The Kremlin’s punitive machine is not going to slow down. On the contrary, after the “pseudo-elections” to the State Duma were held, Putin’s government continues to destroy and ruin everything to the slightest extent democratic and free left in Russia.

Any “dissent,” any point of view other than the Kremlin’s official one, is a reason for “punitive” measures taken by the authorities. Any independent journalistic, human rights, or social activity conducted without the Kremlin’s “blessing” is illegal.

The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation has included 22 journalists and human rights activists in the register of media outlets with “foreign agent” status. Among them are Sergey Smirnov, editor-in-chief of Mediazona; Petr Verzilov, publisher of Mediazona; and members of the Golos movement (Golos is included in the register of unregistered non-governmental associations labelled as “foreign agents”). Moreover, the register of “foreign agents” now includes the human rights project Zona Prava and LLC “ZP,” which is the founder of Mediazona.

Whole media outlets were included in the register of “foreign agents” and driven to the verge of destruction. Meduza almost went bankrupt in an instant, Radio Liberty has evacuated staff from Russia, and VTimes announced its closure after it had been included in the register.

What is “foreign agent” status of media outlet?

The concept of “foreign agent” status of a media outlet appeared in 2017 when Russia Today was forced to register in the United States as a foreign agent under the FARA law. Margarita Simonyan was outraged; Putin became dramatically concerned over the freedom of speech in the United States and asked the State Duma to prepare a “tit-for-tat response.” The task was entrusted to Petr Tolstoy. The response was a law that should have allowed the Ministry of Justice to force some foreign (only foreign!) media outlets to enter the register and somehow label their materials.

Lawmakers assured that the law did not apply to the Russian media at all; it was “purely a response to the Americans for the oppression of RT,” and it would be used only once, the measure was absolutely forced, and so on. The law was adopted unanimously…

Then, the law was transformed gradually, acquiring new amendments. Eventually, it stipulated that Russian legal entities could be recognised as “foreign agents” if they disseminated information from “foreign agents.” Thus, the Kremlin authorities put a decisive end to Russia’s independent media.

No evidence is needed now. Authorities do not even submit them to court. Punitive judiciary in action. To be labelled as “foreign agent” is practically the same as to be labelled as “enemy of the people.” And the enemies are treated with gloves-off.

Inclusion of representatives of the Golos movement in the punitive list is tied to the results of the last vote in the State Duma elections. The choice of labelled people directly correlates with the “Map of Violations.”

The coordinators of the regions with the biggest number of reports on violations at the polling stations were recognised as “foreign agents.” There is no doubt that Golos was persecuted precisely because of its informational and analytical projects, which covered numerous systemic violations of the election law.

Price of reprisals

By suppressing the “undesirable,” the government supports its own, fully Kremlin-controlled information machine. Putin does not spare money on propaganda. In 2022, a record RUB 89.6 billion is budgeted to support the pro-government state media, exceeding the budgets of 47 regions of the country.

According to the draft budget for 2022, VGTRK [All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company] will see the most significant increase in subsidies – a spike of RUB 11 billion up to RUB 33.4 billion. A record RUB 28.7 billion is allocated to Russia Today, up RUB 1.3 billion compared to last year’s subsidies. Rossiya Segodnya (RIA Novosti) also sees a record increase in subsidies – a spike of RUB 1.8 billion up to RUB 9.3 billion. Subsidies to Public Television of Russia increased from 4.6 billion to 5.5 billion.

In turn, the TASS agency will receive RUB 3.7 billion from the budget, and Zvezda TV channel of the Armed Forces – RUB 1.86 billion. TV channels of the Federation Council and the State Duma will receive RUB 300 million and RUB 350 million, respectively. The Parlamentskaya Gazeta parliamentary newspaper will receive RUB 207.2 million. The Kremlin will give Channel One Russia additional RUB 268.5 million for the “impressive” coverage of the Main Naval Parade.

The total suppression of freedom and democratic values ​​only deepens the abyss by which the Kremlin has fenced itself off from the outside world. This situation cannot but frighten the people of the Russian Federation, who see with their own eyes what a “happy life” the “lifelong dictator” and his entourage have brought to the country.

A petition to repeal the law on “foreign agents” has already been signed by 148,000 Russians. But the Kremlin doesn’t give a damn about the thoughts and expectations of the population. The freedom of speech situation in Russia in recent years is increasingly reminiscent of the saying “of the dead say nothing but what is good”…

Yuri Fedorenko, Head of NGO “Agency for Development of Democracy and Information Freedoms”

Views of the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the editorial staff

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