Any claims by the Putin regime that Russia tolerates objective criticism and analysis of its policies and actions were dashed this week with the announcement on Tuesday by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that 29 UK journalists, presenters and columnists are no longer welcome. The list is headed by the Guardian’s Shaun Walker and features many well-known faces such as the BBC’s Orla Guerin and Clive Myrie, Channel 4’s Alexander Thomson and Sophy Ridge from Sky News.
Also now persona non grata are the BBC’s Director General Tim Davie and the acclaimed author and academic Professor Mark Galeotti, the author of some 17 books about Soviet and Russian politics, the military and the seamy side of Russian society today. Moscow has accused those on the list of “the deliberate dissemination of false and one-sided information about Russia and events in Ukraine and Donbas” and of “fuelling Russophobia in British society”.
A heavy price tag for outspoken journalists
Those listed will see their ban as an accolade for courageous and objective reporting of Putin’s brutal aggression, and it is a far cry from the tragic fates of some 58 of their colleagues whom the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists currently lists as having lost their lives in the course of their work in Russia between 1992 and 2022. Many were murdered for investigating or revealing truths uncomfortable to the regime. Among these were Putin critic and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, shot in her Moscow apartment-block lift in 2006, and Dmitry Popkov, Chief Editor of the Siberian independent local newspaper Ton-M.
Popkov’s publication had a reputation for its investigative reports about the abuse of power and corruption, especially on the part of officials of the ruling United Russia Party. He was found dead with five bullet wounds in a backcourt near his flat in Minusinsk in 2017. Telling the truth about current affairs in Russia often comes with a heavy price tag.
The news in Russia: fictitious reports of Ukrainian ‘gratitude’
While we in the West read daily accounts of Russian atrocities against unarmed civilians, the rape of women and children, looting and wanton destruction of property and cultural heritage by Russian soldiers, all backed up by photographs, film and personal accounts, the Russian people are treated to a thoroughly sanitised version of the truth embellished with fictitious accounts of the gratitude of Ukrainian refugees as they ‘flee the Nazis destroying their homes and purloining their grain.’
On the day of Moscow’s journalist ban, the 111th of the so-called ‘special operation to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine’, gazeta.ru was reporting that Marat Khusnulin, a deputy PM of the Russian Federation with responsibilities for construction and regional development, had said, “the pace of reconstruction of the Donbass is being further increased with the sending of an additional 1,500 builders and 200 technicians”, while the Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (the upper house of the State Duma), Valentina Matvienko, was quoted from her Telegram channel as saying that “the people of the Donbass and surrounding regions keenly feel the support of our great Russia”.
News events distorted by Russian spin
In another post, it was stated that more than 100,000 citizens of Zaporozhe Region had already applied for Russian citizenship – as if they have much choice in the matter. If they agree to accept it, they just might be able to stay in their homes, rather than be whisked off to a filtration camp inside the Russian Federation, from which they might be transferred to the far north or east of the country, assuming, that is, that they emerge unharmed from the interrogation process.
True, the headlines included a mention of the Russian-instigated humanitarian corridor from the Azot Chemical Plant in Severodonetsk to the self-styled Lugansk People’s Republic, but no mention of why this was necessary in the first place. On the other hand, there was an insidious assertion that the Ukrainians had shelled a village in the Bryansk region, well inside Russian territory.
Ukraine’s war: a war on truth that we must not lose
The US senator, Hiram W Johnson, is reputed to have said: “The first casualty when war comes is truth”, and this has been much quoted in the international media throughout the months of Putin’s barbaric neo-imperialist adventure. But the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy also had something significant to say about truth in the concluding sentence of his Crimean War tale, ‘Sevastopol in May’, written in 1855 to expose the futility of war:
“The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the strength of my soul, whom I have tried to set forth in all his beauty, and who has always been, is, and always will be most beautiful, is — the truth.”
The banning of the 29 UK media journalists with a threat of more expulsions to come, if those remaining do not ‘mend their ways’, should serve as a timely reminder to all who love the truth that Ukraine’s war is our war, too, and one we must on no account lose. Ukraine, her allies, the observing world community and, not least, the misled and ill-used Russian people, all deserve to hear every detail of Putin’s criminal barbarism. Then there will be no temptation to water down sanctions or stop sending defensive weapons and every encouragement to send offensive ones too, just as Ukraine’s heroic president is begging we in the civilised world do before it is too late.