At the hearing in early June — the one that extended my arrest through mid-August — the court honored the prosecution’s request to ban any spectators, including journalists and diplomats, from the room. It was a scene reminiscent of the dissident trials of the Soviet era. Even if the outcome is predetermined, the last thing the Kremlin needs is to have the uncomfortable truth about its bloody war in Ukraine publicly voiced in a courtroom in downtown Moscow.
It is this truth that is being meticulously hidden from the Russian public. Since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February, more than 3,000 websites, both Russian and foreign, were blocked by the government censorship agency by early May for violating its order to only report “official information” — that is, the Kremlin’s propaganda message — about the war. More than 200 media outlets have been blocked or shut down altogether — among them Echo of Moscow radio, TV Rain and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which have stood as the last major bastions of media freedom in Russia. (Novaya Gazeta’s editor in chief, Dmitry Muratov, was last year’s co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.)
Parallel to his stuttering invasion of Ukraine, Putin has conducted a highly effective blitzkrieg against what remains of political freedoms in Russia, turning his regime from highly authoritarian to near-totalitarian almost overnight. As someone who now has to endure Orwellian “news” programs on Russian state television on a daily basis, I can judge for myself the skillfulness of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, which successfully manipulates tens of millions.
This is a point worth stressing — especially to those Western commentators who continue to play into Putin’s hands by uncritically repeating Kremlin claims of “overwhelming public support” in Russia for the war. The fact is that most Russians are not aware of the horrendous war crimes being committed by Putin’s forces in Ukraine. [Continue reading…]