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.
This 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.
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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).