From RIA to Russia Today* (not RT)

RIA Novosti, Russia’s main state-run news agency, is going to be dissolved. So is Voice of Russia, a publication that I’ve written for, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta and its Russia Beyond the Headlines project*. They are to be merged into a new organization confusingly called Rossiya Segodnya (“Russia Today”), which is NOT the same as the (in)famous TV station. The Russia Today that we know and love (or hate) has long formally rebranded itself as RT, though it continues to be colloquially referred to as “Russia Today” by friends and foes alike.

This is an important point to make, as some Western media outlets – most notably, the Guardian – have claimed otherwise. Amusingly enough, a few of their commentators now say they are boycotting RT (the TV station) because the new director of Russia Today (aka Rossiya Segodnya), Dmitry Kiselyov, is apparently somewhat of a homophobe. At least, that is the only information about him (other than being pro-Putin) that the Guardian deemed worthy to include.

Why is RIA being folded up? I think there are two main reasons. Reading their article on their own demise will give you a clue as to the first:

The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

This is representative of RIA’s typical editorial slant, which is usually critical of the government position. (So much so that The Independent’s Shaun Walker described it as “surprisingly decent”).

This is okay and indeed appropriate if RIA was primarily a Russian language service catering to a Russian audience. But its not. Its primary audience are Westerners, who don’t exactly suffer from a lack of access to negative Russia coverage. To take but the latest example, their coverage of the recent unrest in Ukraine was explicitly pro-Euromaidan. Konstantin Eggert has a column there called “Due West,” which is exactly what it says on the tin: A pulpit from which to incessantly proclaim how Russia sucks, why RT should be defunded and Assange imprisoned, and why the West and Saakashvili are the best things since sliced white bread. Vasily Gatov, one of RIA’s most senior people, claimed that “Grozny” was afraid that the FBI would take the second Boston bomber alive (presumably, because the FSB trained him up, or something). Make no mistake, I do think that freedom of speech is good and it’s great that Eggert enjoys it in Russia – though it’s worth mentioning that the sentiment is not reciprocal – but the notion becomes rather absurd and even distorted when a state news agency consistently attacks and undermines the government in the eyes of foreigners.

This does not happen in the West. Whatever their domestic disagreements, there is an implicit understanding among American politicians that criticism of the US and the US government is off limits so far as foreigners are concerned. The same goes for America’s “soft power” media. You will simply not find much anti-US material on RFERL or Voice of America. The same goes for the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV, France 24, and Deutche Welle as regards the foreign policies of their respective countries (aka sponsors). Russia making an exception on this issue is maladaptive and not even widely appreciated to boot.

In this respect, RIA has long been somewhat of aberration, and frankly the only thing surprising is that it took the Kremlin this long to comprehend and rationalize the situation. Western journalists complain about clampdowns and neo-Sovietism all they want. The Russian taxpayer owes them nothing. In the meantime:

“Russia has its own independent politics and strongly defends its national interests: it’s difficult to explain this to the world but we can do this, and we must do this,” Ivanov told reporters.

In that respect, RIA didn’t help; it hindered.

The second reason is that it was not a very efficient organization. The official reasons for RIA’s dissolution have to do with “saving money and making state media more effective.” I know a few people in RIA, and they generally agree that it is an over-bureaucratized and unresponsive behemoth. One acquantaince (who sometimes comments here) had a more concrete complaint:

I needed to license two images from the RIA-Novosti photo archive for my book, and it took FOREVER. Just getting a reply to my original inquiry took weeks. It was as though they didn’t understand that I was trying to *give* them money to provide the service they actually advertise.

And here is Peter Lavelle on his experience with working with RIA:

Some thoughts on the demise/restructuring of RIA Novosti: For a short time I worked for RIA as a website commentator and unofficial English language editor. This was around 2004-05. Before that I was writing for United Press International as a (slave) stringer. I wrote about 20 articles a month for the sum total of $1990! Yep, I was rolling in it! And to top it off, UPI would not pony up to pay part of my yearly visa expense. With my income, that visa was expensive.

I had heard that the now defunct Russia Profile was looking for a journalist-correspondent. I interviewed for the position. I wasn’t what they were looking for. However, a deal was cut with RIA – I would have a half-time job with Russia Profile, and the second half with RIA. The money was better, but nothing to cheer about and the visa was taken care of. Working for Russia Profile was more or less fine. Working with RIA was bureaucratic and cumbersome. I ended up sitting with the very nice people in the English language wire service. I wrote my daily comments among them, while often proof reading wire stories before they went out online. But after a few months, I was told to slow down “Peter, you write too much, you work too hard.” Strange, yeah?

Within a week or so, I was writing one or two pieces a week – for the same salary. Later I was told privately the other (Russian) columnists had complained that “this foreigner” works too hard and makes us all look bad. Then RT (then Russia Today) came along. This is an entirely different story (and will wait for later). Two remaining things stay with me about RIA.

First, they wouldn’t let me quit! No, I would have to stay, even if I didn’t write for them I stayed and would be paid. That lasted for about six months. I don’t recall collecting my wages from them in remaining months; it was so idiotic.

Second, as RT expanded (literally in the RIA building), RT staff was treated like second-class citizens. Our ability to move about the building was at times bordering on the ridiculous. In the end we were segregated to certain entrances, and ordered to a separate smoking area. RIA had no interest in even sharing resources for professional purposes – like sharing video and other journalistic assets. I will not miss RIA Novosti as an organization. However, I hope to stay in contact with some very good friends who have worked there, particularly at the Moscow News. They never have had any influence over policy making.

Those who remember those days at RIA know I recollecting only 1% of the saga…

Say what you will about it, but RT is generally acknowledged to be far more responsive and dynamic.

Funding for Russian media activities abroad is going to be reduced in the coming years, so it’s not illogical to rationalize it. This is a long known fact that is linked to the general budget austerity that will predominate in 2014-16. But the various Russian foreign media projects and scattered, and all too often compete with each other as opposed to cooperating. In addition to the big ones, RIA and RT, there is also the Voice of Russia (which in turn has competing bureaus in Moscow, London, and Washington DC) and Russia Beyond the Headlines (which is a project of the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and which in turn has a panoply of sub-projects such as Russia & India Report and a sponsored section – which basically noone accesses or reads – in The Daily Telegraph). All their websites are subpar, even relative to RT, which is ironic since RT is primarily TV whereas RIA is now most deeply rooted in the Internet.

A rationalization of this unwieldy mess of Soviet-era legacy organizations is well past due, and that is seemingly what is going to happen. RIA, Voice of Russia, and RBTH will all be consolidated into Russia Segodnya. RT will remain separate.

There are difficulties and unresolved issues. For instance, RIA itself has a vast and rather disorganized number of projects, such as RAPSI (provides legal information, esp. on trials and sucklike), Valdai (meetings of foreign and Russian experts to discuss Russia’s trajectory, culminating in yearly meetings with Putin), and InoSMI (a resource that translates foreign media into Russian). Many of these projects are genuinely useful, and while RIA itself may be superfluous, I very much hope that they will continue either under Rossiya Sedognya’s umbrella or independently. But so far there’s no news on that front. Senior RIA people are just as much in the dark as everyone else.

tl;dr. There are two main reasons for merging RIA and a few other Russian media projects into a new organization: (1) To rein in the pro-Western liberals who have seized control of RIA’s editorial policy, and (2) to rationalize their wasteful and inefficient bureaucracies in a period of moderate budget austerity. On balance, these are “good” and much-needed reforms.

* Not exactly, see RBTH comments on recent changes in the Russian media landscape.

Comments

  1. Dear Anatoly,

    I agree with all of this except that I cannot comment on the internal workings of RIA Novosti about which I know nothing. I have now had dealings with RT and I am invariably impressed by what a dynamic and efficient and friendly and non bureaucratic agency it is. I am in a position to make comparisons with Sky News TV and the BBC and RT in that respect scores highly over both. The fact that so many of the people who for RT are young and women may have something to do with it. Older people and men in my experience tend to be much more instinctively hierarchical. Of course I am making a generalisation.

    As to the editorial line of RIA Novosti, I agree with you. A government that comes in for so much criticism as the Russian cannot afford the luxury of funding a news agency that endlessly criticises it.

    One thing I would say about RIA Novosti. Again I cannot judge Inosmi but RAPSI certainly does a very good job and I certainly hope it is preserved.

    I would also say that I personally like VoR’s webpage. It’s feed on the Ukrainian situation for example has been excellent. I hope something of this will be carried over to the new organisation, the new “Russia Today”.

  2. Nice summation, Anatoly, and lots of good background that I did not know. I personally loathe RiaN and will not be sorry to see its self-hating anti-Russian rants fade away – naturally constant praise and lickspittling to the government is not expected, but RiaN does not give the government credit for anything, ever. I agree with the general flow of opinion that it was a move which is far past due.

  3. Interesting post on the reasons for shutting down RIA Novosti as is and its restructuring which most likely will be ignored completely in Western media.

    Where the bulk of RIA Novosti’s staff will go, especially those who were most contemptuous of the Russian government and its policies, or were the most uncritically pro-EU or pro-US with regards to the recent demonstrations in Ukraine and on other issues, will be just as interesting to see. I can’t imagine they will be welcome at Rossiya Segodnya.

  4. Indeed one can hardly believe it is possible that a state finances its own detractors.

  5. I used RIA and Voice of Russia to understand what was going on in Russia and understand Russian actions in the world. Both together were wonderful, one alone will not do it. This is a very sad day for me. Now I will have only one from Russia, the USA media reports, and the CIA spin from the EU reports. Sorry TV Channel One Russian news is to weak for me. VoR Russian language web news beat out the Russian TV news any day of the week. I really think the Russian government is shooting its own foot off with the change! Very very sad day! Sorry I do not agree with most of your posting.

  6. I admit, I will miss RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia. I have very good memories of using these two sources to learn Russian back when I was a second-year university student. Voice of Russia always had the highest-quality and most reliable streaming radio service. (Seriously, have you ever heard Ekho Moskvy’s streaming service? The recording quality is terrible and it continually cuts out. Voice of Russia may be “Kremlin propaganda,” in the words of my professor, but at least it was reliable.) I don’t know anyone at RIA, but if it’s as inefficient as you say, then perhaps this decree is a good thing!

    I will say, though, there is a certain individual who writes a column for RIA and I really, really hope she’s out of a job after this change, as I dislike her quite a bit. Nothing wrong with rejoicing in a little schadenfreude, right?

  7. But you forgot to mention how much the quality of the writing and reporting improved after RIA became less dogmatic/more “pro-Western”. This happened because it became able to attract good journalists who would not ordinarily have thought of working for a state-owned Russian media org. They are sure as hell not going to stay on and become hack propagandists at Rossiya Segodnya. So where are RS going to find top English-speaking and/or US and UK educated journalists with proper training, credentials and journalistic ethics needed to produce content that will be both well-written and credible for its Western readers?

    • RT somehow managed.

    • Thanks for your comment. I disagree with it almost entirely, of course, but am nonetheless grateful for it as it gives me scope to further enunciate my views on this matter.

      First of all, you conflate “good” journalism with “more pro-Western” journalism, and set it up in a false dichotomy against “hack propagandists.” This I’m afraid is a regrettably common liberal conceit. In reality, there are many good pro-Kremlin (e.g. Dmitry Babich) and anti-Kremlin (e.g. Oleg Kashin) journalists alike. Many of the very best, like Kononenko and Andrei Kolesnikov (Kommersant), are all-round cynical more than anything else.

      Second, it foregoes taking a hard look at what the point of organizations like RIA actually is. The vast majority of RIA’s employees, I believe, are low-paid stringers who generate/copy “neutral” content. This duplicates the function of ITAR-TASS. I do not know why Russia needs two major state news agencies (especially considering that there is also the private RBK group).

      As regard the “elite” writers/op-ed people at RIA, who write in English – and consistently oppose Russian foreign policy objectives – well, as I said in my post, I really don’t see how that helps Russian soft power, and hence why the Russian taxpayer should finance them. They will easily find work in other Russian publications like gazeta.ru, Vedomosti, Dozhd, Echo of Moscowm etc, or in Western publications if they really want to spread their message in English (Peter Savodnik, Ioffe/Elder duo, Masha Gessen, etc, etc. – many of them have made it). There they can opine on how Putin is supporting his “fellow dictator” Bashar Assad to cement his own power to their heart’s content, but not on the Russian government’s dime. (Though to be honest, this entire point might be moot… unfortunately).

      Third, re-the point on cadres. Well, as megazver pointed out below, RT managed, so I see no particular reason why Rossiya Segodnya can’t. Re-the “journalistic ethics” imparted in the elvenlands of the West: How cute. 😉

      • nikilanikila says:

        Anatoly, I couldn’t agree more that many of the West’s so called professional journalists deserve all the horse semen they can have thrown at them. That wasn’t the point of my comment though, and Harding is a bit of a straw man, whom no one over here takes him seriously either! All I was saying is that the government shot itself in the foot because by getting rid of smart people who were willing to cooperate with it for the price of an occasional critique, they will now more likely than not end up with a bunch of blatant and unsubtle propagandists (no offense to Lavelle and Sleboda:) who are so obviously one sided in their whataboutism that no educated people take seriously even when they actually happen to be right about something. That’s all. People took Ria seriously, but noone takes RT seriously – it’s fun and silly clickbait and plays much the same role as the Daily Mail website. My point is that if you want to have really effective propaganda, it should be quite critical. Just look at the best examples of CIA funded cultural propaganda during the cold war – Encounter, Partisan Review – these were all left-liberal magazines! So much so that many ppl thought they were anti-American! That is good propaganda, when people have trouble figuring out who is paying the piper. All the other stuff is hatchet work that will preach to the converted (conspiracy theorists, Ron Paul types etc).

        • 1. In the academic world, ie the world of ‘educated people’, what liberasts commonly refer to as ‘whataboutism’ is otherwise known as comparative political perspective. Get some….

          2. Ria good writers? People take Ria seriously? Seriously?!? No one even knows Ria exists and despite the reality of what Ria was – moronic Western journalists and academics both who actually had heard of it had obviously never read it and were still referring to it as ‘Kremlin propaganda’. And these are supposedly expert Western journalists on Russia or top professors of ‘Russian studies’ in the best universities (here I will note from much personal experience that the London School of Economics and Oxford both in the last few years considered Edward Lucas as the literal gospel on Russia and Ria Novosti as an uncredible and poorly written source). So even if you actually believe the malarkey about these 3rd rate recent journalism graduates from Cleveland City Community Tech College that Ria was hiring somehow being good ‘journalists’ (*guffaw*), it gained Russia….what, exactly?

          3. “My point is that if you want to have really effective propaganda, it should be quite critical.”
          You have a good point here, I must admit. Just look at all the hard-hitting, self-reflective, objective, critical pieces of quality journalism coming out of state propaganda industry stalwarts and veterans in the information war – BBC Russia, Voice of America, RFE/RL, France 24, Al Jazeera, etc. …yeah, just look at it all….just blows your mind…

          4. Regarding the success of Ria vs. RT.
          Yeah, not so much.They are not even in the same league.
          RT has become the go to choice of the under 35 generation in both the US and UK that cannot find critical voices of their own governments and societies in their own corporate and state controlled medias. RT is now THE top foreign tv news channel in much of the US and UK. Abby Martin’s ‘Breaking the Set’ is perhaps the RT’s best stand out show, now regularly discussing the same issues, with the same quality, a bigger audience, and getting the same top guests as the independent much awarded and lauded ‘Democracy Now’ with Amy Goodman, …just a day before.
          RT is how you win the information war. Which is why this consolidation and restructuring of the fractured state media dinosaurs and flops, one could guess in the style of RT from the name ‘Rossiya Segodnya’, is such a logical move.

          http://lostremote.com/rt-becomes-first-tv-news-brand-to-hit-1-billion-views-on-youtube_b37830
          http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russia-today-most-popular-foreign-news-channel-in-key-us-cities/459924.html
          http://www.inaglobal.fr/en/television/article/rt-russian-soft-power-images

          • Continued.
            5. “According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board between 2.25-2.5 million Britons tuned their televisions to RT during the second half of 2012. It is the most popular news channel in Britain after the BBC and Sky.”
            But self-hating Western pet Russians like Nikitin (no offense Vadim) still spouts the self-delusional propaganda line that ‘no one’ takes RT seriously, and no one watches it but ‘Ron Paul and conspiracy types’…
            6. On the subject of those ‘smart’ and ‘professional’ Western educated liberal types you are lauding at RIa Novosti whose work you so admire….care to give us a few examples of exactly what you mean by name and piece? 😉

            • Well put Mark.

              P.S.

              I’m surprised it took as long as it did do deal with RIA Novosti. I was actually banned a while back for posting critical comments on several of these so called “great” journalists (what a joke).

              • Tony, I was banned, too! For nothing more than posting one of the Pvssy Riot song lyrics under the article in their defense )) Of all places I copied the song from their prosecutors’ site! But it wasn’t sitting well with their saints image the RIA was trying to present.

              • Good thing I never bothered making an account there. They sound worse than the Guardianistas.

    • Fedia Kriukov says:

      You mean anti-Russian propagandist hacks have better English than typical Russian hacks? It’s a very poor raison d’etre. Surely there should be something better to justify taxpayer expenditures. Not that it matters, since I’m sure their jobs will remain secure due to various complexes of Russian authorities.

  8. The website for Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s Russia Beyond The Headlines is not so much subpar as unreadable. An article I read last week began typically strongly: “According to official statistics, five years ago, in the years of crisis, more than half of Russians stopped buying brand clothes”.

    Happilythe situation is in hand. I wrote to the person in charge of the American print supplement, whom I knew in St Petersburg and was assured “we don’t need extra translators and I know that sometimes qualirty of translation and editing not perfect, so we are working on it.”

  9. Isn’t really about time there was a serious discussion/evaluation of Putin and his rule that has gotten much worse since he came back to office including the use of law courts to arrest political opposition, political prisoners, general corruption, one party rule and human rights issues, interfering in and being aggressive against neighbouring states, oligarchs and a questionable economic system and perhaps a police state as well as contributing to a burgeoning internal ethnic problem that did not exist to the extent it does under his leadership.

    It is becoming increasingly hard to justify Putin when he is running what looks like a Soviet state apparatus.

    Instead of real and serious issues the criticise the west like Afghan heroin trafficking into Russia, support for Chechen terrorist groups like KavakCenter in Finland, money laundered overseas, etc he focusing and making an issue about nonsense issues like WW2, Russians in the Baltics, etc.

    • The reason why there isn’t a serious discussion about these matters is because they are largely fantasies conjured up in the fevered minds of malicious Western politicians and journalists and swallowed wholesale by the gullible, uneducated masses that need a bogeyman and a bogeyman society in order to reassure themselves that they should be grateful for what little they have in their obviously bountiful “free world”.

      It is a fantasy that members of the “opposition” have not been arrested because of their criminal activities.

      See, for example, the ECHR ruling on Khodorkovsky’s conviction.

      Likewise the allegation that there are political prisoners in Russia: who exactly are these people?

      The Bolotnaya protesters?

      Are you serious?

      Is the head of state responsible for the “general corruption” in Russia?

      Really?

      One party rule?

      Is there only one party in Russia?

      Really?

      In the UK and its first-past-the-post system for elections, a party that achieves a simple majority effectively dictates policy until the next general election, no matter what Her Majesty’s Opposition may think of said policies, not to mention the opinions of the unelected upper house as regards bills presented to them from the lower house. In effect, majority governments under the UK system – one that has no written constitution, I should like to add – enjoys a one-party dictatorship, something hardly possible in most other European democracies, where proportional representation is the norm.

      Human rights issues?

      Russia is not one of those 79 countries in the world in which sodomy between consenting adult males is a criminal offence.

      Why don’t you take up this argument with the Saudis, for example, and the Indians?

      Free speech?

      I am writing these words in Moskva (if Westerners insist on “Beijing” and “Kyiiv” as being “politically correct”, then this place is called Moskva!) I do not expect a visit from the FSB for penning these words. And I can read a swathe of political articles in the Russian media everyday that endlessly beats the drum about what a shit Putin is.

      Ever hear of Radio Ekho Moskvy and of Yulia Latynina and the opinions emanating from various Western funded think tanks, NGOs and schools of economy here in Moskva? Have you ever read “The Moscow Times”?

      Interference and aggression against neighbouring states?

      How long has the USA boycotted Cuba and why? Same goes for regime change in the USA’s Central American backyard and elsewhere. Any drone attacks launched by the Russians lately?

      Have any Russian diplomats attended mass meetings of, say, Scottish nationalists, in a similar way as foreign diplomats have done in their egging on of Kiev protesters on the Maidan of late?

      Oligarchs? You mean people who have become rich through questionable means and who influence government policies?

      Again, are you serious? Do you think this is a feature unique to Russia and , furthermore, something for which the head of state is responsible?

      A questionable economic system?

      Please define what is meant by “questionable”.

      Do you mean it doesn’t work?

      Do you mean it is somehow illegal?

      Do you mean it is not a capitalistic one and, therefore,”wrong”?

      Are you saying that the Russian economy is a centrally state planned one?

      What do you mean by “questionable”?

      Burgeoning police state?

      What evidence have you for this?

      Are Russian citizens living in constant fear of arrest for crimes unknown? Are Russian citizens vanishing mysteriously into the night after being visited by the KGB? Is living in Rossiya (that’s the correct name of this country) some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare?

      I am going to be travelling to work on the metro soon. Will I be accompanied on my journey by gibbering loons who live in mortal terror of the powers that be? Am I going to be observed all day by countless CCTV systems such as exist in the UK?.

      Immigration?

      Again, are you serious?

      Although you have used the term “gotten”, you also have the letters “UK” following your “name”. If you are a British citizen and not a US one, have you ever visited a British city lately… or Rotterdam, or Paris or Berlin for that matter? If you have, have you not noticed anything different in these places as compared with some 25 years go?

      Or are you only 16?

      So you believe that Putin is running ” what looks like a Soviet state apparatus”?

      Were you ever in the Soviet Union?

      Have you ever lived in Russia – post-Soviet Russia that is?

      I lived in the USSR. I have also lived in Russia for 22 years. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, but I can assure you, present day Russia is not like the Soviet Union. For one thing, there is something that exists now in Russia – in “Putin’s Russia” – that was anathema in Soviet times: it’s called capitalism.

      However, I suppose you are one of the millions of Westerners who, having digested one sentence spoken by Putin and reported in the West out of context, that believes that the Russian head of state regrets the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he described as a “catastrophe”.

      I eagerly await your response.

      I am off to work now.

      I may not return…

      • moscowexile says:

        Error: “It is a fantasy that members of the “opposition” have not been arrested because of their criminal activities” should read It is a fantasy that members of the “opposition” have been arrested because of their criminal activities.”

        • PS You forgot to mention the journalists murdered on Putin’s orders for having criticized him and his “regime”, not to mention Putin’s order to murder Litvinenko in London, and then there’s the question of the palaces he’s had built for himself.

      • I will respond to the points you raised later that I hope Karlin and other Russian commentators who have insight in Russia like AM will also join the discussion. Frankly I would like a separate post on the issue.

        • Fedia Kriukov says:

          What discussion do you expect? You haven’t made any specific accusations (i.e. with concrete examples). Normally, I’d ask “where did you get this weed?”, but since we all know where you got it, the only thing I can say is all of your very generic and non-specific allegations are imaginary. Only one point I could agree on is that the immigration situation is indeed getting out of hand.

          On the topic of this post, here’s Kiselev explaining his vision for the new media organization and journalism in general (in Russian): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuZvizeuPGY

          • Pretty much every single criticism everybody has against Russia point I outlined in the 1st paragraph.

            • Fedia Kriukov says:

              That’s precisely why I said I know where you get your weed. Just because every two bit propagandist says it, doesn’t make it true. You should argue these points for yourself: provide specific examples that illustrate your allegations, and we can see if those examples really exist or fit the allegations. Even your reply to Moscow Exile is short on specifics. From the very start: 1) “when there is a credible political alternative state prosecutors open up criminal charges” – who? when? where? 2) “I don’t know who they or why they wewre arrested but I would imagine in at least some of the cases” – you “imagine”? Can you do better than “imagine”? List the people you consider to be political prisoners. And so on. Until you start naming names and giving examples, I’m getting the impression that you actually don’t know what you’re talking about.

              • Fedia Kriukov says:

                You and Amnesty International are almost two peas in a pod.

                “Opposition groups critical of the authorities and other social movements applying to hold events have been regularly and arbitrarily denied permission to gather at the time and place of their choosing.” – who? where? when? what did the authorities say?

                “Most prominently, police used excessive force against protestors during the Bolotnaya Square protest on 6 May 2012.” – what exactly was excessive?

                “Hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested.” – where’s the evidence they were peaceful? is throwing chunks of asphalt at police peaceful?

                And so on, and so forth.

                These are all non-specific statements that don’t amount to even a prima facie case. It seems to be a propagandist MO: you make unsubstantiated allegations, and let the other side defend itself. In any venue where logic is supposed to reign supreme (e.g. a court of law), it would be thrown out even without bothering the defense.

                Well, I have to admit that Amnesty is a little better than you — they wrote something up, and all you did was google up a single link.

              • @Fedia Kriukov

                This is Amnesty International we are talking about who use various independent sources.
                I have not read it but the full AM report is in the link.

                That the only defence Putin/Russian supporters have is that it is not quite as bad as western detractors say it is that in Putin’s 3rd term as really gone in a more dictatorial direction trying to establish a new Soviet union with the Customs Union with Dugins disastrous Eurasian empire theology.

              • Fedia Kriukov says:

                Amnesty International does not use independent sources. Name its single source on Russia that is independent of western financing if you disagree. In effect, this makes it a part of the general western media complex that, as we now realize, is a tightly controlled propaganda empire on certain topics.

                And I’m still waiting for any specific (I’m not even asking for truthful now) accusations from you or Amnesty.

              • Fedia Kriukov says:

                Just to further illustrate the quality of Amnesty International reporting, they consider Khodorkovsky a “prisoner of conscience”. Now, when someone’s claim contradicts reality, there are two possible explanations: 1) they aren’t intelligent; 2) they aren’t honest. What do you think is the case with AI?

      • “It is a fantasy that members of the “opposition” have not been arrested because of their criminal activities.”

        Pretty convenient when there is a credible political alternative state prosecutors open up criminal charges.

        “See, for example, the ECHR ruling on Khodorkovsky’s conviction.

        Only thing they can say about Khodorkovsky is that it was selective prosecution that they went after him because he opposed Putin which is right after he treasonously tried to sell Russia’s oil rights to western oil companies.

        “Likewise the allegation that there are political prisoners in Russia: who exactly are these people?

        The Bolotnaya protesters?

        Are you serious?”

        Human rights groups have a list of 71 people. I don’t know who they or why they wewre arrested but I would imagine in at least some of the cases

        “Is the head of state responsible for the “general corruption” in Russia?

        Really?”

        Yes he centred all the major political forces and state spending and institutions around him and his party so the buck stops with him.

        “One party rule?

        Is there only one party in Russia?

        Really?”

        There are more than one party but the advantages of being aligned with the Putin party United Russia are so stacked heavily in his favour from access to mass media, state funding, etc if you want any real clout in Russia you have to be a part of the United Russia party.

        “In the UK and its first-past-the-post system for elections, a party that achieves a simple majority effectively dictates policy until the next general election, no matter what Her Majesty’s Opposition may think of said policies, not to mention the opinions of the unelected upper house as regards bills presented to them from the lower house. In effect, majority governments under the UK system – one that has no written constitution, I should like to add – enjoys a one-party dictatorship, something hardly possible in most other European democracies, where proportional representation is the norm.”

        Not actually sure how the parliamentary system in Britain actually functions that as you can guess with the name I am a resident.

        “Interference and aggression against neighbouring states?

        How long has the USA boycotted Cuba and why? Same goes for regime change in the USA’s Central American backyard and elsewhere. Any drone attacks launched by the Russians lately?”

        True but Russia has also supported separatist forces/states since the collapse of the USSR that tend to be authoritarian and economically stagnant compared to US western supported regimes plus there is the issue of the countries being former states of the USSR.

        Have any Russian diplomats attended mass meetings of, say, Scottish nationalists, in a similar way as foreign diplomats have done in their egging on of Kiev protesters on the Maidan of late?Í

        If they did they would not get any support and would do more harm than good that I doubt they would want to be seen with them.

        Scotland is not subjugated or oppressed in anyway like the Russian aligned regime in Ukraine where most people don’t support independence.

        “Oligarchs? You mean people who have become rich through questionable means and who influence government policies?

        Again, are you serious? Do you think this is a feature unique to Russia and , furthermore, something for which the head of state is responsible?”

        Big difference between companies and their bosses like Apple, Microsoft, etc and the oligarchs of Russia.

        “A questionable economic system?

        Please define what is meant by “questionable”.

        Do you mean it doesn’t work?

        Do you mean it is somehow illegal?

        Do you mean it is not a capitalistic one and, therefore,”wrong”?

        Are you saying that the Russian economy is a centrally state planned one?

        What do you mean by “questionable”?”

        Questionable about its transparency that given it huge resources, state industries and educated population still seems to be in an economic quagmire dependent on oil and gas revenues.

        Burgeoning police state?

        What evidence have you for this?

        Seems to have a heavy presence of police whenever there is protests that have to be sanctioned by the state and harassment of political opposition.

        Immigration?

        Again, are you serious?

        Although you have used the term “gotten”, you also have the letters “UK” following your “name”. If you are a British citizen and not a US one, have you ever visited a British city lately… or Rotterdam, or Paris or Berlin for that matter? If you have, have you not noticed anything different in these places as compared with some 25 years go?

        Most of the immigration is economic from the new EU countries like Poles not foreign countries and are still not very substantial.

        Russia has the second largest immigration into the country in the world only after the US but unlike the US most are muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia each of which has their own islamic groups and have a more militant and tribal clan structure with bigger demographics than Russia.

        So you believe that Putin is running ” what looks like a Soviet state apparatus”?

        Like people within the intelligence service holding public positions of power, sanctioned protests and essentially a one party system.

        “However, I suppose you are one of the millions of Westerners who, having digested one sentence spoken by Putin and reported in the West out of context, that believes that the Russian head of state regrets the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he described as a “catastrophe”.

        Nope I commented at the time that it was during a SCO security summit and he was talking about the post-soviet alignment of countries and the fact that millions of Russians are living outside of Russia proper.

        • Neither having the time nor the desire to counter immediately all your assertions above, which assertions, it seems, you deem adequate proof of your propositions – a common logical fallacy, by the way, in which a proposition is repeatedly restated regardless of contradiction until all contradictions dry up, at which point that which is asserted is presented as fact owing to its not being contradicted (argumentum ad nauseam) – I shall for the while take issue with one assertion that you have made above, namely that in answer to my question whether you thought that the oligarchy in Russia is something unique to that country and, furthermore, whether you thought the present Russian head of state was responsible for the existence of such oligarchy, you asserted that there is a “Big difference between companies and their bosses like Apple, Microsoft, etc and the oligarchs of Russia”.

          And how do you intend to back up this assertion with evidence?

          Do you, in fact, intend to do so?

          Furthermore, I should think that comparing the present Russian oligarchs and their rapid increase in wealth from ground zero, within 10 years and less, which burgeoning wealth of theirs was concomitant with a commensurate growth in their political power, with the likes of Gates and Jobs etc., fabulously wealthy though the latter are or, in the case of Jobs, were, is rather like comparing apples with oranges.

          I should think that it would be far more accurate to compare present day Russian oligarchs and their activities with those of US oligarchs who rose to power in the last quarter of the 19th century.

          “Following a major economic Depression beginning in 1873 … powerful American industrial and banking families grouped around J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller concentrated the wealth and control of American industry into their own hands.

          “… the Morgan and Rockefeller interests deployed fraud, deceit, violence, and bribery – and they deliberately manipulated financial panics. Each financial panic, brought about through their calculated control of financial markets and banking credit, allowed them and their closest allies to consolidate ever more power into fewer and fewer hands. It was this concentration of financial power within an elite few wealthy families that created an American plutocracy or, more accurately, an American oligarchy…

          “Whether it was called an oligarchy or a plutocracy – government by a wealthy “class” – the real power in the spectacular rise of the American Century at the end of the 1890s did not rest democratically in the hands of the majority of its citizens. It did not even lie in the hands of a broad, educated and growing middle class. Power, together with control over the nation’s economy, was being ruthlessly centralized in the hands of the wealthy few, every bit as much as it had been in the days of Imperial Rome…

          “[In the late 1800s an American] oligarchy used its immense economic power, often secretly and in coordinated fashion, to orchestrate events that generated waves of bankruptcies and severe economic depressions, even panics. The emerging American oligarchy cynically corrupted and co-opted state legislatures, governors, US Congressmen, judges, newspaper editors and even Presidents to serve their private interests. Those interests were served by wars their captive press helped trigger, wars from which that oligarchy profited while thousands of young Americans perished for causes they knew nothing about…

          “By the 1880s two colossal groups had emerged within the United States’ wealthiest families. Initially they were bitter, hated rivals. In the end they became allies, not out of love but out of practicality, in one of the greatest concentrations of financial and industrial power ever seen. The two families, Rockefeller and Morgan, created a combination of wealth and control so powerful in its influence over the economic and financial life of the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century that Congressional critics named it the Money Trust…”

          “By the end of the 1890s [J.P.] Morgan and [John D.] Rockefeller had become the giants of an increasingly powerful Money Trust controlling American industry and government policy. There was little room for the actual practice of democracy in their world. Power was the commodity of their trade. It was the creation of an American aristocracy of blood and money, every bit as elite and exclusive as the titled nobility of Britain, Germany or France – despite the Constitutional ban on titled nobility in America. It was an oligarchy, a plutocracy in every sense of the word – rule by the wealthiest in their self-interest.

          “Some 60 families – names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Dodge, Mellon, Pratt, Harkness, Whitney, Duke, Harriman, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, DuPont, Guggenheim, Astor, Lehman, Warburg, Taft, Huntington, Baruch and Rosenwald formed a close network of plutocratic wealth that manipulated, bribed, and bullied its way to control the destiny of the United States. At the dawn of the 20th Century, some sixty ultra-rich families, through dynastic intermarriage and corporate, interconnected shareholdings, had gained control of American industry and banking institutions.”

          Source: Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century; Engdahl, F.W.

          All this took place in post-bellum USA, the “shining beacon” of freedom and democracy.

          But after 25 years of what the Germans call “Raubkapitalismus” – “Robber Capitalism”- there arose by the turn of the 20th century winds of change in the US and a general feeling that the political power that these US oligarchs possessed had to be curtailed.

          The president who took these thieves and looters to task was “Teddy” Roosevelt, the “Trust Buster”.

          In Russia, however, 10 years and a financial crisis was time enough to sicken Russian society as a whole of the drunkard Yeltsin and his corrupt coterie of oligarchs. Yeltsin was threatened with multiple impeachments and in a palace coup, as it were, was replaced by his prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who was elected president three months later.

          Most of the rats then fled the Russian ship of state – with one notable exception, who in his hubris decided to soldier on with his accumulation of enormous wealth and political machinations, whilst at the same time attempting a PR job in projecting himself as a man-of-the-people and defender of democracy.

          His bullshit was so good that he probably still believes in it himself right now at his present address – some prison colony in the Far East.

          Which leads me to restate that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has stated not once but twice (in 2011 and 2013) that Khodorkovsky’s trial and conviction in Russia was not politically motivated:

          “The Strasbourg-based court, which considered Khodorkovsky’s case together with that of his business partner Platon Lebedev, ruled that the tax-fraud accusations against them had a ‘healthy core’, and ‘corresponded to a common-sense understanding of tax evasion’.”

          See:

          http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/05/31/Court-rules-against-Khodorkovsky/UPI-94171306851214/

          http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-european-court-khodorkovsky/25056475.html

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/europe/european-court-says-russia-did-not-persecute-ex-tycoon.html?_r=0

          That’s not an assertion on my part: the latest (2013) ECHR ruling on Khodorkovsky, for example, is available on-line and can be downloaded, wherein may be read the following key section:

          “908. The Court’s approach to the present case is similar. The Court is
          prepared to admit that some political groups or government officials had
          their own reasons to push for the applicants’ prosecution. However, it is
          insufficient to conclude that the applicants would not have been convicted
          otherwise. Elements of “improper motivation” which may exist in the
          present case do not make the applicants’ prosecution illegitimate “from the KHODORKOVSKIY AND LEBEDEV v. RUSSIA JUDGMENT 197
          beginning to the end”: the fact remains that the accusations against the
          applicants were serious, that the case against them had a “healthy core”,
          and that even if there was a mixed intent behind their prosecution, this did
          not grant them immunity from answering the accusations. Having said that,
          the Court observes that the present case, which concerned the events of
          2003-2005, does not cover everything which has happened to the
          applicants ever since, in particular their second trial.”

          See: http://khodorkovsky.ru/files/_docs_/c51a2886c76108aac4aa6ed32c5d11c1/CASE_OF_KHODORKOVSKIY_AND_LEBEDEV_v._RUSSIA.pdf

  10. Philip Owen says:

    Jobs, Gates, Joy, Bezos et al created their businesses from scratch in an environment where anyone was free to have a go. The Russian oligarchs used priviledged connections to gain existing assets. The comparison should be with employed US CEO’s looting corporations at the expense of shareholders and employees. Enron for example.

    • Fedia Kriukov says:

      Why are we still talking about Russian oligarchs in the end of 2013? Khodorkovsky was the last oligarch. You might recall that the term arose not to mean “tycoons” in general, but specifically tycoons who control the government (although personally I loved the term “semibankirschina”, as a cute historical allusion). There are no such Russians anymore. The oligarchy has been dead for 10 years. It’s time to move on.