MOSCOW (AFP) – It survived for many years as one among Russia’s main impartial voices, however when radio station Echo of Moscow shut down final month, long-time editor Alexei Venediktov knew it was the top of an period.
“The country has been thrown back in every sense, for me it’s been set back 40 years,” mentioned Venediktov, who joined the station at its founding in 1990 and steered it by way of the 20 years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, till the Russian president despatched troops into Ukraine two months in the past.
“We are now somewhere around 1983… war is going on in Afghanistan, dissidents are in jail or kicked out of the country and Andropov is in the Kremlin,” he mentioned, referring to Soviet chief Yuri Andropov, who like Putin served within the KGB.
With his mop of curly gray hair, 66-year-old Venediktov has been a high determine of Russia’s media scene for years, main the flagship of liberal broadcasters.
Echo of Moscow first took to the airwaves in August 1990, within the last months of the Soviet Union, turning into a logo of Russia’s new-found media freedoms.
Venediktov, a former historical past instructor, joined the station as a reporter and have become editor-in-chief in 1998.
As strain mounted on Russian media during the last 20 years and lots of different impartial shops fell below state management, Echo of Moscow survived – a reality many chalked as much as Venediktov’s hyperlinks with highly effective officers, together with within the Kremlin.
He made no secret of getting mates in excessive locations, referring to them jokingly as his “drinking buddies”, and was one of many few journalists in Russia who continued to brazenly criticise Putin.
The Kremlin chief even intervened when zealous officers wished to close the station down, Venediktov advised AFP throughout an interview in a central Moscow restaurant.
“Putin said three times: ‘No, let them work.’”
But that modified when Russia launched the navy offensive in Ukraine on Feb 24 and Echo of Moscow described the marketing campaign as a “political mistake”.
Echo of Moscow was taken off the air on March 1, after which formally shut down by its board of administrators, the place nearly all of votes have been managed by state power big Gazprom.
The station’s frequencies in Moscow and a number of other different cities have been taken over by state-owned Sputnik Radio.
“I understand (Putin’s) logic: he could not keep us because propaganda during such operations must be total,” Venediktov mentioned.
Russia in March additionally launched jail phrases of as much as 15 years for publishing details about the military deemed false by the federal government and in late April Venediktov was designated a “foreign agent”.
Last month, he posted photos on-line of a pig’s head sporting a curly wig that was left exterior his residence and an anti-Semitic sticker glued to his door.
Many journalists have fled Russia fearing for his or her security, however Venediktov mentioned he has no plans to depart.
“People will trust me more if I experience the same difficulties, walk the same streets as them and face the same sanctions,” he mentioned.
Face-to-face with Putin
Venediktov now hosts friends on a YouTube channel that has racked up half 1,000,000 subscribers.
He needs to proceed talking in regards to the Ukraine battle, saying Russians have to know “why this happened” and “why you are hurting”.
Venediktov mentioned he had met Putin a number of instances over time, however “we never spoke the same language”, with the Russian chief believing “the media is an instrument” of the state.
“I told him face-to-face that the main problem in the country was the absence of any form of competition: political, ideological and economic absolutism,” Venediktov mentioned.
Despite their variations, he mentioned Putin had twice requested the previous instructor what place he would occupy in historical past books – as soon as in 2008 on the finish of his first two presidential phrases, and once more in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
Even with the dramatic occasions of the previous couple of weeks, Venediktov mentioned he’s not certain.
“We are still in the middle of the chapter and we can’t turn the page yet.”