Russian journalist's beating signals looming Medvedev-Putin battle
Saturday's brutal beating of Oleg Kashin highlights not only a withering of press freedom in Russia but also a broader effort to silence dissent ahead of 2012 elections.
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But the chairman of Russia's Union of Journalists says that's not enough. "We've heard these declarations from our authorities before, and nothing changes," says Vsevolod Bogdanov. "Our colleagues are being killed and maimed. This is an attack on all of us, and the public at large. This is a crisis."Skip to next paragraph
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Some worry that Russia's tenuous press freedoms may be facing extinction. Though there has been a long string of unsolved murders and beatings of independent Russian journalists, analysts say the attack on Kashin suggests that pressure on the independent media may be ratcheting up. They point out that his newspaper, the liberal business daily Kommersant, is often critical but has never been considered to be in opposition to the Kremlin.
"Things are getting worse by the month," says Yulia Latynina, one of Russia's best-known investigative journalists. She says the assault was probably organized by a top official whose interests were negatively affected by Kashin's critical reporting, and their names are well known. "There are basically two possible culprits in this case, but nobody will name them. It's absolutely clear that they aren't going to be punished. Officials always side with officials."
Media tycoon says he's getting death threats
In another worrisome signal, maverick Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, who is part owner of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said Sunday that he has been handed stark warnings from "shadowy forces," including from inside the FSB security service, to leave the country or face death.
Mr. Lebedev, who owns a string of newspapers in Russia and Britain, said that a raid by 50 armed police last week on a Moscow bank he owns was one of many such signals he has received. "They were saying: do not cross the line," he told the London Mail on Sunday newspaper, comparing their tactics to the Sicilian Mafia. "They did not arrest me because it was a demonstration. It is like the Cosa Nostra – they send you a rotten fish wrapped in some paper."
Lebedev owns Novaya Gazeta together with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who recently spoke out against the authoritarian system of power created by Mr. Putin, and warned that without radical democratic reforms, Russia faces possible revolution.
"The threats against Lebedev are meant to scare independent businesspeople" who provide funding for critical outlets, says Nadezhda Prusenkova, a spokesperson for Novaya Gazeta.
'They want to put society in an artificial coma'
In a terse and portent-filled editorial Monday, Novaya Gazeta argued that the assault on Kashin was no isolated incident, but rather part of a broader attempt to silence any social dissent on the eve of this Kremlin struggle.
"These events can only be understood as a mass mopping-up operation on the fields of information freedom and civic activism," the newspaper's editorial board wrote. "The goal is to intimidate everything that lives, breathes, and moves without [Kremlin] permission....
"This is the beginning of a ferocious campaign – one that has already turned bloody – launched by those who aim to maintain the status quo and strengthen their grip on society still further, because they are frightened by the hypothetical prospect of a Russia moving toward social maturity. They want to put society into an artificial coma [as Oleg Kashin is today], in order to block its ability to see, hear and make its own destiny."