Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Targeting Journalists

Conservative Swede’s challenge is still outstanding: no one has as yet presented any investigatory material showing the evidence for Vladimir Putin’s complicity in the murder of journalists.

The Russian bearThis is unfortunate, because all of the assertions to that effect made by our commenters remain simply that — assertions. Conservative Swede has put forward a reasonable request, and if I had the time, I’d go out and research some of the material myself.

All of the information on the topic that I’ve read in the past, except for a smattering of articles on the English-language Russian sites, has come from the Western media. But we’re no longer innocent about this: we know that actual lies concerning Bosnia, Kosovo, and Georgia — in which Western journalists were at best credulous and at worst complicit — were widespread in the media, so it’s appropriate to re-examine all the things that “everyone knows” about Russian issues. I’d like to see actual background material for both sides, rather than simple assertions.

I’ll have more to say on this topic later. But until then, some comments from Armance on the same thread are worth reproducing here (edited slightly for clarity):

First, in order to understand what is happening in Russia, we have to understand how the media work in post-communist countries with high levels of corruption. I can give the example of Romania, where the situation is not as bad as in the Russian Federation (at least the journalists are not killed), but there are some similarities, especially regarding the financial power behind the media and the links among politics, business and media. I think from that we can draw some conclusions about Russia, too.

At least 80% of the mainstream media (from TV channels and the newspapers with the biggest circulation to… women’s magazines and cultural publications, etc.) are owned by four billionaires. Each one of them has more power, at least in terms of influencing the public opinion, than the president and the government together. Similar to the Russian oligarchs, they got rich in the early 1990s, during the “privatization” process, which was basically a huge robbery from the state budget in a period of chaos. Their businesses, at least in the beginning, were dubious, to say the least. But as they say, nobody asks you how you made the first million dollars.

The journalists are free to criticize the politicians, the government, and the president as much as they want, even to curse them, if they please. But they know that these four men and their business partners are untouchable as long as they work for their media trusts. If they cross the line, they will lose their jobs and will be subjected to character assassination by the very publication or TV channel they worked for. Fortunately, the oligarchs don’t have the courage to assassinate them, but this is what they would do if they had the possibility, like in Russia.
- - - - - - - - -
Sometimes the oligarchs support one political candidate or another, depending on who is the best for their economic interests. Some of them are involved in politics themselves because they have business contracts with the state and the central or local authorities. But no politician has the power to threaten or intimidate a journalist by himself, without the backing of the oligarchs.

The worst situation is for the journalists working in the provinces, in distant corners of the country, away from public scrutiny, when they write about the businesses of the local oligarchs. A few of them have been beaten by “unknown persons” in recent years — the most serious cases of intimidation. Now, going back to Russia, here it is the Wikipedia list of Russian journalists killed.

So, four journalists were killed in 2008: three from Dagestan and one from Ingushetiya (hmm, all four come from Muslim republics. I wonder why).

Ilyas Shurpayev, Dagestani journalist responsible for news coverage of Northern Caucasus on Channel One, was strangled with a belt in Moscow.

Gaji Abashilov, chief of Dagestan outlet of VGTRK, shot in his car.

Magomed Yevloyev, owner of Ingushetiya.ru, shot by Ingush policemen which convoyed him to Nazran procurator office.

Abdulla Alishayev, Dagestani journalist fatally wounded by unknown assailants.

This is definitely the pattern of “the provincial journalists”. I cannot think of Putin as the first reason for their deaths for the same reason I cannot suspect the president of Romania for the intimidation of a journalist in a distant corner of the country. I know that Putin (or Medvedev, his man) has a lot of power and influence, but still: when there are so many local interests to suppress the voice of these journalists (from the local authorities or oligarchs), why should I think directly of the head of the state? It is not serious. Especially since I know how the things work over here.

It might be said that justice hasn’t done enough to solve these cases. But justice is corrupted to the bones in this part of the world. Many judges and prosecutors can be bribed with a thousand euros. Again: it takes a lot of time to crush this octopus, maybe a generation. Even Putin cannot do this in eight years. And I bet most judiciaries are not bribed or threatened by Putin himself. I expect Putin to do more to improve the justice system in Russia, but it is difficult as hell in Romania, supposedly an EU country — in Russia the situation is even more complicated. And again, the first source of influencing the judiciary is not the president or the prime minister, but the joint interests of the oligarchs and their puppets in the administration.

Another interesting phenomenon is this: working in these circumstances, the most influential journalists sign the pact with the devil themselves, which means they are used by their masters to blackmail their economic or political competitors and are heavily paid in exchange for their services. Some of them become involved in suspect business transactions themselves. I don’t want to blame the victims, but the Wikipedia stories of the four journalists killed in 2008 have dubious elements, if you read between the lines. For instance, Gaji Abashilov, a TV boss, a perfect example of the links among media, politics and business, a pattern that exists also in Romania:

In 1991–2006 he was chief editor of “Molodezh’ Dagestana” (Молодежь Дагестана, Youths of Dagestan).

In 1999 he was elected a member of local legislature, then was appointed deputy head of republican Ministry of information. In January 2007 he became a chief of TV company “Dagestan”, local outlet of VGTRK.

Gaji Abashilov was assassinated in the evening of March 21; his car was fired on in the central part of Makhachkala. In the early hours of the same day another Dagestani journalist, Ilyas Shurpayev, who had worked for years in the republic as a correspondent of NTV and Channel One was found strangled.

Definitely I cannot see Putin behind this story. To make a long story short, The Russian Federation doesn’t seem a friendly country for the journalists, but not because of Putin’s power. On the contrary: I pity him a little bit for being a leader in such a, hmm, complicated country. And definitely regarding some aspects, like the judiciary, I would like to see Russia more “Westernized”, the same as I would like to see the West more “Russianized” in other aspects, like national and cultural pride.

I want to add one more thing: I hope we all agree that Putin is not stupid. The same about the KGB/FSB officers, like him. Whatever we might say about Putin — and a lot of criticism can be made regarding his person — definitely stupidity is not among his flaws. Now look at the methods used to kill the four journalists assassinated in 2008. I mean, c’mon: a former KGB officer, be it Putin or his entourage, ordering that people should be strangled with a belt or shot in their cars, especially when the world is watching them and they have so many enemies? The same about the stories of Politkovskaya or Yushcenko poisoned at some point in their life, but just a little bit, not until death.

Sorry for being so cynical, but this is amateurs’ work in search of instant revenge, not professionals’. I am not Putin and had nothing to do with the KGB, but I can still think of a hundred more intelligent ways to get rid of my opponents. They can die “by accident” in a car crash. They can be hit by a tramway on their way to the office. They can fall from a cliff while skiing during the winter holidays. Etc.

And it’s not even necessary to kill them. You can blackmail them. As we know, most of us have moments that we are ashamed of, even vices we don’t want to be made public. Some photos or films of a man in a brothel or of a married woman with her lover, in exchange of their silence, can do wonders.

At least these were the methods used by the Securitate, the former secret police of Ceausescu. And KGB was much more evil and cunning than them (as exemplified in the interview with the KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov).


Vasarahammer said...

I did not take CS's challenge since I felt there was no need to defend something I have never asserted i.e. that Putin was behind killing of journalists.

But I do want to say that Armance gets it right for the most part.

Armance wrote:
"like the judiciary, I would like to see Russia more “Westernized”, the same as I would like to see the West more “Russianized” in other aspects, like national and cultural pride."

The judiciary is not the only part. Law enforcement in general is riddled with corruption.

And speaking of national and cultural pride it is exaggerated in Russia because of low cultural self-esteem. The Russians know that the West is far ahead in terms of economic prosperity despite the few oligarchs having loads of money. There is also a high degree of paranoia and tendency to conspiracy theory that resembles the way muslims explain the reasons for their misery.

Putin is a reasonable president and certainly not another Stalin. His greatest flaw is the management of the economy. Russia is still far too dependent on export of raw materials. Arbitrary bullying of Western businesses does not encourage foreign investment and Russia needs investment despite the enormous wealth of the oligarchs.

The other thing to worry about is that Stalin is still a respected figure in Russia. He was voted number three in the Greatest Russian ever lived contest. This makes it difficult for the neighbors of Russia to feel at ease with the rise of Russian might.

no2liberals said...

I disagree, I think CS' challenge is unreasonable, and I refuse to play his game.
I must not have gotten the memo, that his sources of info are infallible, and cannot be questioned, while he is free to declare all others as false.
In the absence of first-hand, eye witness accounts, any claims, by any source, are assertions.
Like my favorite blade, assertions in this game are double-edged, for the challenged, as well as the challenger.
Instead of playing along, here is my challenge to him.
Few cases of murder or assaults on critics of the Russian government have come to trial, or even thoroughly investigated, but the trial in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya began 5 Dec.
One of the defendants, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, had a revelation made about him in court.
What was that revelation, and by whom?
Or maybe he can tell us what happened to Kazbek Dukuzov, after a new trial was ordered for his murder of Forbes Russian edition editor, Paul Klebnikov, in 2006?

This gamesmanship aside, this is still just one tiny aspect of the neo-Soviet attitude of the current Russian administration.

laine said...

The challenge is in the opposite direction. Conservative Swede has offered not a shred of concrete evidence to back his own bizarre opinion that Putin and/or Russia have distanced themselves from the countless crimes against humanity that Russia has never admitted nor regretted and are offering anything but the thinnest cover over the old self-aggrandizement and power hunger. By pretending there is some vast discontinuity between today's Russia and the Soviet Union which was merely Russia and her victims, he keeps presenting them as though they have a clean slate.

The evidence is all in the opposite direction, with the most flagrant one being KGB agent Putin's purposeful rehabilitation of Stalin as "a great man" in Russian history instead of the mass murderer outdoing Hitler that he was.

The people who caused rivers of blood followed by decades of the meanest kind of oppression in the past century are no fit role model for anyone in the West.

CS is merely obfuscating, giving other people assignments that are meaningless until he answers the big one. What do perpetrators and glorifiers of mass democide and the world's largest prison state for decades have to teach the West?

Are we next to consult Mafioso who may or may not be retired on how to keep law and order?

Zenster said...

laine: By pretending there is some vast discontinuity between today's Russia and the Soviet Union which was merely Russia and her victims, he keeps presenting them as though they have a clean slate.

This certainly seems to be the case. Perhaps, only Communist China has more skeletons in its closet than Russia. So long as numerous Soviet era players continue steering modern Russia, its actions must be regarded with suspicion and skepticism. The only question is whether Russia is a rehabilitated criminal or an incorrigible felon.

If Putin is participating in any rehabilitation of Josef Stalin's murderous legacy then he is nothing more than another Soviet era type of revisionist seeking to undermine proper historical perspective regarding some of this world's absolute worst crimes against humanity.

CS is merely obfuscating, giving other people assignments that are meaningless until he answers the big one.

I do believe that Babs correctly identified this sort of dishonest behavior as "moving the goal posts".

What do perpetrators and glorifiers of mass democide and the world's largest prison state for decades have to teach the West?

And this is where all talk of Putin better protecting his people and providing more respectable political leadership collapses like the flimsy house of rhetorical cards that it is. A historical typhoon of bloody murder and destruction will not let such inadequate assertions stand. From all appearances, Putin continues to steer Russia straight towards the shoals of internal and global instability or even outright conflict. His lack of concern over Russia's increasing role as a pariah state and its complicity with Islamic terrorism constitutes betrayal of the Russian people and abdication of any right to legitimate political leadership.

For ours and, particularly, Conservative Swede's edification I will end with a repetition of laine's most cogent question:

What do perpetrators and glorifiers of mass democide and the world's largest prison state for decades have to teach the West?

no2liberals said...


"The evidence is all in the opposite direction, with the most flagrant one being KGB agent Putin's purposeful rehabilitation of Stalin as "a great man" in Russian history instead of the mass murderer outdoing Hitler that he was."

One must take pause to ponder why the archives on Stalin's bloody reign, at the Memorial Foundation, were seized by Russian authorities. Make note of the specific years which the masked agents seized.
If there is no detailed info of Stalin's atrocities, then there were none.

As one spokesperson says:

"Human rights groups said they were dismayed by the attack on Memorial. 'This outrageous police raid shows the poisonous climate for non-governmental organisations in Russia,' said Allison Gill, director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow, said. 'This is an overt attempt by the Russian government ... to silence critical voices.'"

Going back to a reply CS made to me, on the oldest thread, where this all began, he also expressed disdain for NGO's.

Armance said...

'This outrageous police raid shows the poisonous climate for non-governmental organisations in Russia,' said Allison Gill, director of Human Rights Watch in Moscow,

The same Human Rights Watch was one of the most hysterical organizations in condemning the abuses against the poor detainees at Guantanamo (they issued a special report about the supposed violations of human rights in Guantanamo), the discrimination of the oppressed immigrants in Western Europe, the persecution of the illegals in Italy, the harming of the innocent civilians in Gaza, etc.
Practically, in the latest years, it's difficult to find any anti-European or anti-American cause not supported by HRW. HRW proved itself countless times to be a nest of loony, hysterical, anti-patriotic and anti-national activists in the same rank with Amnesty International or Open Society Foundation.

Since we know how fair and reliable this organization is regarding G'namo, Italy or Gaza, why should we trust their declarations on Russian issues?
I don't want to say that Russia is flawless - but quoting Human Rights Watch? Then we can quote as trustworthy sources the UN, New York Times and Al Gore, as well.

xlbrl said...

Vlad is perfectly happy with the Russian arrangement; whatever it is exactly is unimportant. His interests are not gored, anything but, so what better system could be devised than what has evolved? Smaller men examine larger men to devine what it is that would please them. Smaller men easily understand the exact limits of their power, initiatives, and rewards when there is a gorilla in the room.

Funny, I do not see where murders against the interest of Putin are even attempted.
That is the dog that did not bark.

None of this is to say that Russia's interest, or Putiin's interest, cannot be much closer to American interest or Western interest than they are playing out now. This is only to say that the question of the original post is correctly seen as being completely irrelevant, or deliberately misleading.
That is why it draws no interest.

laine said...

Armance should follow the link in no2liberal's first comment for more credible sources on the government raid of historic archives if his objection is really just Human Rights Watch.

An excerpt: "Figes, professor of history at Birkbeck, a London University college, condemned the raid on Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation. He said that the police had also taken material used in his latest book, The Whisperers, which details family life in Stalin's Russia.

On Thursday, armed and masked men from the investigative committee of the Russian general prosecutor's office burst into Memorial's St Petersburg office.

After a search of several hours, they confiscated its entire archive - memoirs, photographs, interviews, and other unique documents detailing the history of the gulag and the names of many of its victims.

Yesterday Figes claimed the raid 'was clearly intended to intimidate Memorial'. The confiscated archive included unique documents detailing the 'Soviet terror from 1917 to the 1960s,' he said, adding that the office was 'an important centre for historical research' and a 'voice for tens of thousands of victims of repression in Leningrad'. He said he believed the raid was 'a serious challenge to freedom of expression' in Russia: 'It is part of a campaign to rewrite Soviet history and rehabilitate the Stalinist regime.'

Memorial is Russia's oldest and best-known human rights organisation. It has pioneered research into Soviet-era repression and collaborated with Figes on his latest book, which was published last year, by interviewing dozens of elderly survivors of Stalinism and recording their personal accounts of life under tyranny.

The Whisperers: Private Lives in Stalin's Russia includes gripping testimonies of ordinary Russians who were children in the 1930s...

Figes estimates that between 1928, when Stalin seized control of the Communist party, and his death in 1953, the dictator repressed at least 25 million people - an eighth of the Soviet Union's population. His victims were executed, sent to gulags, deported or forced to work as slave labourers.

Last night, Figes - who is also the author of an acclaimed book on the Russian revolution, A People's Tragedy - said that police had carted off all the material used in The Whisperers. 'Luckily I have copies, and the originals of the sound recordings [interviews],' he said.

The St Petersburg centre is not connected to the human rights work of the organisation in Moscow, which has angered the Kremlin with its regular reports on abuses in Chechnya and has also recently carried out an independent investigation into the war in Georgia. None the less, the centre's work has been at odds with official attempts - which are supported by Russia's nationalists and communists - to rehabilitate Stalin. History textbooks now portray him as a great leader who industrialised the Soviet Union and saved it from the Nazis, rather than as one of the 20th century's biggest mass murderers".

Armed and masked government thugs raiding Russian archives on a trumped up charge (of racism) and confiscating material that will never be seen again, gee, that has a familiar ring...