Daily Archives: May 22, 2007

May 22, 2007 — Contents


(1) Annals of Where are they Now: Yevegeny Primakov

(2) On the Trail of the Kremlin Killers

(3) Annals of Russian Barbarism

(4) Neo-Soviet Censorship at Rolling Boil in Russia

(5) Russians: They Just Don’t Get It

NOTE: On April 21, 2007, we installed a second counter (this one is invisible) from a different provider (Stat Counter) on the blog, in order to verify the data provided by the first (Site Meter). As the graph below indicates, the second counter recorded 17,660 total visits during its first month of operation, an average of 570 visits per day, and 29,090 page views during that period, an average of 938 page views per day. These totals were noticeably higher than those for our present counter, indicating that the visible counter is underestimating our traffic by roughly 15% per day. That being the case, it implies we have already reached the 100,000 visit milestone. So we congratulate ourselves and our contributors and our readers on this important milestone!

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Annals of Where are they Now: Spymaster Yevegeny Primakov

A charter and cherished LR reader offers some thoughts about good old KGB spymaster Yevegeny Primkaov:

On Yevgeny Primakov

The Moscow News (not to be confused with MosNews.com) has been carrying some provocative articles by former Prime Minister and Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov.

Apart from joining in the tedious neo-Soviet outrage at Estonia ’s statue “blasphemy” and advocating an economic blockade of the country, he also took a firm side-swipe at America in an article last week which, though many readers would not have been aware of it, reeked of hypocrisy.

Here is the opening paragraph of the piece in which he linked the current American administration with the totalitarian regime which built the Berlin Wall (the full article is reproduced below):

“The Berlin Wall separated a single nation. As I watched a jubilant crowd tear it down on my TV, I couldn’t imagine that the ruthless and at the same time reckless builders of such a structure would eventually have an imitator. But they do: the U.S. occupation force in Iraq .”

“Ruthless” and “Reckless”? Well, that’s a bit rich coming from someone who is a little bit closer to the old regime than his title in the article headline (“Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences”) would indicate.

Primakov was already working as an informer for the KGB while a student in the early 1950s. While ostensibly a leading Russian journalist in the Middle East for the next 15 years he was in fact a member of the KGB, working under the code name “Maksim”. This is not an urban myth or part of some conspiracy theory – the publication of the Mitrokhin archive documented what was already well-known in the western intelligence community.

Primakov’s KGB code name would appear to be derived from his patronymic, Maksimovich, but here there is riddle: Primakov’s father, one of the many Red Army officers shot by Stalin in the 1930s, was called was actually Vitaly, not Maksim. Yevgeny’s full name, with the patronymic derived from his father’s name, should therefore be Yevgeny Vitalievich Primakov, not Yevgeny Maximovich Primakov. And yet he calls himself Yevgeny Maksimovich.

One possible reason why he changed his name was to hide his origins, knowing that, being his father’s son, he would be marked for arrest. They would have got him anyway. As it happens, he escaped the gulag, but not by luck or by keeping his head down. He joined the enemy. If we didn’t already have evidence of his collaboration with the NKVD/KGB, the fact that the son of so notable a purge victim survived the Stalin era unscathed would be enough to strongly hint, to those who know about these things, that he was working for the Lubyanka.

One of his fellow students, who ended up in the camps, remains convinced that Primakov betrayed him to KGB. In the Khrushchev era, another colleague’s career was destroyed when he was denounced by Primakov. Both would say they think Primakov was a nasty piece of work. And these are just two stories that are known. People don’t willingly broadcast dirt on a former Director of the SVR, so there may be many more stories out there that people have so far been unwilling to tell. (Why not post one on LR if you know one?)

And, before you get too sympathetic with the possibility that he collaborated under duress, Primakov didn’t just behave like this in the 50s. He was a willing participant in Soviet repression for decades. In the mid 70s, at the height of the crisis over the Jewish refusniks who were being thrown in psychiatric hospitals by the organisation he had then worked for for 20 years, Primakov had a chance meeting in the USA with one of his former victims. With a directness that would have been impossible back home in the Soviet Union the other man asked Primakov straight out why he, a Jew, so strongly supported the Soviet Government’s anti-Israel line; indeed, Primakov had contributed to it for many years – as his subsequent friendship with Saddam Hussein and his bitterness towards America when it invaded Iraq showed only too clearly. (Don’t forget that the KBG trained Saddam’s secret police. I wonder who set that up?).

Primakov’s answer was revealing. “Stalin may have murdered my father, but that doesn’t make me anti-Soviet”.

And there you have it. Although that reply was given thirty years ago, it still sums up the sheer inanity of Russian attitudes to the old days and to democratic freedom today. The direct political forbears of the current Russian president imprisoned one in seven of their own population, killed a further 7 million, shot 20,000 Poles at Katyn, trampled all over the Baltic States, and through their paranoia brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation….. but that isn’t enough to make many of today’s Russians, notaligic for the past glories of the USSR , sit up and question if their views of those days and of Russia’s situation today are some surreal fantasy of their own imagining. If challenged, they would have their own equivalent of Primakov’s answer: “We may be willingly ruled by a clique of corrupt, anti-democratic silovki, but that doesn’t make us anti-Russian… So stuff the Estonians, stuff the Georgians, stuff the Poles, stuff the West, stuff everybody. Russia for the Russians!”.

Which brings me back to my original subject. Just who, of those who really know about him, does Yevgeny Maksimovich actually think he is fooling when he calls the regime that erected the Berlin Wall “ruthless” and “reckless”?

He served them. For years. And, as for idea that Primakov ever believed that Germany should have been left as one nation undivided (except wholly ruled by the Red Army), what does he think we are smoking?

And there’s another little mystery about Primakov. It probably is of no consequence. For the last six months the authors of the Wikipedia article on Primakov have been having a very typical Wikipedia dispute about his name – not his patronymic but over the suggestion that he was actually was born ‘Pinchas Finkelstein’. One month it’s in the article, the next it’s deleted. Currently, it’s back on. It seems to have originated on some on some rather unpleasant right-wing anti-Semitic websites. Does anyone know who Pinchas Finkelstein was?

Kasparov on Russian TV

The Russian online newspaper GNI.ru comments on a TV appearance by Garry Kasparov in Russia (you can click through the link to watch a 30-minute video, in Russian of course):

Kasparov Lets the Expletives Fly

Garry Kasparov effectively refuted adage about talented people being able to do anything well. Having won the world chess championship, Kasparov hasn’t fared as well in the world of high politics. In a live broadcast on St. Petersburg local television channel, the ex-chess player hysterically responded in x-rated manner in response to journalists’ questions. The program, Two on One, has a reputation for generating sensational broadcasts, and draws a large audience.

Kasparov arrived for his interview and began to expound upon his thesis that Vladimir Putin and his team are establishing a dictatorship and unaccountable to the people. One of his interlocutors asked how Kasparov could think that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was a victim of shadowy government forces when he himself was engaged in shadowy business machinations. At that point, the image of a suave, cultured intellectual which Kasparov has long cultivated seemed to vanish, being replaced by a shrieking, hysterical street punk. And a Kasparov-isterik – hamyaschy, cry trendy zhestikuliruyuschy and maloadekvatny. Tykat lead, vyvedshemu it from the balance inconvenient questions, Kasparov began at the sixth minute interview. Materitsya-even sooner. At present all records profanity ex replaced by an audible alarm as the channel could not afford such a liberal to offensive remarks, which distinguished Garry Kasparov.

On the Trail of the Kremlin Killers

Alexei Sidorov Anna Politkovskaya

Craig Murray, author of Murder In Samarkand, was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002-2004, when he was dismissed for espousing controversial views about the government there. Writing in This London, Murry reports on his investigation of the recent spate of obvoiusly political murders in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. His report highlights, once again, how Russians have given themselves the worst of all possible worlds: All the criminality they should have avoided by having a KGB spy as president, and all the dicatorship one would expect from such a regime.

One Friday two months ago, Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, made his way home from work. After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held a bag of groceries in one hand while keeping his coat closed against the snow with his other. Arriving at the entrance to his grim Soviet-era apartment block, Safronov punched in the security code which opened the grey metal door at the entrance to the gloomy hallway.

So far this is a perfectly normal Moscow scene. But then – and this is the official version of events – Ivan Safronov apparently did something extraordinary. He walked up the communal stairs, past his second-floor apartment to the top landing between the third and fourth floors. Then, placing his groceries on the floor, he opened a window, climbed on to the sill and leapt to his death, becoming around the 160th (nobody can be certain of precise numbers) journalist to meet a violent end in post-communist Russia.

In the West, the cases of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in her apartment block, and ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium in London last year, hit the headlines. But in Russia, there was nothing exceptional about those killings. It’s long been understood that if you publish material that embarrasses or annoys those in power, you’re likely to come to a sticky end.

I know a bit about the way they do politics in this part of the world. I was the British Ambassador to the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan from 2002 until 2004, when I was sacked for revealing the Uzbek regime was involved in systematic torture and gave information that they gained in this way to MI6 via the CIA. The current Russian regime under Vladimir Putin is just as savage. I travelled there to investigate the most recent spate of killings and meet those journalists who continue to risk their lives to expose corruption and crime.

Safronov, 51, had built a reputation as a highly professional, meticulous journalist. Over the years many of his articles had embarrassed the Kremlin, revealing the scale of bullying, prostitution and suicide among Russia’s conscripted armed forces, and the high-level corruption that deprives troops of adequate clothing, rations and equipment. He had recently returned from an arms fair in Dubai, attended by senior representatives of Russia’s armed forces and defence industries, and told colleagues he had learnt something there about corruption in major contracts, involving exports to Syria, Iran and other destinations. He told his editor he had a big story’ but, as usual, he was carefully checking his facts first.

Now his story will never be published. On a grey morning, I walk through the drizzle to a police station opposite Safronov’s apartment. The officer in charge is brusque. There are no suspicious circumstances and the case is closed. Why am I wasting his time and trying to cause trouble? He threatens to arrest me, so I beat a hasty retreat. Near Safronov’s home, unkempt drunks swig cheap vodka from the bottle. I look up at the window from which Safronov fell. It doesn’t look terribly high. Outside the block entrance, I stop and look down at the ground on which he landed – the surface is an uneven patchwork of brick, concrete, asphalt and mud. This is where a group of young men found Safronov, conscious but unable to speak. It took almost three hours for an ambulance to arrive. According to Kommersant deputy editor Ilya Bilyanov, although Safronov was clearly alive when he was finally taken away, he was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

A stout woman beating her rugs in the rain gives me the combination to enter the building. Once through the heavy metal door, I am overwhelmed by the smell of fresh paint which has been thickly applied to the walls, ceilings, rails, doors and window frames, as though to cover over any trace of recent events. The window from which Safronov allegedly threw himself is certainly quite easy to open and clamber out of, but it is a bad choice for a suicide. Soviet flats have low ceilings and I calculate the window is a maximum height of 26ft above the ground. Why not choose somewhere high enough to make death instant? The very next apartment block, for example, is two storeys higher. As I peer from the window I realise that, jumping from here, you are almost certain to hit the porch roof 20ft below. Police claim that marks in the snow on the porch roof were firm evidence that Safronov jumped. Two middle-aged women pass with their shopping. I explain that I am investigating Safronov’s death; it seems an improbable suicide. Very strange,’ they agree. Very, very strange.’ They tell me Safronov was a pleasant man, had a good wife, did not drink excessively and was looking forward to the imminent birth of a grandchild. Plainly, everything they say is questioning the official version, but they do not wish to do so openly. Ilya Bilyanov, Safronov’s boss, is more categorical. He was a devoted family man, very protective of his wife and daughter and proud of his son, about to start university. Bilyanov says: He could not have killed himself. He loved his family too much to abandon them.’

Life is cheap in modern Russia but two days later I am reminded of the flip side of this: a capacity for individual heroism. I meet Tatiana Markevich, who was teaching at a primary school in September 2001 when she received a message that her journalist husband, Eduard, had been murdered. I just didn’t want to believe it. We had always feared this might happen but still you hope there’s a mistake,’ Tatiana tells me.

Eduard Markevich, the 30-year-old editor of a local newspaper, Novyy Reft, in the Urals town of Reftinsky, was shot dead at point-blank range with a shotgun as he got into his car. Tatiana had the heartbreaking task of explaining the news to their three-year-old son. She comforted him until 2am, when the boy finally fell into a deep sleep. Then she set to work. There was a newspaper to edit, a newspaper she had co-founded with her husband. She finished the edition at 8am, took her son to her mother’s home and drove to her school, apologising for being slightly late. That is the kind of determination required of those trying to keep media freedom alive in Russia.

Eduard grew up near Chernobyl but after the disastrous explosion of its nuclear plant in 1986, the family were evacuated 2,000 miles east to Asbest in the Urals. The town got its name from the world’s largest asbestos plant. Accommodation and an allowance had been provided for the evacuated Chernobyl families but Eduard’s father discovered that both were being stolen by corrupt Asbest officials. Eduard grew into a bright young economist and in the mid-Nineties, aged just 23, he was in charge of reform and privatisation in the district. But he watched in horror as the region’s industrial assets fell into the hands of criminals, in league with corrupt officials.

Academic studies estimate that between 40 and 70 per cent of the Russian economy is controlled by criminals. This situation dates back to the chaos of the original privatisation process, in which assets such as the oil industry were sold off for a tiny fraction of their value, often knowingly to criminals, who had been running a black private sector throughout the communist era. Those in charge of Russia’s privatisation process believed the Leninist teaching with which they had been indoctrinated – that the early stages of capitalism are always criminal. They therefore perversely accepted criminal involvement as a necessary part of the process. In the new millennium, President Putin did not confront the criminal oligarchs, many of whom he had built up a close relationship with while heading the KGB. Instead, as long as they supported him unquestioningly, he continued the process of their legitimisation while promoting loyal KGB men to senior positions.

Russia is now run by a strongly interlinked KGB and mafia elite. Both elements are equally vicious and ruthless. Eduard tried to use his position to reduce corruption and was promptly fired. So, aged just 25, he started an independent newspaper dedicated to exposing the abuses of the authorities and the mafia in his region. His old contacts within government and disgruntled workers from asset-stripped factories gave him plenty to publish and his newspaper became popular and influential. One of its many campaigns revealed the appalling conditions under which asbestos and power-plant staff worked and the terrible illnesses, particularly lung disease, affecting them. In the week of his death the paper’s lead story was about the management of large prison camps for young offenders in the region. The corrupt governor of the camps had been illegally hiring out many teenagers to private firms to labour on construction sites, working in appalling conditions. There had been several deaths on the sites. The fees, meanwhile, had gone straight into the governor’s pocket. Tatiana admits many people wanted her husband dead but she is convinced his death was connected to the prison story.

Local police reacted quickly and soon detained a stranger who could not account convincingly for his presence in the area. Police later established he was a known mafia killer and he had a shotgun in his car. But ten days later the man was released on the authority of the regional procurator, who stated there was no evidence against him. I have no doubt local police had the killer and somebody higher wanted to protect him,’ says Sergei, a regional representative of the Russian Union of Journalists. Tatiana continued to produce the newspaper for a year, despite threats to her and her son. On one occasion, petrol was poured on her front door and set alight. Reluctantly, she decided to end her involvement in the paper. I so much wanted to keep Eduard’s work alive but in the end, which was more important – his newspaper or his son?’ she asks, and for the first time she starts to tremble. She has since moved to Ekaterinburg, the city where Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra and all their children were shot. The Bolsheviks were so thorough they even shot their pet dogs.

Those controlling Russia’s fifth largest city now are just as ruthless. Ekaterinburg is under the control of the Uralmash gang – every business in the city, from market stalls to large factories, still pays protection money to them. The gang emerged triumphant from a turf war around seven years ago and it was during this period that famous mafia cemetery monuments began to spring up around Russia. One man, killed in a shootout, is lovingly portrayed jangling the keys to his Mercedes from his stone hand, while in Moscow, a gangster’s gold chains and rings are embedded into his tombstone, which is floodlit and guarded day and night. Having eliminated the opposition, the Uralmash gang started to take over businesses and then the city’s administration, even contesting elections with their own political party, the Uralmash Social and Political Union.

This pattern can be found across Russia. One feature of the ideological void left by the fall of communism is that ordinary people are not just cowed by criminals, but to a significant degree actually approve of criminality as evidence of strength and manliness. There is also a widespread popular view that you get more trickle down’ from criminals than from corrupt politicians. So Uralmash essentially own Ekaterinburg, including the hotel I stayed in. The Imperial nightclub, which occupies part of the building, reflects their tastes. The club’s sign is a brand new Range Rover mounted high on a plinth outside the door. Once inside, the decor is heavy red velvet and gold ormolu, punctuated by large metal replicas of the Audi logo – four interlocking rings – hanging on wires from the ceiling.

On the day I visit, a BMW is being given away as a raffle prize. The £6 admission fee entitles customers to a raffle ticket and as I enter the club through the metal detector, other guests are checking in their machine pistols to the cloakroom. Later, the club and a casino upstairs begin to fill up but there are never many more than 100 people inside and door receipts can only be £1,000 at most. Against a top-of-the-range BMW? I ask the spectacular young lady on the casino reception how this works. She explains that the car is a reward’. Gradually I work out what this means. In the casino, people are throwing their money around ostentatiously, but in the tens of pounds rather than in thousands. Spending in the bar is fairly restrained too. And if you can look beyond the gorgeous young women who comprise most of the clientele,the men are young and stocky with short haircuts. They have hired muscle’ written all over them. The Imperial is not where the leaders of the city hang out, it is a social facility for lower-level thugs. The ridiculous prizes are crumbs from their masters’ table.

According to the Russian Union of Journalists, Ekaterinburg has become the most dangerous place for journalists outside Chechnya. One editor of a local news agency was seriously assaulted three times in a year. I am moving on with a more profound understanding that, in Putin’s Russia, the criminals and the authorities have become one and the same.

Back in Moscow, I visit the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, which is fighting a losing battle to defend journalists against violence. Analyst Mikhail Melnikov draws a pyramid and explains: There are many killings but they are only the apex of the system of intimidation of journalists. This starts with threats and intimidation, moving on through sackings to severe beatings.’ Combined with Putin’s relentless concentration of the media into government hands, the resulting self-censorship means that investigative journalism has almost died out in a country where it is desperately needed.

In 2001 Russia’s only independent national TV station, NTV, was forcibly taken over by state energy company Gazprom on the direct instruction of Putin. Gazprom has since bought two independent national newspapers while Kommersant was acquired three months ago by Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprom Invest Holdings. Retired teacher Vladimir Velmoshni disliked the rampant corruption he saw in his town, Sholkovi, so much, he started up a small weekly newspaper, Sholkovianka. He concentrated heavily on corruption and ran a series of photos showing the palatial new houses of local officials, with details of their small official salaries underneath. The message was very clear. He also obtained a stream of incriminating documents. Three years ago, as Vladimir got out of his car, he heard footsteps running up behind him. He was felled by a huge blow with a wooden club which fractured his skull. As he lay on the ground, he tried desperately to ward off the blows which two young men were raining down on him. There is no doubt they were trying to kill me,’ he grins, but I am not so easy to kill and I have a loud voice.’ His cries brought passers-by running to his aid and his assailants fled. After a week in intensive care he discharged himself, so he could get out the next edition of his paper. And his crusades continue – this week he is concentrating on judicial corruption. There is, however, one change. After nearly being killed, he decided he needed protection and allied himself with a local businessman who invested in his paper. Has that limited his independence? Well, there is one direction, one group where I am going easy. But is that a problem where there are so many legitimate targets?’ Vladimir says.

I meet another brave journalist in Tagliatti, a city in south west Russia. Alexei Mironov is a pleasant, bespectacled young man who has perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. He is the third editor of the Tagliattskoi Obozrenya (Tagliatti Observer) – both his predecessors were assassinated. Tagliatti is the home of the massive Lada complex, which still churns out 750,000 cars a year. We may think of Lada as a joke but the business has a turnover of $8billion a year. It was a great prize in the looting of assets by criminals that passed for privatisation in Russia. The result was a small but real war in Tagliatti that left more than 300 shot dead in 1996 alone. That same year Valeri Ivanov and his friend Alexei Sidorov decided to launch a newspaper to campaign against the violence and corruption. The first issue featured photographs obtained by Valeri of the local mayor socialising with the gangster behind most of the killings. All 20,000 copies sold out in a morning. The then Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, launched a blitz against organised crime at Tagliatti. Thousands of police ringed the massive factory complex and removed all the documents. They were taken to Samara, the regional police headquarters, where they became the basis for Operation Cyclone, Russia’s largest-ever assault on organised crime. Then on February 10, 1999, the HQ burnt to the ground, killing 77 police and staff and destroying all the evidence. Despite eyewitness accounts that fierce fires had started simultaneously in three different locations, the official inquiry concluded the blaze was an accident, probably caused by a cigarette. Powered by Valeri’s campaigns and Alexei’s investigative skills, their newspaper went from strength to strength, its audience riveted by the gang wars and the top-level corruption that lay behind them. Valeri was elected to the city council and there seemed a real possibility he might run for mayor, replacing the corrupt incumbent. Then in August 2002 he was shot dead at close range.

Alexei took over the editorship. He was a good professional journalist and had no political ambitions. That did not save him. Less than a year later he too was killed, stabbed 18 times with a sharpened metal file from a Lada workshop. In Valeri’s case, the police quickly made an arrest. A car worker named Evgenni Manninger confessed but it rapidly became plain that he had no connection with the case – police had tortured the loner into confessing. Valeri’s family were so keen to have a real investigation they even helped Manninger with his defence. However, when Manninger was acquitted, the case was suspended. When Alexei was murdered, the matter threatened to become a national scandal. Deputy Interior Minister Boris Grizlov issued a statement denying any political motivation behind the murders and described the Sidorov case as domestic violence’. Grizlov has been one of Putin’s closest allies for decades and is now Speaker of the Russian parliament.

In all, five journalists have been murdered in Tagliatti, and a sixth died in a suspicious car crash. At the newspaper’s offices, they have developed a neat line in gallows humour. Deputy editor Rimma Mikhareva says cheerily: I edit the copy, choose the photos, make the coffee and organise the funerals.’ Alexei Mironov believes that Putin gave the signal that led to the murders of his two predecessors. When Putin closed down NTV, local authorities took it as a signal that the time of independent media in Russia was over and they could act against them,’ he says. I am introduced to chief reporter Sergei Davidov, who has just won the Artem Borovik Prize for investigative journalism. Previous winners include Valeri Ivanov and Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered before she could accept the award. Sergei doesn’t look scared and the paper isn’t backing down. The journalists have just forced the resignation of a judge after a series of articles on corrupt judgments in land allocation cases. They acknowledge that the judge has already pocketed enough money for a very comfortable retirement. Still, small victories are rare and must be savoured.

As we smile and drink tea, I am painfully aware that I am looking at one of the last fading embers of freedom in Putin’s gangster state.

Annals of Russian Barbarism

If you’d like to know who they are, click them.

Neo-Soviet Censorship at Rolling Boil in Russia

The Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin is enaged in full censorship mode over the Estonia and Other Russia issues, crushing the life out of reporting on basic facts and leading to mass resignations by journalists. Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!

Seven journalists have resigned from Russian News Service after new management censored their reports about a Dissenters’ March and a dispute with Estonia, among other things, several of the journalists said Friday.

Russian News Service — a leading private broadcast news agency that provides news to the country’s largest radio station, Russkoye Radio, and other partner stations — is run by general director Alexander Shkolnik and editor Vsevolod Neroznak, both of whom joined the agency from Channel One state television.

Reporters started leaving after Shkolnik fired editor Mikhail Baklanov last month and replaced him with Neroznak. Deputy editor Maria Makeyeva, who anchored morning broadcasts, and Dmitry Mangalov, who anchored the 5 p.m. news, left first, followed days later by Anastasia Izyumskaya and Artyom Khan. The latest three — Olga Shipsha, Lyubov Shirizhik and Margarita Bondarenko — tendered their resignations Thursday.

Shipsha declined to discuss her resignation, and Shirizhik and Bondarenko could not be reached for comment. But Khan and Izyumskaya said censorship and pressure had prompted all seven resignations.

Khan said management had accused him of siding with Estonia in his coverage of protests held by the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth group outside the country’s Moscow embassy in late April and early May. The protests were over Estonia’s decision to relocate a World War II memorial in Tallinn.

Khan also said management had refused to air his reports about a World War II monument being relocated in Khimki, a town on Moscow’s northern outskirts, and an opposition Dissenters’ March broken up by riot police in Moscow in April.

“I realized that I would cease to exist as a professional [journalist] if I stayed,” Khan said by telephone.

Izyumskaya said she felt she was not allowed to prepare balanced reports. “I was taught that news can never be good or bad and that all points of view should be presented on the air,” Izyumskaya wrote in her resignation letter, Novaya Gazeta reported May 7.

“Those who have left were the face of the service and our best professionals,” Baklanov, the former editor, said by telephone.

Shkolnik blamed the departures on new rules he had introduced to boost the professionalism of the editorial staff, Interfax reported. Shkolnik, who previously oversaw children’s programming at Channel One, also downplayed the resignations, saying that only five of the 50 members of the editorial team had left on his watch.

Baklanov, who founded the agency in 2000, said he knew of only 25 members on the editorial team.

Elsa Vidal, of the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, said the resignations were a positive sign that journalists were willing to form a unified front to resist government pressure.

“It’s a desperate turn, but a good turn because the journalists could have accepted the new rule and that would’ve been even more appalling,” she said by telephone from Paris, where the group is based, The Associated Press reported.

Russians: They Just Don’t Get It

Here’s a hot one: Web planet reports that “a code to ban Estonian IP’s was published on LiveJournal by Russian blogger. In his post the author encourages readers to embed the code into their websites and blogs as a protest againts moving a monument to Soviet soldier from Tallin’s streets to the city cemetry. Those who comment are mostly pointing at technological shortsite of this action – first of all this code would ban Russians who live in Estonia from visiting Russian websites. They offer alternative algorithms, like banning based on language preferences in users’ browsers.”

So, let La Russophobe see if she understands. These morons think Estonians go cruising around the Internet looking to access Russian websites, and will suffer enormously if they can’t reach them? That hardly seems likely . . . except of course for the Russians who live in Estonia and prefer Russia to Estonia, and now these Russians are blocking those Russians from communciating with the outside world. Or maybe they think that non-Russians read the ZheZhe blogosphere and are just waiting to help Russians out by banning Estonians, for instance, in the EU countries. That’s possible, of course, since state-controlled media doesn’t tell Russians what kind of bashing they are getting in Samara from the EU states.

Once again, Russia shoots itself in the head in order to punish its “enemies.”

And so it goes in Russia.