Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s party, called “United Russia,” operates a flashy website for the indoctrination of young people under the rubric “Young Guard.” On August 11 the website carried a blog post headlined: “Traitor Journalist should be Punished!”
It described the leading Russian newspaper Kommersant as “an underground den for those who hate Russia, a nest of vipers, centipedes and other disgusting creatures from the world of journalism.” The “traitor journalist” YG was describing was Oleg Kashin, who worked for Kommersant, and is one of the most famous and well-respected scribes in the country. (His Russian language blog is here.)
On November 6, less than three months after YG called for it, Kashin was punished. Reuters reported:
A leading Russian journalist was in a coma on Saturday after two men broke his legs, jaw, and fingers in an attack which his editor said was likely to be linked to his coverage of banned opposition groups.
If you are so inclined, you can watch it happen.
YG’s blog post on Kashin leaves nothing to the imagination. It carries a photograph of Kashin and a second photograph showing masked YG activists attacking a building which has been set on fire. It accuses Kashin of “cold-blooded criminality” in his reporting on, for two examples, the fact that the Kremlin was losing control over the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, where regular protests were flouting its authority, and other opposition rallies across Russia.
The report that enraged YG involved a group of environmental activists who dared to demand that the Kremlin not destroy a beloved local forest while building an interstate highway. That highway is a personal pet project of Putin’s, and it seems he will brook no interference. Soon after Kommersant published the story about the forest, its offices were raided by Putin’s Gestapo seeking Kashin’s computer files.
And there is a history of violent attacks on journalists who dare to report the significant public opposition to the project: two other journalists who wrote prominently about the opposition activities were assaulted with baseball bats, resulting in the amputation of a leg.
The YG blog post about Kashin was blunt: violence towards journalists like Kashin, it stated, was a natural result of Russian patriotism and “being branded and accomplice of bullies is not a sin” when acting on such feelings.
That the post remains proudly displayed on Putin’s website for the young although it has been exposed throughout the Russian blogosphere, that Putin has said nothing to condemn and done nothing to discipline those who act on his behalf — these are the last nails in the coffin for those who claim that Putin has not been directly supportive of violence against the opposition. None of this, for those who know Putin, is surprising.