The first step to controlling any nation is controlling the media, which is why Russia is cracking down on its "independent" journalists in the wake of its non-invasion invasion of Crimea. Galina Timchenko, the editor of popular online news site Lenta.ru was replaced with a pro-Kremlin editor after the site posted a story on the Ukraine's Right Sector far-right movement.
There's no official word on how many staff members quit in protest, but every staff member signed a statement protesting what they consider direct censorship by the Kremlin, and the entire site appears to be on hiatus, if not shuttered entirely. According to The Moscow Times the staff took this as "a pretext to shut the agency down." The new editor, according to Agence France-Presse Moscow correspondent Maria Antonova, was formerly "editor of Vzglyad, a pro-Kremlin website now busy promoting an anti-NATO video game 'Maidan.'"
Based on a rough translation of a statement from the staff, Timchenko, who has worked at Lenta.ru since 1999, was fired and replaced with a new pro-Kremlin editor, a move meant to put pressure on the remaining staff. "Over the past couple of years the space of free journalism in Russia has decreased dramatically," reads the statement. "Some publications are controlled directly from the Kremlin, others - through curators, and others - editors, who fear losing their jobs ... The problem is not that we have nowhere to run. The trouble is that you seem to have nothing more to read."
The firing follows a warning the site received earlier on Wednesday over publishing an interview with Andriy Tarasenko, the head of Right Sector movement's Kiev office, according to The Washington Post. The story linked to comments by Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Ukraine's far right movement. This apparently violated rules on promoting extremism. It's worth noting that The Post says Timchenko "resigned" while Lenta.ru says she was "sacked" and The Moscow Times says she "stepped down."
According to state-owned news agency Itar-Tass, Lenta.ru received a warning from the federally controlled "media watchdog group" Roskomnadzor:
According to the watchdog’s report, the materials in question contain statements aimed to provoke ethnic enmity. Publication of nationalist urges issued by informal extremist groups, for one of whom Russian police has issued an international arrest warrant, breaches a number of Russian laws, goes the report.
Outlets that receive two or more warnings from Roskomnadzor within a 12 month period can be referred to the courts in an attempt to repeal their license, notes the Kyiv Post.
This marks a continued trend in Russia cracking down on independent outlets. Liberal TV outlet Dozhd was dropped by a major satellite provider last month and the Kremlin announced it was liquidating RIA Novosti in December. Earlier this month RT's Liz Wahl quit on air, citing the networks own self-censorship and her unwillingness to be "part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin" as her reason.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.