Тихая ночь в Москве: The End of Echo, No More Rain (Borscht Report #11)

 

I’m not quite sure how to start this. In fact, I’m not quite sure I’m going to post it. I write a lot about Russia, for Ricochet and in ‘real life.’ Watching the level of discourse about the war in Ukraine across American social media has been…well, let’s just go with ‘words I’m not allowed to say here because this is a family website.’ Maybe, if it were something that was less present in my everyday life, I would feel as though I could engage with this topic and not watch my temper rocket from zero to a hundred in record time. But it isn’t. 

As a historian, I have a sub-field specialty in Russia, and as a scholar with a professional interest in Jewish studies, Russia and Ukraine are vital research locations for me. As an undergraduate student, I spent three very difficult years going from my ABCs to fluency in Russian. As a Russian speaker, I’m sitting in an apartment filled with books, vinyl records, t-shirts, etc. in Russian. As a human being, I have people I love in Russia and Ukraine, and even more people I love have friends and family in both of those places. In the last week, I’ve seen a Ukrainian friend I studied with in London leave the safety of that city to fight for his country, and have watched from afar as a Russian friend’s life comes unraveled, her brother and father conscripted to fight, her Ukrainian family struggling with no hope of help, her avenues to the outside world growing narrower every day, and her activism a very real threat to her life. It’s entirely possible that he will die defending his nation, and she will go to prison for criticizing the megalomaniacal dictator that runs her country. A month ago, we were joking about our stress-obsessed former Russian teacher, or our shared taste in oldies underground rock. Now I’m just hoping that I won’t wake up one day and realize that yesterday would be the last time I ever heard from them. 

Which is all to say that the flippancy with which some people have treated this conflict, and the ease others have in shrugging it off as the natural end for a country that was never “real” is blood boiling to witness. There’s something darkly amusing in how these things happen and suddenly everyone with a keyboard has become Richard Pipes, but, I can’t really say I didn’t expect it. Frankly, the people that think that would benefit from actually reading some Pipes, or, better yet, some Robert Conquest, to understand what exactly Ukraine is and why its citizens take Russia’s aggression as a serious threat not just to their geopolitical existence, but to their existence as a people and a culture. 

Anyway, on to current events in Russia. 

Coincidentally, current events in Russia are becoming much easier, at least for the moment (and if you don’t accept Dmitri Peskov as some sort of latter-day prophet), to understand if you’re outside of Russia. If you’ve been following any news out of the country for the past few months, you’ll know about the foreign agent law and how it has impacted anti-Putin activists and independent media. For anyone that needs a quick primer: 

Russia’s foreign agent law dates back to 2012 when it originally applied to non-governmental organizations receiving funds and grants from abroad. In December 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed new legislation that expanded the legal definition of who can be considered a foreign agent. It now includes any private individual or group who receives any amount of foreign funding, whether from foreign governments, organizations or even citizens, and publishes “printed, audio, audio visual or other reports and materials.”

Once authorities slap a “foreign agent” tag on people or organizations, they are required to label anything they publish  — even a social media post  — with a disclaimer indicating their status as a foreign agent. They are also required to file regular financial statements and reports on their activities every six months with the government, and undergo annual audits.

As one would expect from the administration of wannabe latter-day–tsar Vlad, the number of organizations labeled foreign against far exceeds those receiving significant amounts, or even any, foreign money. Alexei Navalny’s ФБК (Anti-Corruption Foundation) is on the list, as is Pussy Riot, the punk women’s rights organization, and one of Russia’s oldest human rights organizations, Memorial Human Rights Center. 

TV Rain (Дождь), the country’s most popular non-governmental tv network, and Echo Moscow (Эхо Москвы), one of its few independent radio stations, have been silenced. Роскомнадзор, the Russian equivalent to the FCC, took the station off the air and blocked its website for its coverage of the Ukraine invasion, and today, its board of directors voted to shut the station down. Meanwhile, Natalya Sindeeva, the general director of Дождь, has chosen to temporarily suspend operations. The channel was similarly blocked at the insistence of the Prosecutor General’s Office by Roskomnadzor, and tonight marked their final broadcast. At the end of the last news bulletin of the night, all of the staff stood crowded around the news desk, said one final chant of “no war”, and walked off screen together. 

Twitter, Facebook, BBC, Deutsche Welle, App Stores have been blocked, and, while some of Дождь and Эхо Москвы’s content remains up on YouTube, most predict it’s only a matter of time before that it put out of reach as well. Радио Свобода, whose website has met the same fate, put up a video on its YouTube channel instructing its watchers and listeners on how to use a VPN. For however long that may work. 

Undoubtedly, the few independent print media journalists and organizations left in Russia are heading down this path as well. Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Prize winning editor of New Journal, chose to publish his newspaper in Russian and Ukrainian on the first day of the war. As the crackdown continues, most observers expect Novaya Gazeta to be shuttered, and Muratov to face consequences for his support of the ‘traitors.’ It’s not as though Russia, in any of its iterations, has ever had a problem with at least roughing up its Nobels. Luckier journalists may end up in Penal Colony No. 2 with Navalny. 

The unlucky will face the fate of Anna Politkovskaya, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Stanislav Markelov.

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  1. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    I can’t say I have much to offer in the way of the lighthearted here, but watching Meal Team 6 here praise his Kremlin overlords while a soldier struggles to close the door on a tank behind him is pretty great:

    (The people underneath positing he’s actually a Russian posing as an American clearly haven’t heard the Russian he speaks in the video, or just don’t know what they’re talking about. He comes across as about as much of a native speaker as Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October. I love that movie, but Captain Ramius’ “you par russki”, with the English pronoun and Scottish pronunciation, rather than “Ty [govorish] po-russki” isn’t exactly inspiring accuracy).

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Thanks for putting us at least for a moment a little closer to the awful reality created by that monster. Sometimes we in the US are living in a movie of our own making.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Thank you for bringing some needed knowledge to a too-often flippant “debate”.  One of the biggest lies of that dispute is the claim that being anti-Putin means being anti-Russian. Far from it. 

    • #3
  4. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I have a big dose of Ukrainian Jewish blood, and I feel for the Ukrainian and the Russian people.  The average Russian person doesn’t want empire, and isn’t a wealthy oligarch.  Has Russia ever really had a Leader who loves the People and wants them all to succeed in life?  My impression has always been that Russia has been presided over by a succession of tyrants, so the people have never lived in any kind of freedom.  They deserve better.

    • #4
  5. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    The first casualty of war is the truth the second is innocence.  I hope your friends come through this alive and well.  

    • #5
  6. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    War? What war? I thought it was a “Special Military Operaton”

    (For everyone but the Wanderer, this is one of the reasons Roskomnadzor is using to shut down media outlets; that they’re not describing the war using the words that Putin wants them to.)

    • #6
  7. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Good stuff KK. Will take me a couple of hours to get through.  Architect a Russian Jewish refusenik who got his family to San Francisco in 1980. Married to a Ukrainian doctor.  And went ape when I asked about a good Ukrainian charity to donate to.  Think its mostly the US’s fault for kissing Putin’s hind end for years.  So the conversation didn’t last long. 

    • #7
  8. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    Your week’s hiatus from Ricochet was well spent.

    • #8
  9. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Thank you for bringing some needed knowledge to a too-often flippant “debate”. One of the biggest lies of that dispute is the claim that being anti-Putin means being anti-Russian. Far from it.

    Vladimir Putin may be the most anti-Russian person I can think of. He’s certainly robbed, imprisoned, terrorized, and murdered enough of them. 

    (Thanks, Gary!)

    • #9
  10. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks for putting us at least for a moment a little closer to the awful reality created by that monster. Sometimes we in the US are living in a movie of our own making.

    Thanks Mark. I saw someone say that sometimes the US suffers from a major case of “main character syndrome” and I think that, combined with a desire in some quarters to see everything exclusively through the lens of our domestic politics, has brought the discussion further and further from reality.

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Thank you for a clearly informed and clear opinion.

    • #11
  12. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    So keep feeding us this stuff instead of your food pics, OK?  Fashion pictures excepted. 

    • #12
  13. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I have a big dose of Ukrainian Jewish blood, and I feel for the Ukrainian and the Russian people. The average Russian person doesn’t want empire, and isn’t a wealthy oligarch. Has Russia ever really had a Leader who loves the People and wants them all to succeed in life? My impression has always been that Russia has been presided over by a succession of tyrants, so the people have never lived in any kind of freedom. They deserve better.

    It’s pretty much always been an autocrat, at least since anything we would recognize as Russia has existed there. The difference has only really been in the degree to which they want to improve their subjects’ lives (or accidentally improve them by just staying out of the way), and/or feel benevolence is the right governing strategy. Even the ‘liberals’ or ‘westernizers’ aren’t often very nice. Alexander II, for example, abolished corporal punishment and serfdom, and he also approved the Circassian genocide.

    There have been some very outstanding statesmen, like Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, but most, like him, meet a bad end. Boris Nemstov, seven years ago last Saturday, is testament to that.

    • #13
  14. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    The first casualty of war is the truth the second is innocence. I hope your friends come through this alive and well.

    Thanks. I hope so too. 

    • #14
  15. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    War? What war? I thought it was a “Special Military Operaton”

    (For everyone but the Wanderer, this is one of the reasons Roskomnadzor is using to shut down media outlets; that they’re not describing the war using the words that Putin wants them to.)

    Ah, when the FSB come break down my door because someone pointed out I going against the journalistic dictates of dear leader, I’m blaming you! 

    (Yes, it’s a brilliant campaign to defeat all those fascist babushkas, apartment dwellers, and empty playgrounds, and take down their Nazi leader, the Jewish grandson of Holocaust survivors). 

    • #15
  16. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Captain French (View Comment):

    Your week’s hiatus from Ricochet was well spent.

    Thanks, Al. It probably isn’t what some of my profs would most want me to be doing with my free time, but I’ve read enough J.A.S. Grenville for one week.

    • #16
  17. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    navyjag (View Comment):

    So keep feeding us this stuff instead of your food pics, OK? Fashion pictures excepted.

    You’ve got a temporary hiatus from any kind of long form food content from me until I’m living in an apartment with a real kitchen again.

     

    • #17
  18. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    KirkianWanderer:

    As a human being, I have people I love in Russia and Ukraine, and even more people I love have friends and family in both of those places. In the last week, I’ve seen a Ukrainian friend I studied with in London leave the safety of that city to fight for his country, and have watched from afar as a Russian friend’s life comes unraveled, her brother and father conscripted to fight, her Ukrainian family struggling with no hope of help, her avenues to the outside world growing narrower every day, and her activism a very real threat to her life.

    Unfathomable. Best wishes from Utah. I can’t imagine what you and especially your friends are going through.

    Thank you for the informative post. There’s so much to Putin’s Russia and this conflict that the average American (including me) doesn’t know. It’s helpful knowing the specifics of Putin’s oppression.

    • #18
  19. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    I believe one Radio Free Europe journalist has been arrested in Russia.

    Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror is a good book if you want to get some insight into Putin’s thought process and moral compass.

    The labor camp Gulag system isn’t as expansive as it was in the Soviet days. It’s less expensive to kill someone than feed them, even though rations were meager. As an added bonus they are forgotten faster and there are fewer irritating demands from human rights groups to free them.

    • #19
  20. The Girlie Show Member
    The Girlie Show
    @CatIII

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks for putting us at least for a moment a little closer to the awful reality created by that monster. Sometimes we in the US are living in a movie of our own making.

    Thanks Mark. I saw someone say that sometimes the US suffers from a major case of “main character syndrome” and I think that, combined with a desire in some quarters to see everything exclusively through the lens of our domestic politics, has brought the discussion further and further from reality.

    I’ve been heartened to see a lot more discussion of NATO expansion and far less of “I don’t want my son to die for Ukraine so transgender kids can be given hormones” (an actual argument I saw someone make right after the invasion).

    I have no idea how credible it is to blame the invasion on the US’s Ukraine policy and Russian fears of NATO expansion. I think we should avoid being too moralistic and should consider if our actions are likely to provoke a response, however unjustified it is from a moral point of view. I also think some people can’t comprehend other countries/leaders having any agency; they assume they only act in reaction to America. It’s at once supreme arrogance and self-loathing since these are generally the same people who think the USA is a uniquely evil force in the world.

    • #20
  21. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    The Girlie Show (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks for putting us at least for a moment a little closer to the awful reality created by that monster. Sometimes we in the US are living in a movie of our own making.

    Thanks Mark. I saw someone say that sometimes the US suffers from a major case of “main character syndrome” and I think that, combined with a desire in some quarters to see everything exclusively through the lens of our domestic politics, has brought the discussion further and further from reality.

    I’ve been heartened to see a lot more discussion of NATO expansion and far less of “I don’t want my son to die for Ukraine so transgender kids can be given hormones” (an actual argument I saw someone make right after the invasion).

    I have no idea how credible it is to blame the invasion on the US’s Ukraine policy and Russian fears of NATO expansion. I think we should avoid being too moralistic and should consider if our actions are likely to provoke a response, however unjustified it is from a moral point of view. I also think some people can’t comprehend other countries/leaders having any agency; they assume they only act in reaction to America. It’s at once supreme arrogance and self-loathing since these are generally the same people who think the USA is a uniquely evil force in the world.

    You mean like Putin?

    • #21
  22. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Fine post. If I could conjure an imaginary straw man against whom I would easily prevail with clever lines honed while having one-sided arguments in the shower, I’d say: some think banning Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and the Beeb are good things, because they are destructive tools meant to destabilize and impose a corrossive narrative. Hence Putin is acting as a protector of his culture!  Hence the abstracted, yearning, conflicted admiration.

    • #22
  23. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Thanks for putting us at least for a moment a little closer to the awful reality created by that monster. Sometimes we in the US are living in a movie of our own making.

    Thanks Mark. I saw someone say that sometimes the US suffers from a major case of “main character syndrome” and I think that, combined with a desire in some quarters to see everything exclusively through the lens of our domestic politics, has brought the discussion further and further from reality.

    In the U. S., politics and reality have not been good friends for many years now. I’m trying to decide if that means the U. S. is catching up to everyone else. 

    • #23
  24. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):
    . Alexander II, for example, abolished corporal punishment and serfdom, and he also approved the Circassian genocide.

    Just to show how near a memory for Ukrainians this is, my Great Grandfather was emancipated from Serfdom in 1861 by Tsar Alexander.  So growing up I heard stories from my father that he had heard from his grandfathers mouth.

    • #24
  25. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Never forget Vladimir Putins career as a KGB officer.

    “Give me the child for the first seven years and I’ll give you the man.”

    Jesuit maxim

     

    • #25
  26. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Thank you for bringing some needed knowledge to a too-often flippant “debate”. One of the biggest lies of that dispute is the claim that being anti-Putin means being anti-Russian. Far from it.

    Vladimir Putin may be the most anti-Russian person I can think of. He’s certainly robbed, imprisoned, terrorized, and murdered enough of them.

    (Thanks, Gary!)

    Surely Stalin was.

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    KW, thank you for this post. It must be so painful to know that people you love and care about are at risk. 

    • #27
  28. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Kozak (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    It’s pretty much always been an autocrat, at least since anything we would recognize as Russia has existed there… Alexander II, for example, abolished corporal punishment and serfdom, and he also approved the Circassian genocide.

    Just to show how near a memory for Ukrainians this is, my Great Grandfather was emancipated from Serfdom in 1861 by Tsar Alexander. So growing up I heard stories from my father that he had heard from his grandfathers mouth.

    I’ve been slowly working my way through the history of the Russian revolution via this podcast by Mike Duncan.  The fact that serfdom was only abolished in 1861 was shocking to learn.  And even then many peoples’ lives didn’t materially change, which was a driver of the revolution 60 years later. At that time many if not most peasant farmers still lived in “communes” where arable land was doled out by the village elders. All the “reformers” were squabbling and competing for power until the Bolsheviks won.  Autocracy is definitely the traditional form of government there.

    • #28
  29. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Hang On (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Thank you for bringing some needed knowledge to a too-often flippant “debate”. One of the biggest lies of that dispute is the claim that being anti-Putin means being anti-Russian. Far from it.

    Vladimir Putin may be the most anti-Russian person I can think of. He’s certainly robbed, imprisoned, terrorized, and murdered enough of them.

    (Thanks, Gary!)

    Surely Stalin was.

    Ah, that’s very true. He may be the most anti-Russian living person. 

    Lavrov, Usmanov, Peskov, and his whole gaggle of lackeys certainly follow in the same path.

    • #29
  30. KirkianWanderer Coolidge
    KirkianWanderer
    @KirkianWanderer

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):

    KirkianWanderer (View Comment):

    It’s pretty much always been an autocrat, at least since anything we would recognize as Russia has existed there… Alexander II, for example, abolished corporal punishment and serfdom, and he also approved the Circassian genocide.

    Just to show how near a memory for Ukrainians this is, my Great Grandfather was emancipated from Serfdom in 1861 by Tsar Alexander. So growing up I heard stories from my father that he had heard from his grandfathers mouth.

    I’ve been slowly working my way through the history of the Russian revolution via this podcast by Mike Duncan. The fact that serfdom was only abolished in 1861 was shocking to learn. And even then many peoples’ lives didn’t materially change, which was a driver of the revolution 60 years later. At that time many if not most peasant farmers still lived in “communes” where arable land was doled out by the village elders. All the “reformers” were squabbling and competing for power until the Bolsheviks won. Autocracy is definitely the traditional form of government there.

    There’s a lot of historiographical debate about The Great Reforms, so I’m heartening to see that a more complex understanding of serfdom and its abolition have trickled down into the less academic spheres of history. (A lot of older histories of Russia aimed at the non-Russianist or non-historian basically treated the abolition of serfdom as the end of the issue and completely positive for the former serfs). 

    Just to take an example from one of Barbra Engel’s articles on women and peasant resistance before the 1905 Revolution: 

    “The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 did not favor the Russian peasantry. It allotted peasants less land than they had tilled as serfs, and the land was of poorer quality because noble landlords kept the best land for themselves.”

    • #30
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