Kremlin praises Nobel laureate but expands crackdown on media

While the Kremlin promptly congratulated Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov on winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, the relentless repression of Russia against independent media he shows no signs of giving in.

This week, leaked documents from the Pandora Papers revealed that an alleged former lover of the president, Vladimir Putin, purchased a 3.6 million euro (US $ 4.2 million) apartment in Monaco. This reinforced the belief within the Kremlin that there is a Western campaign to tarnish its image, two people close to the government said. The pressure on the independent media is likely to intensify.

“This was a direct attack on Putin,” said Alexander Ionov, a pro-Kremlin activist who successfully lobbied authorities to impose draconian restrictions on media critical of the president. “We are going to wage a relentless battle with them and the organizations that sponsor them in the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the revelations of Pandora’s papers, telling reporters that “it is not clear how this information can be trusted.” While Russia has always been a hostile environment for journalists who criticize the authorities, pressure on independent media soared this year after the imprisonment of Alexey Navalny, Putin’s most outspoken critic.

Shortly after his arrest in January, Navalny appeared in a YouTube video that had more than 119 million views and claimed that Putin owned a giant $ 1.3 billion palace on the Black Sea. The Russian leader denies having ties to the property. Subsequently, prosecutors declared that Navalny’s national network of activists was “extremist.”

‘KGB school’

Roman Badanin, editor-in-chief of Proekt – an investigative website that was banned – is now in the United States and created a new media outlet. He called the accusations that he is a Western agent “classical Soviet-style propaganda taught to Putin and his associates at the KGB school.”

Vazhniye Istorii editor-in-chief Roman Anin promised to continue his work. “Putin and his entourage sincerely believe that all independent investigative journalists work for Western intelligence services,” he said.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, criticized last month the “pseudo-investigations” of Navalny’s allies, claiming that they are led by “the intelligence services of countries that see Russia as their enemy.”

Nobel laureate Muratov is editor-in-chief of the investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which he co-founded in 1993 with the backing of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He dedicated the award to four of his journalists who had been killed “defending people’s right to freedom of expression,” as well as to a lawyer and rights activist who had worked with them.

“Since they are not with us,” he said, the Nobel Committee “apparently decided that I should tell everyone that.”

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Kremlin praises Nobel laureate but expands crackdown on media

Hank Gilbert