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, and see also our Russia This Week story The Guild War â How Should Journalists Treat Russian State Propagandists? and special features âManaged Springâ: How Moscow Parted Easily with the âNovorossiyaâ Leaders, Putin âThe Imperialistâ A Runner-Up For Timeâs âPerson of the Yearâ and It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy, It’s Putin.
Russia’s reaction to the terrorist massacre of the Charlie Hebdo journalists has been mixed, with some journalists showing solidarity and some activists blaming France for not controlling the press.
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costsâ.
Reaction to the terrorist massacre of the journalists at Charlie Hebdo continues, with Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov now speaking out — and making a personal threat against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who called on media to publish the Muhammad cartoons.
The Interpreter has translated the text:
There was a certain Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the history of
the Russian state who became the richest man on the planet, without
obtaining a single penny in inheritance from his parents. He spent 10
years in labor camps. He began whining there. And he was pardoned.
Apparently, he had occasion to crow a lot but he came out a
schizophrenic. That wouldn’t be a problem.
But desiring to serve his
Western masters, he ran even ahead of their steamship. After the bloody
event in Paris, he declared himself a greater Frenchman than the
president of France and the prime minister of that country.
as the French authorities are occupied with investigation and taking measures which would prevent the further whipping up of tension,
Khodorkovsky demands all journalists to repeat the experience of the
Paris publication and print the cartoons. These calls were met with
condemnation by the majority of those who read them. Khodorkovsky has
placed a cross upon himself [i.e. signed his death warrant–The
He has declared himself an enemy of all Muslims of the
world. That means my personal enemy. I am confident that in his beloved
Switzerland there will be found thousands of law-abiding citizens who
will call this fugitive criminal to account. And apparently this demand
will be brutal and heartfelt.
An ultranationalist activist named Dmitry Enteo who frequently disrupts liberal opposition marches has staged a picket by the French Embassy in Moscow.
Translation: While we condemn Islamism, we bear testimony to the fact that the real terrorists are the blasphemers from Charlie Hebdo.
The sentiment of this professed Russian Orthodox believer is similar to the opinion expressed in an op-ed article published by USA Today by jihadist cleric Anjem Choudhary to the effect that the French authorities should have reined in the cartoonists.
Translation: the responsibility for the tragedy lies on the government of France.
Enteo has also begun writing in French and English on his feed for more visibility.
Translation: Enteo and Co. organized a picket against the authorities of France who didn’t censor the publication of #CharlieHebdo.
The Christmas in question was Russian Orthodox Christmas, which was yesterday, January 7; in Paris, Christmas was celebrated on December 25.
LifeNews has now gotten into the act.
Translation: Political scientist Aleksey Martynov: Terrorist attack in Paris was organized by American intelligence.
(Note: The Interpreter is a project of the Institute for Modern Russia which is funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Russian writer Masha Gessen has a round-up in the New York Times of all the stories of persecution in Russia overshadowed by the trial of the Navalny brothers and the Manezhnaya protests.
With the world’s media focused just on the most prominent case of an opposition leader’s sentence and the resulting protests, and with the holidays, a lot of the other cases has been missed — we’ve mentioned some of them in past posts.
Gessen herself was forced to leave Russia with her family due to anti-gay laws after writing a critical biography of Putin, and a number of other Russian intellectuals critical of Putin have also left.
She points out that the media has largely ignored an important story about freedom of the press, and an important story about a famous Russian economist, just to name two missed stories:
few days before, in Moscow, Yevgenia Albats, the editor of the last
independent print magazine, The New Times, was charged with disobeying
the police for ostensibly trying to drive away from an officer who had
stopped her car. Ms. Albats says she was stuck in traffic and could not
have tried to drive away even if she had wanted to; central Moscow was
indeed in gridlock all of that evening. Ms. Albats may face arrest if
other end-of-the-year Moscow news, the economist Konstantin Sonin left
his post as provost of the Higher School of Economics, a public
university, after just under a year and a half. Mr. Sonin is one of
Russia’s small cohort of internationally renowned economists, and after
his colleagues Sergei Guriev and Sergei Aleksashenko emigrated in 2013,
he became by far the most prominent economist still working in the
country. The fact that he held a high post at Moscow’s most prestigious
university seemed to signal the university’s continued quality even as
other Russian institutions of higher education kept slipping.
president of the Higher School of Economics, Yaroslav Kuzminov, is
married to the head of Russia’s Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina, and
this connection seemed to offer the university some protection from
government meddling. But as the Russian currency tumbled in December,
Mr. Sonin may have made one too many statements criticizing the
government’s and the central bank’s policies — and he was promptly
forced out of his job.
We could add to this list the case of Yevgeniya Vychigina covered by Moscow Times, typical of the increasing punishment of people who fall astray of strict new Internet law:
Who among us has not been tagged in an unflattering photo or an
offensive post? It might lead us to wonder why we took that group
picture after midnight or raise some eyebrows at work. It might also
make us regret the evaporation of privacy. But it should not lead to
legal trouble with the authorities. Yet this is precisely what happened
to a woman in Perm, Russia.
In September, Yevgeniya Vychigina was prosecuted and fined for being
tagged by a friend in a so-called “extremist” video on the Russian
social media site VKontakte. Featuring interviews with self-styled
“partisans” who attacked police officers, the video was undeniably
controversial. Yet Vychigina was no partisan. She was neither in the
video nor supported the video’s message.
Her friend simply wanted her to watch it, and she claims to have
accepted the tag without watching the video. After she accepted the
video, it appeared on Vychigina’s Vkontakte page, leading a court to
fine her for “disseminating extremist materials.” The case reveals the
absurd and alarming scope of Internet censorship in Russia.
President Vladimir Putin expressed his “deep condolences” for the 12 French journalists of Charlie Hebdo killed in the terrorist attack yesterday January 7, in a brief message to French President Francois Hollande on the Kremlin’s home page. The attacks fell on Russian Orthodox Christmas. The translation is by The Interpreter:
The head of state deeply condemned this cynical crime and confirmed readiness to continue active cooperation in the battle against the threat of terrorism.
Putin often likes to remind the West about the dangers of terrorism and reproach the US and the EU for not working as closely as in the past with Russia in the war on terror — which Putin pursues with vigor in Russia in Dagestan, where at least 160 suspected terrorists were assassinated this year.
He doesn’t made any connection between his own support of Syria’s dictator Al-Bashar Assad with more than a $1 billion in armaments and political cover — and the jihadists who stream from Europe to fight Assad.
But it’s been left for other Russian political figures to draw out the lessons, as Business Insider describes in a round-up.
Aleksei Pushkov, the conservative head of Russia’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter implying that the European Union’s sanctions against Russia over its war on Ukraine were misplaced, and they should look instead to stop the recruitment of jihadists from their own countries:
Translation: The tragedy in Paris illustrates that it is not Russia that threatens Europe and its security. That’s a bluff. The real threat comes from the disciples of terror. That is a fact.
Dmitry Rogozin, the vice premier for the military known for his sharp quips on Twitter, has not yet made a comment.
Western press has been divided on whether to publish the offensive cartoons that led to the terrorist attack as a form of solidarity with the slain journalists, Mashable reports.
Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent Novaya Gazeta, who has seen his own reporters, such as Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down for their work, took a moderate position on the issue, which he explained in an editorial.
He expressed deep condolences and proposed that world media jointly create a bounty “for information about these monsters” — who are still being sought by French police. But he declined to put the cartoons on his front page:
Regarding the reprinting of the cartoons. I have doubts that this decision is ethically precise. This looks like collective punishment: the terrorist act was committed by a group of murderers and we then subject millions of believers to harassment. I think that one of the purposes of terrorism in fact consists of forcing various faiths into a final conflict. We do not want to help the terrorists in this. We absolutely make the distinction between terrorists and believers. For a just outcome, it is necessary to prosecute the former and respect the rights of the latter.
Muratov explained that what they would do is publish a cover of Charlie Hebdo — and they published the cover with Michel Houellebecq’s predictions, saying “I will make Ramadan in 2022.” This, said Muratov, is “our due to the memory of our colleagues” and not out of “the desire to incite passions or offend anyone.”
He said they would also show pictures of solidarity demonstrations in France in which people used posters made of the offensive cover before the terrorist attack — that way it is in a news frame.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he concluded.
He noted there are 20 million Muslims in Russia.
Ekho Moskvy, a publication of Gazprom Media which has increasingly come under pressure from the government, decided to run the Charlie Hebdo covers that illustrated how the cartoonists were “equal opportunity” satirists, and poked fun at the Pope and Jewish leaders as well as Islamic fundamentalists. They included Charlie Hebdo covers spoofing Russian, German, American and other leaders and the “Untouchables” cover showing a Muslim and Jew.
They also ran the “Je Suis Charlie” banner and an op-ed pieces by exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other opposition commentators.
Open Russia, the opposition site founded by Khodorkovsky, has published
one of the irreverent cartoons under the headline “We are Charlie
Hebdo.” The cartoon depicts a scene “if Mohammad returned,” implying
that he, too, would be treated as an infidel and have his throat cut.
Khodorkovsky sparked controversy yesterday with this tweet:
Translation: if journalists are a decent community, tomorrow there should not be a single publication without cartoons of the prophet.
Some Russian bloggers used the discussion of the terrorist attack in Paris to discuss their own country’s politics:
is not condemned almost by the very same people with whom we always
argue regarding Putin, Crimea, Donbass and so on.
Translation: Varfolomeev: Are you kidding
Navalny: It is clear that there are pagans who believe that a picture can offend God, but not condemn murder?
Varfolomeev reported on his Facebook page that Muscovites had left flowers at the French Embassy in Moscow.
deputy prime minister under Yeltsin and author who was forced to move to
Germany because of persecution, had a startling suggestion on his
Facebook page for how to address terror (translation by The Interpreter):
Israel, for example, has a rich experience in fighting terrorists. They have solved the problem of hostages in their own way: the hostages are the relatives of the terrorist; their house is destroyed. In fact, this experience (to be sure, without legal foundation, which is not good) has long been tried by [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov. Which (with all my cautious attitude toward this personage) is in general a step in the right direction.
While Kokh himself comes from a family of Volga Germans who were deported under Stalin, and was born in Kazakhstan as a result, he thinks that EU has a “magnificent means to resolve the problem of terrorism: deportation and destruction of mosques.”
For his part, Ramzan Kadyrov didn’t mention the terrorist attack in Paris, but mourned the destruction yesterday of the 800-year-old Imam Nawai mosque in Syria and condemned extremists who killed other Muslims in general.
The popular blogger Bozhenka Rynska liked his idea, as did more than 4,800 others, although some objected. Russian human rights activists have campaigned in recent weeks against Kadyrov’s orders to destroy the homes of terrorists, and one prominent journalist, Ksenya Sobchak, confronted Putin with his inaction on this practice at the year-end press conference.
It’s important to understand that for the Russian media, printing the cartoons isn’t just an ethical or political editorial decision, it’s a conscious plan to risk violation Russian law on extremism, which can be used arbitrarily against those who support Islamic terrorists just as much as against those who publish a link to a critical video on the Ukrainian war.
Meduza.io, a new independent news site run by editors and journalists who left Russia after they were fired from Lenta.ru under state pressure, opted to publish a montage of the covers of world media showing the cartoons, and the “Je Suis Charlie” on their own front page, but didn’t publish the cartoons themselves.
Vedomosti printed a news story with the caricature of Houellebecq.
TV Rain carried straight news coverage without cartoons.
Grani.ru published straight news coverage on the suspects, without any cartoons.
Slon.ru ran pictures of the scene and police pursuit but no cartoons.
Sputnik & Pogrom, the popular ultranationalist web site had no mention of the attack at all.
Konstantin Rykov, the top Kremlin web propagandist, didn’t publish the cartoons, but had this to say:
Translation: Gennady, I drew cartoons all night.
(Note: The Interpreter is a project funded by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. We have opted not to publish the cartoons.)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick