Letter From the Editors

As the conflict in Ukraine approaches Day 300, the Russian public is desperate for any concrete news about the anticipated outcome of the war. How long will it last? How long will Russia be isolated from the West? And what will happen to Ukraine itself? As Argumenty i fakty reports, a new poll shows that Russians’ concerns are shifting from issues like inflation, unemployment and pensions to politics and international relations. Russians, increasingly hungry for information on the war, are now turning on the news first thing in the morning in search of the certainty that is in such short supply these days.

Well, one thing actually is for certain – Russians won’t be tuning in to Dozhd TV for their breaking news, at least not for now. After being deemed a “foreign agent” in August 2021, the network relocated to Latvia, where it has been broadcasting ever since. The Latvian authorities, however, unceremoniously pulled the plug on the channel after an anchor made an unfortunate slip of the tongue during a live broadcast by saying that “our” Army (i.e., the Russian Army) needed warmer clothes and better food. To many, this implied that warm, well-fed soldiers would be more effective at killing Ukrainians. Dozhd responded by immediately firing the anchor, Aleksei Korostelyov. In a statement, the channel’s editor in chief, Tikhon Dzyadko, called the decision to revoke the license “absurd and divorced from common sense.” The Latvian Association of Journalists also said the decision was regrettable and “disproportionate,” even as it called the violation “unacceptable to Latvian society.”

But did Korostelyov really just misspeak? Republic.ru’s Dmitry Gubin says no. Instead, he suggests, Korostelyov “got lost in his words” because the Russian language “does not have one single political, topographical or semantic marker” to describe Putin’s world. As Gubin explains, “even Putin’s fiercest opponents reflexively identify themselves with Putin’s institutions through the proclaimed (or merely implied) ‘our,’ ” and the lack of any clear distinctions like Red vs. White in today’s society only complicates the situation further. So how to differentiate between support for the Russian Army as an institution and support for soldiers who were forcibly mobilized? This is the question in urgent need of an answer.

Similar troubles have also befallen the Russian opposition. As Novaya gazeta Europe shows in a pair of point/counterpoint articles, oppositionists based abroad are facing criticism from oppositionists at home for taking too theoretical an approach to the question of Russia’s future. While veteran human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov, who left Russia when the war started, wants the opposition to unite behind a set of shared values, Yabloko politician Boris Vishnevsky thinks that oppositionist politicians can exist only in Russia. He says that unlike people abroad who attend antiwar conferences to discuss “creating new independent states after the breakup of the Russian Federation” and the makeup of a “future provisional government” at “a safe distance from the Putin regime,” oppositionists at home are trying to protect people while dealing with minimal resources, an information blockade and repressive laws.

One opposition politician experiencing the dangers of staying in Russia is Ilya Yashin, who was just sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for “discrediting the Armed Forces” by allegedly disseminating fake news about the Bucha massacre. In a moving speech to the court right before his sentencing, Yashin said he had no doubt that he had to remain in Russia and “speak the truth loudly.” His lawyer later said in an interview with Meduza that Yashin has no regrets about his decision.

With a new set of “foreign agent” laws coming into force, it’s hard not to see how more Russians will end up in Yashin’s position, while fewer will be able to access the information they need. As NG ominously explains, the logic of these new restrictions is that “anyone can become a foreign agent” – and, what’s more, “without warning.”