A note from RFE/RL Russian Service director Andrey Shary to audiences in Russia. [Please read the original Russia-language version here]
The Russian Tax Service has applied to a Moscow court of arbitration to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty LLC (i.e., the legal entity behind the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty). There is no doubt what the verdict in such a case will be. According to Russian authorities, the LLC already owes the state $13 million or $15 million – I’ve lost count. That debt is composed of 1040 (!) unpaid fines handed down for refusing to add a “foreign agent” tag to our journalistic content. They could hand down 10 times this amount – they’ve got Roskomnadzor for that. But we’re nobody’s agent. We believed, and continue to believe, that the demand to label our content is censorship, and an attempt to meddle with our editorial policy.
Our Moscow bureau, sadly, is turning into an empty legal formality. But Liberty itself isn’t going anywhere. The fact that the LLC is being liquidated at precisely this moment – not earlier, not later – shows that this is a purely political decision, taken because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We at Radio Liberty call this war a war, and not a “special operation in Donbas,” contrary to Defense Ministry orders. And we call it that for one simple reason: journalism requires accuracy and honesty in defining things, concepts, and phenomena.
Tax authorities were sent to do battle against us in order to reinforce Putin’s new law criminalizing the reporting of allegedly fake (but actually true) information “on the use of the armed forces” – the armed forces which authorities are now using to attack a neighboring country. This law has already slammed down on the few remaining vestiges of independent Russian journalism, as well as the Moscow bureaus and reporting cadres of many foreign agencies, newspapers, and TV channels. No one is willing to put the safety of their Russia-based employees at risk; we too are focused on how to protect our journalists. It’s been hellish for Liberty correspondents. For doing their jobs, they’ve been detained, dragged to the police, intimidated, slapped with administrative proceedings, designated as “foreign agents” – and now they may be put behind bars. The result is that we’ll have to start talking about the war from abroad, using sources of information from Russia, among other things. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop telling the truth.
I began working with Radio Liberty exactly 30 years ago. In the spring of 1992, we were actively preparing for the opening of our Moscow bureau, and experienced journalists and sages back in the corridors of RFE/RL’s Munich headquarters even worried that our editorial raison d’etre might be vanishing along with the Soviet threat. Their fears turned out to be unfounded. The Russian threat hasn’t gone anywhere; over the past two decades it’s been growing, bit by bit, and now it’s come for all of us, not only for journalists. The threat has come for everyone in Russia and beyond, in a frighteningly dreadful guise. Moreover, Putin’s onslaught threatens to steal the liberties and futures not only from those who see clearly what is happening, but also those whose eyes and minds have been blinded by Kremlin television.
Is everything that’s happening – the liquidation of Ekho Moskvy and TV Rain, the blocking of Meduza, the BBC, and Radio Liberty, the closure of a dozen other independent editorial offices, the shutdown of Facebook and Twitter – the defeat of freedom of speech and democracy in Russia? Without a doubt, it’s been a serious loss. But does it mean we’ve reached the end of the road? No way. Liberty – and Radio Liberty – go on. The Russian Service of RFE/RL has been working for nearly 70 years and has seen it all. You can believe that even under a new set of circumstances we will be here to tell you, rationally and truthfully, and how things really are in Russia and the world. We’ve always found a way “over the barriers.” Liberty gained considerable experience in the old days, and those lessons have not been forgotten. Whatever happens next – stay with us!
Andrey Shary is a Radio Liberty journalist and director of RFE/RL’s Russian Service