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.
Yet another suspect has been detained in the case of the Bolotnaya Square anti-Putin demonstration.
See also our Russia This Week stories:
Ultranationalists Angry over âCapitulationâ of Minsk Agreement,
âAnti-Maidanâ Launched by Nationalists, Cossacks, Veterans, Bikers
The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists?
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: âIt is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russiaâ
Former Russian Intelligence Officers Behind Boisto âTrack IIâ Talks â and Now the Flawed Minsk Agreement.
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
Alexey Khlebnikov of Russia Direct reports that the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) has released its first “World Media Hostility Index”
The index is a kind of twisted reflection of the press freedom indexes put out annually by Freedom House or the French Reporters without Borders, where Russia always ranks low.
In RISI’s index, Germany holds first place in “hostile” media to Russia, and the US, Austria, France, Great Britain and Poland follow.
RISI, founded by President Boris Yeltsin in 1992, is now directed by Leonid Reshetnik, a veteran intelligence official (see our translation of a recent interview with him) who has associated with Russian nationalists and conservative causes in the past.
Khlebnikov’s explains the index as follows:
This analytical report is the result of detailed analysis of the media policies of different countries in 2014, when crucial shifts in the rhetoric employed by Western media about Russia occurred. The author of the mass media hostility index is a senior fellow at RISS, Dr. Igor Nikolaichuk. He suggests that, over the course of 2014, Western media started to “spread anti-Russian propaganda more actively than ever,” which he calls the beginning of “the global information war” against Russia.
The RISS positions its index as the first-ever comprehensive analysis of the world’s media content pertaining to Russia. The analysis is based on complex statistical data (provided by Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya) that is examined via a new applied discipline known as “political mediametrics.” A unit for analysis is a significant media publication that gives a reader certain assessments of Russia or its leadership. Ordinary news was excluded from the analysis.
All of that sounds fairly obscure, but the results are even more puzzling — Germany, a country where there is considerable support for Putin, with extensive business and civic ties with Russia is first on the list.
This seems particularly odd when, for example, German ARD television made a softball interview with Putin when he left the G20 meeting early, isolated by the West over his war on Ukraine, and when Der Spiegel is described as toning down its anti-Putin rhetoric.
We’re trying to think what RISI has in mind, and possibly one example might be the Der Spiegel story, sourced in a parliamentarian who was leaking a report from German intelligence, that placed the blame for the downing of MH17 on Russian-backed rebels.
It’s also puzzling to see Austria rank number third, when we are familiar with Dugin’s associationswith Jorg Haider and other far right politicians. Reshetnikov has also appeared on the same platform with Dugin.
Austria defied the US and EU and continued to support South Stream, Putin’s gas pipeline project.
But maybe precisely because Putin views Austria as such a supporter that the slightest criticism in Austrian media will sting all the more. Perhaps the Russians were mad when Conchita Wurst, the transgendered Austrian singer, won the Eurovision song contest last year.
In a presentation of the report to the press on February 18, RISI commented that in 2013, “strong anti-Russian tendencies were absent” in UAR, Canada, Japan and Ukraine” but had increased this year, RIA Novosti reported.
RISI explains away the growth in hostility as due to Russia “defending
its interests in Ukraine which were seriously damaged after the
anti-Constitutional coup in Kiev in early 2014.”
Brazil had a burst of friendless toward Russia from 2013 to 2014, but then grew more hostile again — possibly this could reflect negative press coverage about bad behavior during the games by Russia’s soccer fans and Russia’s loss at the World Cup which took place in Brazil last year.
Gazeta.ru covered the report, which has not yet been posted on RISI’s website, saying that the study was “the benchmark for propaganda methodology for ‘specialists in the field of information psychological resistance.'”
Syria is the only country that had positive press about Russia.
A notice on RISI’s website explains that researchers reviewed 70,000 items to come to their conclusions
Not just tone, but quantity helped created the ratings; the researchers said the newspaper with the greatest number of articles on Ukraine was the Wall Street Journal (1,530 articles), then the Washington Post (677) and then the international edition of the New York Times (550).
Igor Nikolaychuk, the co-author of the report said that the articles were analyzed by specialists at Rossiya Segodnya, the state media company. A burst of negativity came after the annexation of Crimea, he said, noting that the report proved there was a “world information war” against Russia.
The report was at times couched in tendentious language, says Gazeta.ru, for example, when the report called out Poland’s “evil information dwarves.”
The report also quoted Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Federation Council’s committee on foreign affairs, regarding such lists:
Ratings are a part of international image, and therefore you can’t wave them away even if you believe they are tendentious, and o not take into account your “special feature” and are guided by incomprehensible criteria. All of that, of course exists to some extent but all those who make decisions and draw conclusions in practical affairs — politicians, investors and analysts — take into account such “placement on the ranks. Obviously ratings in and of themselves are becoming a powerful instrument of influence and pressure.
And that’s why the Russian government wants to get into the ratings and rankings game, which has been dominated by Western institutions for years.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Not surprisingly, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the presidential administration, has denied that the Kremlin was involved with a sensational document released by independent news site Novaya Gazeta showing plans were developed to annex the Crimea and the Donbass even before the toppling of former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych.
(See our full translation of the document with Novaya Gazeta’s commentary, ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’)
Translation: Peskov has commented on the publication by Novaya Gazeta about the plan to divide Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour, Peskov is quoted as follows, regarding the plan to annex Crimea and the Donbass before Yanukovych was toppled:
this is not true. This is not true. Or maybe, maybe. I mean, I cannot
exclude. Because I don’t know the paper. I don’t know who is the author
of the paper.”
“It’s a newspaper …
sometimes they make, well, unimaginable publications. And I don’t see
any reason for us to react. The only thing I can tell you — even if
kind of that paper exists, it has nothing to do with the Kremlin. And it
has nothing to do with official papers in Russian government.”
The New York Times also covered Novaya Gazeta’s publication, and quoted Peskov as follows:
Dmitry S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, dismissed the memo as a hoax.
“I don’t know whether this document exists at all,” he said. “I don’t
know who might be the author, but for sure, the document has nothing to
do with the Kremlin.”
The New York Times noted that “oddly” the memorandum left out Donetsk due to an assessment by the document’s authors at the time that the influence of Rinat Akhmetov, own of coal mines and other businesses in the Donetsk Region, was too strong.
But as we have reported, later Col. Igor Strelkov, a close associate of businessman Konstantin Malofeyev, said by Novaya Gazeta to be involved in the drafting of the document, was installed first in Slavyansk. When the rebel forces were forced to flee Slavyansk and Ukrainian troops took it over, they re-grouped in Donetsk, and ultimately succeeded in taking over the city and the airport after long battles. Akhmetov is said to have an uneasy relationship with the Russian-backed separatists, but reportedly pays them to prevent destruction of his business, and also provides significant charitable aid to the civilians in the war zone.
Newsweek interviewed noted Russia expert Liliya Shevtsova,
who said the leaked document was significant:
“This ‘plan’ suggests that the attempts of the forces close
to the Kremlin, apparently working on Kremlin orders, to find ways to
subjugate Ukraine had been undertaken before Yanukovych’s collapse, thus
we are dealing with a certain strategy that fits Putin’s new survival
doctrine adopted in 2012-2013,” she says.
“The interesting part is the fact that the plan includes a
demand to the change the Ukrainian constitution which has become the
Kremlin’s demand and recently became the condition of the Minsk-2 truce,
endorsed by the Merkel- Hollande tandem,” Shevtsova adds, referring to
the ceasefire meeting in Minsk a fortnight ago negotiated between the
leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
Intriguingly, buried at the end of the Newsweek piece is news from Anna Nemtsova, Newsweek‘s Russia correspondent who found out more about the leaker:
“The most interesting part about the document was the motivation of the Kremlin-insider source,” Nemtsova says.
“Novaya Gazeta’s deputy editor has known the
source for many years and he tells me that there are people in the
Kremlin who feel concerned about Russia’s future and want to stop the
war with somebody’s hands, or at least change the public opinion,”
That lets us know why Muratov is confident about the document’s authenticity, because his source for it is a Kremlin insider.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Nearly three years after the May 6, 2012 anti-Putin demonstration on Bolotnaya Square, Russian authorities are still rounding up suspects.
Mediazone reports that Ivan Nepomnyashchy, 24, was detained yesterday February 25 at 6 pm in the town of Sergiyev-Posad. His father said he got a phone call from the Investigative Committee late in the evening that his son was detained in connection with the May 6 events and that his status would be announced tomorrow (translation by The Interpreter):
I was telephoned from an unknown number at about 10:00 pm, and then they gave the phone to my son. He said he had been detained for the Bolotnaya Square events, but supposedly as a witness.
The investigator’s last name was Uranov; he is the same one who handled the case of blogger and activist Mitya Aleshkovsky.
Ivan’s father Andrei Nepomnyashchy confirmed to Mediazone that he both he and his son had gone to the square that day in 2012, and in fact both were detained that day and released. He said in recent months, investigators began to look for his son and came after midnight last night to search his registered place of residence, at his mother’s home.
According to the online records of the Moscow city court system, Andrei
Nepomnyashy was charged with “failure to obey the lawful demands of a
police offer” and fined 500 rubles. He said that he cannot recall if his
son was also charged. Records show that Ivan was charged in August
2012, but the judge returned the case to police for removal of the
Eight people were sentenced to terms ranging from 3 to 4 years of labor colony in February 2014 for “mass disorders.” Ten others were later amnestied, including two who agreed to cooperate with the investigation. One was sentenced to compulsory treatment. Then in August 2014, four more people were sentenced to terms ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 years. In October 2014, yet another man was sentenced to 3.2 years.
Translation: And they even conduct a search at 12 at night.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick