Investigative journalists in Russia are no strangers to Kremlin coercion. However, Andrei Soldatov has experienced an alarming rise in his situation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian investigative Reporter became the target of Kremlin
Journalist Soldatov, who founded the investigative website Agentura.ru, claimed that at the beginning of June, his Russian bank started sending him texts demanding that he pay astronomical charges.
Soldatov assumed it was a phishing attack because there was no other explanation and it was a common risk in his area of business.
He claimed that after that, a different bank contacted him to inform him that his assets had been frozen.
This bank gave the case number for Soldatov’s criminal prosecution.
Despite Soldatov’s claim that he was not informed, the case had started on March 17. It charged the journalist, 46, with felony dissemination of “false news” concerning the Russian Army.
“I was unclear as to which law enforcement agency had initiated the criminal investigation against me.
I did not receive any official government alerts. There are none. no calls No email.
In a phone call from London, where he has lived since 2020, Soldatov told me that he had only received these text messages from his bank.
He told me that the government had fined him $80,000 for each of his bank accounts. The last of Soldatov’s money were seized in Russia.
His outdated, uninteresting 1999 Opel Astra was also stolen.
The journalist quickly learned that he had been placed on both Russia’s internal and international wanted lists, which meant that he would be detained upon his return.
Soldatov’s attorneys warned him that if he visits a nation sympathetic to Russia, like Turkey or Hungary, he might be arrested.
He worries about the burden the accusations against him may put on his relatives who are still living in Russia, particularly his father, a Russian internet pioneer who has been embroiled in a legal dispute with the Kremlin since 2019.
Soldatov remarked, “My situation and his case… that means I have to care about his security more.”
However, when Soldatov dug more into his case, he began to believe that it revealed something crucial: that his reporting on the flawed intelligence that had sparked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had struck a chord.
Soldatov has urged his attorneys to proceed with the case even though he does not believe he would receive a fair trial.
He declared, “It’s not only about battling. It’s about learning additional details about the case, she said.
Like many Russian journalists, Soldatov saw the invasion of Ukraine as the beginning of a new phase in their lives.
It has never been simple to report in post-Soviet Russia.
It had gradually become worse ever since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.
In conjunction with their reporting, a number of Soldatov’s former coworkers at the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, including Anna Politkovskaya, had been killed.
But in spite of the hostile atmosphere, Russian journalists dug deep and found stories of wrongdoing that would make Western journalists shudder.
Even as the pressure mounted in recent years, fresh media outfits like Insider and Proekt broke stories about Putin’s personal life and national security.
Even if it was difficult to move the needle, journalism did so in Russia.
The most well-known opposition figure in the nation, Alexei Navalny, used investigative journalism to uncover strong proof of massive wrongdoing.
Dmitry Muratov, the Novoya Gazeta’s first editor, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 as compensation for his decades of toil.
By writing extensively about Russian intelligence agencies, developing their own website called Agentura.ru, and finally releasing four books on the subject, Soldatov and his partner Irina Borogan contributed to the growth of the troubled sector.
They became resources for both those looking in from outside Russia and those trying to understand their own nation.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, Soldatov and Borogan relocated to London as a result of warnings from Russian sources.
However, many more Russian journalists immediately followed them after the invasion on February 24.
A little more than a week later, the Kremlin enacted a stringent new media rule that made it illegal to spread “deliberately false” material about the military.
Along with Russian journalists who could, foreign journalists also left the nation.
Independent media outlets remained inactive or practiced self-censorship.
Both the long-running centrist radio station Echo of Moscow and the distinctively critical television station TV Rain ceased operations.
Even Novaya Gazeta ceased publication, and Muratov auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize medal to raise $103.5 million for Ukrainian child refugees.
At least eight journalists have died in Ukraine while carrying out their jobs. According to Reporters Without Borders, there is proof that Russian forces assassinated and tortured a Ukrainian photojournalist in March.
Soldatov took some time to figure out why he was the target
Officially, the accusation stemmed from remarks he made on March 11 during a live stream on the Navalny allies’ YouTube channel Popular Politics, during which Soldatov questioned the readiness of the Russian National Guard in Ukraine.
However, Soldatov asserted that he has confirmed the accusations are connected to his and Borogan’s reporting on the conduct of infighting in Russia’s FSB, a replacement for the KGB intelligence organization that is under the Kremlin.
Although the FSB is a domestic intelligence agency, Soldatov and Borogan said that Putin had charged one of its divisions, the Fifth Service, with maintaining Russian influence over former Soviet states.
According to Soldatov, the Fifth Service provided information about Ukraine in the run-up to the conflict that convinced Putin that an invasion of that country would be an easy victory.
The two described a purging in FSB levels, with one Fifth Service leader being sent to an infamous prison, after that proof was shown to be false.
According to Soldatov, court documents showed that the FSB’s internal security division had launched the investigation into him, and a member of this division had also signed the initial report against him.
He remarked, “It appears that they were really displeased that we meddled in their [internal] case.”
According to Soldatov, the complaints against the national guard were an after-the-fact cover tale.
They understood that they couldn’t use this tale to bring a case against me because they would then have to discuss the issues with the FSB, he said.
The allegations of FSB purges have been refuted by the Kremlin.
Being a target of the FSB is undoubtedly a worrisome proposition.
Despite having all of his gadgets examined by cybersecurity professionals, according to Soldatov, he is still concerned about the safety of his sources who are still in Russia.
Another aspect is physical security. Of course, I should consider my security precautions more. Now, that’s clearly an issue, he remarked.
Additionally, Soldatov is concerned about his ability to travel because he has not yet been able to determine whether Russia has issued a “red notice” for him through Interpol, a strategy now frequently employed by authoritarian nations to harass dissidents overseas.
It’s unclear how many other Russian journalists share Soldatov’s predicament
One of them, Ivan Safronov, was on trial for treason. Ruslan Leviev and Michael Nacke, two additional journalists, are being charged with “false news” while they are not present.
The serial numbers on Soldatov’s court paperwork appear to indicate hundreds of open cases, the author remarked.
Soldatov said he had no way of knowing if Borogan faces more accusations, despite the fact that it appears she dodged prosecution—possibly because she did not appear in the March 11 Popular Politics video.
The first time Soldatov was questioned by the FSB was in 2002 after he reported on the ineffective handling of a hostage situation at a Moscow theater that resulted in at least 170 deaths, he said during our chat.
He now questions whether he can return to Russia till the political climate changes.
He admitted, “I’ve been writing about these guys for twenty years. It has never improved; it has only ever altered for the worse.