The Bear and the Jellyfish: The Kremlin's War on Dissident Journalists [OPINION]


With the progression of the war in Ukraine, the question of the attitude of the Russian population towards this “special military operation” seems to become more and more opaque due to the media lead screed imposed by the Kremlin.

The last few days have seen a further hardening in this respect with the magazine July 14 of a battery of draconian measures aimed at any dissent on the subject of the war. On July 8, the Muscovite elected official Alexei Gorinov was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his denunciation of the invasion of Ukraine, the magistrate Olessia Mendeleïva estimating, in terms evoking the great Stalinist era, that "the recovery of the accused is impossible without a penalty of deprivation of freedom ". Faced with such threats, it is obvious that any official poll of public opinion in Russia must be interpreted with great caution. Hence the interest of the recent publication of new data supposedly obtained by the independent information service Meduza ("Medusa"), which claims to have learned of the results of a survey commissioned by the presidential administration regarding the continuation of armed operations in Ukraine. The results are hardly comforting for Vladimir Putin, as they suggest that the level of support in Russia for the war is not nearly as high as one might think. But before looking in detail at these data (which have gone unnoticed in France but which have been widely commented on in Germany and in Poland), it is worth investigating a little about Meduza and the threat that the site poses for the Russian government, which had already labeled the information service as a “foreign agent” in 2021, in particular provoking the official protest of Peter Spano, EU spokesperson.

The starting point for the creation of Meduza was the dismissal in 2014 of journalist Galina Timchenko from the popular site by its owner, the oligarch and Putin ally Alexander Mamut, under the pretext of "extremism", because of Timchenko's views on the situation in Ukraine at the time of the Maidan uprising. In the aftermath, 73 of 81 Lenta journalists left, some of whom decided to join Galina Timchenko's new team based in Riga under the name Meduza. The Latvian capital would later become a place of refuge for other dissidents working for newspapers/websites such as Novaya Gazeta of the Nobel Prize Dimitry Muratov, or The Insider (partner of the international group of investigators Bellingcat, classified the July 15 as a "threat to the security of the Russian Federation"). On the other hand, Timchenko's hope that expatriating his journalistic operation would make it de facto uncensorable in Russia was unfounded. On February 24, 2022, the same day of the invasion of Ukraine, the “Federal Communications Supervision Service” Roskomnadzor was ordered to restrict access to Meduza, which becomes the fifth banned Russian-language news service in Russia (alongside the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, whatever one might argue that their blocking corresponds to that of RT or Sputnik in the West).

On July 13, Meduza published the supposed results of a poll conducted in June by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM). According to Meduza, these data, which had not been made public, show that 30% of the participants wanted the military action in Ukraine to end as soon as possible (57% believing that it should be continued). Among those aged between 18 and 24, 56% wanted an immediate end to the war, as did 43% of those aged 25-34. On the other hand, 72% of participants over the age of 60 favored the continuation of military operations. The split between Internet users and participants who watched television was particularly marked: while 47% of the former wanted an end to hostilities, 68% of the latter advocated the continuation of operations. Which isn't surprising when you consider the bellicose rhetoric that characterizes shows like "  60 minutes by Rossiya 1.

Taken together, these figures paint a more complex picture than the one officially painted by VTsIOM, according to which 72% of Russians support the military special operation in Ukraine.. If the data cited by Meduza are authentic, do they testify to a real awareness - even very partial - on the part of Russian citizens, either of the losses suffered by the soldiers at the front, or of their actions? When we see reports from Meduza on the behavior Russian armed forces to the civilian population, it is not difficult to understand the Kremlin's desire to silence the site. However, even if Meduza is now only accessible to Russian Internet users equipped with an encrypted VPN connection, the service claims to have retained 75% of its readers despite censorship. Is another Russian narrative of the war slowly making its way?

peter banister

source: Art

This article is published from Selection of the day.

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Summary of news from March 21, 2023

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