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Oct 1, 2021
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Does the Kremlin flinch in front of foreign agents?

Does the Kremlin flinch in front of foreign agents?

Photo: Sergey Karpov / TASS

The law on foreign agents requires discussion, however, it is possible to start discussing possible changes in the document only after the State Duma has begun its work, in a businesslike manner and without emotion, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation told reporters Dmitry Peskov

“The Duma has not yet started working, it is very important for the parliament to start working. Just after the formation of the committees and so on is over, then it is already possible to start contacts, to discussion, to the proposals that have been formulated, which is very positive. It is positive from the point of view of specific proposals, not some emotional requirements, but specific business proposals, so here you need to be patient a little and then start discussing, ”Peskov said, answering the question whether there is a need to speed up the adjustment process law against the background of the expansion of the list of foreign agents.

When asked whether the expansion of the list threatens freedom of speech, Peskov replied in the negative: “No, the law is being implemented. If you receive foreign money, then you are included in this list. “

Formerly the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova ruled out the abolition of the law on foreign agents, since this can be speculated in the West. In her opinion, otherwise, the Western partners will have a feeling of impunity for pressure on Russian media abroad and for participation in political life through their agents of influence on Russian territories.

On the eve of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation announced the expansion of the register of foreign media agents. In particular, it included the publisher of Mediazona Petra Verzilova*, editor-in-chief of this publication Sergey Smirnov* and 20 more people. In addition, the register included the publication “OVD-info” *, as well as the organization “Zona Prava” *.

At the beginning of last month, 23 chief editors and heads of media outlets appealed to the Russian authorities with a proposal to introduce 12 amendments to the law on foreign agents. In particular, it is proposed to recognize foreign agents only through the courts and oblige the Ministry of Justice to prove the connection between the availability of foreign funding and “political activity” in the interests of a particular government or organization. And at the end of August, a number of media outlets posted open appeals to the Russian authorities demanding an end to the persecution of journalists on the basis of the law on foreign agents and abandon the practice of including publications in the relevant registers.

What, did the authorities finally hear and decided to slow down? How to understand Peskov’s statement?

– You can understand in different ways, – says ex-candidate for governor of the Penza region, forced to refuse to participate in the elections due to obtaining the status of “a person affiliated with a foreign agent”, Anna Ochkina… – Most likely, the authorities simply got confused in law enforcement. It became clear that the list could be dimensionless. On the other hand, it is a pity for the authorities to refuse such an instrument of manipulation of any dissent.

“SP”: – What is still wrong with this law?

– The law violates the logic of law, the restrictive status is prescribed without trial, you are stigmatized for LEGAL actions. After all, these messages about the status of a foreign agent in the media and in the election campaign – what is this? A warning that your intentions are not pure? But you haven’t done anything illegal. But I think the authorities are not concerned with justice, it just became difficult to control the operation of the law. Well, there are fears after the elections that discontent, which was not allowed to join the ballot boxes, will nevertheless make itself felt. And they began to intercept the summons. Let the public grasp the promises of very vague, albeit, indulgences. And he will stop discussing the elections.

“SP”: – And for what, in your opinion, it was generally developed and adopted?

– The law was conceived to cleanse the ranks of candidates for the State Duma and to contain the media. I think, in principle, such a law is not needed. Malice and unlawful acts must be proven by the court.

“SP”: – How would you comment on Peskov’s words about the need to discuss the law “without emotions”? What result to expect?

– I cannot comment on Dmitry Peskov. Who knows what’s on his mind. I think he wanted to say that we need to weigh the effectiveness of the law, its necessity, without offense and calls for justice. How it will actually be is difficult to say. Most likely, they will make some kind of vague amendment.

I think we can expect a slight softening for the next electoral cycle.

– The authorities agreed to this, assessing the changes in public opinion in comparison with the 90s, when the foreign agent status would be perceived as a fat plus and a guarantee of quality, – considers editor-in-chief of FORUM. Moscow time Anatoly Baranov… – But even today it is rather stupid to use foreign as a bogey.

The law was conceived as a stick option for those who want independence. Our media cannot bring profit, and foreign funding is still the only option for emancipation from the state, its censorship and other things.

“SP”: – How can the authorities save face now? According to Peskov, it is possible to start discussing possible amendments to the law on foreign agents in a businesslike manner and without emotion. What is it like?

– And the authorities do not need to save face, they lost him long ago, and nothing, lives without him. Sands as the face of power is already a characteristic.

“SP”: – What, in your opinion, will be the results of the discussion? Will it soften? In any form?

– I think it will be softened, most likely, otherwise why did you start a conversation? However, it doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody cares, better news from a foreign agent than from Rush Today.

“SP”: – A similar law is in force in many countries, especially since many politicians and journalists do receive funding from abroad. Do we need this law? How can it be rewritten so that it protects sovereignty and does not evoke criticism?

– But what difference does it make to you where the media gets funding from? If it is not engaged in propaganda. But we have thinkers in power who see propaganda even in the National Geographic story about penguins. Do we need this law? I won’t say it for everyone, but I definitely don’t need it!

“SP”: – But Zakharova says that if the law is canceled, the “Western partners” will have a feeling of impunity for pressure on the Russian media abroad. Is it so? After all, the West is also actively persecuting our journalists for belonging to Russia.

– The logic is amazing. In response to the pressure on ours in the West, we will put pressure on our own journalists, who are recognized in the West. Did you forget that you allocated 50 million dollars to promote Russian interests in Western media?

– Peskov’s words can be understood as follows: the beat will hurt, but selectively, – I’m sure member of the political council of the Other Russia party E.V. Limonov “** Andrey Milyuk… – Now it seems that the law on foreign agents has turned into an instrument of insane carpet repression: the Ministry of Justice is waving this club right and left. But this is just a test of strength. The meaning of the law on foreign agents is not to destroy opposition journalism, but to destroy journalism that is independent of the Russian authorities.

The Kremlin seeks to bring the information field inside the country to the format of the collective “Echo of Moscow”, when journalists and public activists are allowed the most harsh statements, but some inconvenient topics are bypassed, and at the most dangerous moments for the authorities, the opposition begins to play on the side of the Kremlin against citizens. The same Venediktov perfectly studied the rules of the game – that’s who will never be recognized as a foreign agent. In 2011, he helped the authorities to drain the protest into Bolotnaya Square, and during this election he acted as the main promoter of electronic voting.

I think the Ministry of Justice is closely following the responses of foreign agents: now the most popular is “it’s hard, but you can live”. Therefore, the new convocation of the State Duma, firstly, will make the law on foreign agents even more difficult to implement: more reporting requirements, more regulation, more petty bans. Secondly, the penalties for breaking the law will increase. Thirdly, demonstration trials will be conducted against the principled offenders who have gone into “denial”. The general meaning of these actions is to reduce to a minimum the gray zone when you are already a “foreign agent”, but can still be active.

At the same time, they will come up with some not so significant concessions for those who accepted the rules of the game and “embarked on the path of correction.” On this basis, it may seem that there has been some liberalization of legislation, but no: we are talking about the subordination of public life to the state, the ordering of repression. The foreign agent’s label loses its meaning if all significant media personalities have it at all.

However, the register of foreign agents will surely grow to several thousand (or tens of thousands) entries at the expense of unknown activists of the second and third echelons – as has already happened with the list of terrorists and extremists.

The Kremlin may bring a State Duma deputy to all charges of tightening the screws Maria Valerievna Butina as a living witness of foreign practices in the fight against foreign agents. But this is exactly the case when it is worth getting rid of servility before the West.


* recognized by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as acting foreign agent

** not registered by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation

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