I can tell you what political harassment feels like in Putin’s Russia. Like many dissidents I am used to abuse, but a recent campaign against me was so personal, so scary, that I was forced to flee.
Two months ago, a Russian plane transporting the world-famous military choir Alexandrov Ensemble crashed into the Black Sea en route to Syria. They were travelling to perform for pilots involved in Russia’s air campaign on Aleppo.
I wrote a post about this on Facebook. I didn’t call for anything or insult anyone. I just reminded my readers that Russia was indiscriminately bombing Aleppo, without recognising that dozens of children were dying in those bombs, their photographs making their way around the world. I also called Russia an aggressor.
In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and occupied parts of eastern Ukraine, starting a war which has left at least 10,000 people dead. Prior to that, Russia occupied part of Georgia with its bombs and tanks.
After all these wars and deaths, I felt only one thing when I heard that the representatives of Russia’s military had died: indifference. But for some, expressing this on Facebook was not patriotic enough. And so it began.
The first to speak out was Vitaly Milonov, a State Duma deputy who is famous for his homophobia and obscurantism. Milonov called on the powers that be to deprive me and Bozhena Rynska, another journalist who wrote an insufficiently patriotic post on Facebook, of Russian citizenship, to deport us and confiscate our property.
BREAKING: Russian opposition journalist Arkadiy Babchenko has been shot dead in Kyiv, the police have just confirmed. pic.twitter.com/rPQ2LGoe7R
— Hromadske Int. (@Hromadske) May 29, 2018
Ukraine staged the murder of a Russian dissident journalist in Kiev on Tuesday in what it said was a sting operation to foil a Russian assassination plot.
Arkady Babchenko sent shock waves around the world when he arrived at a news conference on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after being reported dead.
Ukrainian security chief Vasyl Hrytsak said a sting had been set up to catch hitmen paid by Russian forces. [Continue reading…]
Babchenko really did flee Russia in fear, and there may well have been a genuine assassination plot. The question is whether Ukrainian authorities, in preventing a killing (if that is indeed what they have done) did more harm than good, and whether there was any less provocative way to achieve the same ends.
The next time a Kremlin critic is shot to death, or poisoned, or falls curiously from their balcony to die on the concrete below, the first question is always going to be: are they really dead?
There’s no doubt that we can expect the “Babchenko defence” to be used as Moscow’s stock response to reports or even photographs of various Russia-linked atrocities for years to come.
“Next time you show me photos from Syria by ‘White Helmets’ I will show photo of ‘dead Arkady Babchenko killed by Putin’,” wrote one pro-Russian Twitter user, in a small taste of what is surely to come in large quantities. [Continue reading…]
American-born British financier Bill Browder, an outspoken Kremlin critic, was briefly detained by police in Madrid acting on what he described as a “Russian Interpol arrest warrant” on Wednesday morning.
Browder, who has led an international campaign to crack down on financial corruption by Russian officials, was eventually released amid a surge of criticism from European politicians over his detention. Spanish police insisted he had only been detained while they checked the Russian warrant which was found to be invalid.
The two hours of drama and confusion began just after 8:30 a.m. Madrid time when the former boss of Hermitage Capital tweeted that he been “arrested”. [Continue reading…]