Apostrophes around “opposition” because even something like the Communist Party is far more deserving of the label than the gaggle of discredited 1990s-throwbacks who constitute the Western-approved challengers to Putin’s rule in RPR-PARNAS.
But I digress.
Anyhow, latest news: Mikhail Kasyonov (known as Misha 2 Percent for the percentage he took as kickbacks on government contracts when he was Prime Minister in the early 2000s) and his sidekick Vladimir Kara-Murza (essentially a political blogger funded by Khodorkovsky) traveled to the US to lobby Congress putting Russian journalists – that is, “propagandists” – on a no entry list. Their crimes? They did not speak well of Boris Nemtsov, the famous but politically impotent anti-Putin politician who was brazenly assassinated a month ago in the center of Moscow. Apparently that makes them “complicit.”
In a time when Russia is in a geopolitical standoff with the West, in a time when pro-Russian journalists are getting killed with impunity under the Western-backed “democratic” Ukrainian regime, in a time when the Western media itself is fighting a full-fledged propaganda war against Russia (coverage of Nemtsov’s murder exceeded all of the recent pro-Russian journalist and politician murders in Ukraine by more than a hundredfold) and is purging all those who don’t its line exactly, the leaders of Russia’s premier pro-Western liberal opposition party believe their most pressing political task is to slightly inconvenience journalists they disagree with by handing over denunciations of them to the Washington Obkom.
And then they will with clockwork predictably whine and rage about falsifications when elections next come rolling by and they get their typical, well, 2 Percent.
I would hazard that in the short-term, nothing will come out of this. Their lobbying influence is limited, Congress doesn’t work fast, and in any case, there might even be something of an aversion to sanctioning journalists amongst some US politicians because of how culturally central the First Amendment is. But in the longer term, and perhaps even more so the EU and non-US Anglo countries, things might start becoming bureaucratically… difficult for Russian journalists and pundits who prefer to shill for Eurasia instead of the Atlantic. Arguably, the Rubicon was already crossed more than a year ago when Dmitry Kiselyov, the controversial head of the Rossiya Segodnya media holding that runs Sputnik News amongst other projects, was banned from entering the EU. In the UK, there are several ongoing Ofcom investigations against RT for alleged bias in its Ukraine coverage. The day may dawn when, like Press TV, it is forced off the air.
Tit-for-tat retaliation is pointless. While they might harp on and gloat about it, the Russian “liberals” are right on one thing: Influential Western opinionmakers don’t exactly keep bank accounts in Moscow-City, or go skiing in Sochi. But there are asymmetrical responses. China, and I believe Israel, have both figured this out. Foreign journalists are free to report in their countries, but as soon as their coverage veers too far in an unfriendly direction, their welcome becomes overstayed and visa problems appear. They are expelled and effectively barred in short order. This results in a sort of “natural selection” of more positive media coverage as the most egregious Sinophobes are sent packing, while the rest are incentivized to exercise greater caution and editorial restraint.
Russia doesn’t do this, with the result that even before the Ukrainian conflict, all that rhetoric about Putin’s dictatorship actually resulted in Americans and Europeans being on average less favorably disposed to it than they were to China – even though it goes without saying that China is far more authoritarian. Sure, this kind of control/harassment of Western journalists that China practices isn’t exactly “fair.” But then again, neither is barring entry to Russian journalists on account of their opinions, or subjecting Russian media organizations to selective regulatory hurdles. If things become worse rather than better in the months and years ahead – as I suspect they will – and screws in the West tighten, then Russia will have to think hard about securing its own information space.
And if in consequence the results are bad for some Western journalists in Russia, presumably the most egregiously Russophobic ones, then that is just… too bad? After all, by the logic of their own friends in the Russian liberal opposition, they themselves are critical “accomplices” to this sad state of affairs, and as such, should lie in the bed of their own making.