Roskomnadzor, the state censor, published on his Instagram account, and gave an interview explaining his action in Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper.


Translation: Me on the heads of Roskomnadzor – Aleksandr Zharov and Maksim Ksendzor in Novaya Gazeta after filing in court against Roskomnadzor.

(Translation by The Interpreter):

The heads of Roskomnadzor – Aleksandr Zharov and Maksim
Ksenzov — are my acquaintances, people who are highly professional.
That is precisely why we have decided to resolve this matter in a
civilized fashion, resorting to arbitration in the form of the court.
Our views on the situation differ. However, it must be noted that
divergent views do not prevent communication and friendship.

Venediktov said that a line in an interview on his radio
station on October 29 in the show about the Donetsk Airport provoked the
censor, and cited an interview Novaya Gazeta did with Zharov in which he said Ekho had “gone past the red flags“:

“At the end of the interview, if you recall it word for
word, was a discussion about how Right Sector are ‘great guys, they are
defending their country, they are heroes’,” said the head of the agency
[Zharov], indicating the phrase that Roskomnadzor didn’t like.

 He also published a picture on Instagram with the comment “Lesin and I tomorrow,” indicating he expected a tussle with Lesin:


Ekho Moskvy could be closed if it receives a second warning from the censor within a 12-month period.

On November 21, Gazprom-Media, the state gas monopoly’s media arm
that owns the majority of shares in Ekho Moskvy, will convene a board
meeting to discuss the firing of Plyushchev and the status of

Today Meduza, the Riga-based independent news site founded by
Galina Timchenko, the editor-in-chief of fired for her critical
coverage of Ukraine, ran a story about a source warning Plyushchev not to go to the meeting with Lesin.

The source said Plyushchev was also forced to write an apology to
Sergei Ivanov, for his ill-advised remark about Ivanov’s son, Aleksandr,
who drowned in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

Translation: c) Nowadays there’s only one honest tweet to go from journalist to “undesirable guest.”

Translation: what the hell, how @aavst [Venediktov] has gone gray in the last year!

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick