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.
Nor, sad to say, was the craven response of the Obama administration to Putin’s latest outrage.
It did not even mention the attack on Kashin until two days after it had occurred, and then relegated it to the bowels of the State Department to be interred in a daily press briefing. Not a single word was said about the involvement of the Young Guard in calling for violence against Kashin, so of course the group’s connection to Vladimir Putin was not mentioned either.
Obama himself said nothing. Obama’s chief Russia advisor, Michael McFaul, said nothing.
Senior Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen immediately took Obama to task for once again betraying basic American values and the hopes of those who struggle against Putin’s domination. She demanded:
It is time for President Obama to wake up and recognize the brutal nature of the regime he is dealing with in Moscow and to rethink his “reset” policy with Russia.
But there is no hint that Obama or the treacherous McFaul will do so. That’s why it was so heartening to see the newly empowered Republicans move boldly to block Obama’s appalling nuclear arms treaty with Putin, a treaty that neatly undermines American power while giving Putin the ability to tell his people he has the imprimatur of the White House in carrying out his crackdown.
Make no mistake: people’s lives are on the line, people who are fighting to preserve American values in Russia.
Seeing no response from Obama, Putin will conclude this attack was a success, and he will continue the pattern of using violence to repress journalists and political leaders who dare to challenge him. Just days ago, Putin’s Gestapo raided a bank owned by Alexander Lebedev, publisher of Novaya Gazeta, the nation’s leading opposition voice in print. Pundits are already speculating whether Lebedev is the next Mikhail Khodorkovsky, shortly bound for a Siberian prison cell for daring to challenge the Kremlin’s authority.
The more immediate question is: Who is the next Oleg Kashin? We already know, of course, the identity of the next Neville Chamberlain.