Meduza is a Latvia-based news website that was started up by journalists who had departed Lenta.ru after a change in management. While it has produced some genuine investigative work, its geopolitical orientations are decidedly anti-Russian and pro-Western, e.g. focusing on the travails of a few cherry-picked Russian businessmen in the Crimea, while neglecting to mention the bigger picture of a region with Russia’s highest growth rates since 2014. They also love to do the Russian equivalent of voxsplaining, promoting the latest American socio-cultural fads to barbaric conservative Russians. They wrote an SJW-style guide on how not to be a sexist in Russia in 2015 and on how to react to a boss’ romantic advances in 2017. Some of their more woke journalists have also tried to kick up a US-style #MeToo campaign against Russian parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky due to allegations of harassment. Unfortunately, they proved unable to live up to their own sanctimonious rhetoric, when in November 2018 their Editor in Chief Ivan Kolpakov was accused of groping a married female colleague at a party while bragging that “nothing will happen to me.” He was pretty much right. The victimized employee left the company, while Kolpakov got off with a mere 2 week suspension from his job.
Despite its ostensible commitment to transparency in Russia, Meduza has been rather less forthcoming about the sources of its own financing. As early as its founding in 2014, its head Galina Timchenko said she won’t be naming the names of any of its investors, though we do know that from the outset it got $250,000 from convicted fraudster and offshore billionaire Khodorkovsky. In 2018, RT Russian mounted an investigation into Meduza on the basis of financial reports from its Latvian parent company. For whatever reason, it was never translated into English. However, the basics are simple enough. Meduza was, at least up until that time, a loss-making enterprise, and received grants from at least two major foreign organizations.
The first of these organizations was the OAK Foundation, which has also funded Soros’ Open Society Foundation (banned in Russia since 2015 as a national security threat), the Sakharov Foundation ($1.6 million from 2010-14), and Memorial (almost $2 million). It has also provided support for a Pussy Riot media project, $0.9 million in funding for Russian LGBT activists, and help with “legal support for victims of Russian anti-immigration policy.” The second major foreign source of grants was SIDA, a Swedish state organization financed by Swedish taxpayers that’s tasked with “promoting political and economic development in poor countries, as well as democracy promotion.” Unsurprisingly, they are also intimately linked with Soros. Meduza also got at least €340,000 from “other creditors” whose identities are left unspecified.
There were discussions about requiring Meduza to register as a foreign agent in the wake of these revelations, as RT was forced to do in the US, but for they ended up going nowhere.
This brings us to one strange fruit in particular – Kevin Rothrock, Managing Editor of Meduza’s English-language division since January 2015. He tracks Russia obsessively, posting about it virtually 24 hours a day, but lives in Connecticut and hasn’t visited Russia in seven years until recently (where he is now busy visiting famous tourist attractions such as fringe pro-Western protests and the Boris Nemtsov shrine).
This lack of Russia experience outside the pro-Western Internet tusovka results in frequent factual errors. In one such episode, he uncritically RT’ed a thread from someone claiming to be an Aeroflot flight attendant claiming that the Superjet is only allowed to fly within Russia (this is incorrect; I flew to Romania on a Superjet in 2018). In another episode, he snidely commented that a photo (see right) showing a series of Audi cars outside the Sochi Economy Forum “suggests that Russia’s important substitution campaign and anti-poverty efforts still have a way to go” (in reality, as RT’s Bryan MacDonald points out, that is not Sochi; those are Moscow number plates; Genesis, not Audi, was the car supplier for that event).
Specializing in supporting and amplifying the pro-Western opposition, Rothrock doesn’t even bother to conceal his partisan sympathies like the more conscientious Moscow hacks. Unfortunately, his habit of deleting all his old Tweets makes it difficult to locate many of his best “powerful takes.” Nonetheless, here is a representative enough sample:
- Pathological hatred of RT, so much so that he celebrated and called Ed Schultz, one of its high profile employees, a traitor on the day he died. The Tweet doesn’t survive, but the reactions are telling.
- What specifically did Rothrock chose to highlight about the Butina show trial? Not the absurdity of the accusations, not the legal irregularities, not the sexist insinuations that she was a prostitute made by the prosecution… but her problems with her lawyers’ fees.
- Recently suggested that a female Russian journalist should “eat shit and die.”
- Describing RIA Novosti’s and political prisoner Kirill Vyshinsky as a “state journalist” on his release from a Ukrainian jail (presumably, wouldn’t use the same language for an RFERL reporter) and commenting, “The boss sends his regards” on a photo of Vyshinsky being welcomed home by head of Rossiya Segodnya Dmitry Kiselyov.
This last is especially ironic in light of Rothrock’s own possible ties to US intelligence, evidence of which he has assiduously tried to scrub from the Internet.
In July 2017, a US State Department intelligence official called Robert P. Otto had his emails hacked and uploaded online (you can download the 3-part password protected cache ~1.5GB cache here or here). Commenting on the hack, Foreign Policy described Otto as “probably the top intelligence guy in the entire U.S. government on Russia [who] knows more than anybody about what’s going on there.” Otto’s interest in Russia appears to have revolved around “social media accounts of Russian officials, staff re-shuffling in governmental bodies, and the influence of some state officials.” And guess which friend of ours “starred” in one of those emails?
As we saw above, Kevin Rothrock is happy to slag off people like Kirill Vyshinsky as a “state journalist”, but how exactly does that square with offering “tireless assistance” to US intelligence honchos?
Now just imagine the sort of ruckus that would have been kicked up by the free and independent Western media if it was discovered that a journalist at RT or Sputnik, or even someone like Stephen Cohen or Max Blumenthal, were praised as a “gem” and offered checks by SVR or FSB chiefs. Would this not be a direct example of the “collusion” narrative that Russia Truthers in the US have spun up against journalists and politicians who advocated for a normal relationship with Russia?
Rothrock has successfully used the Twitter complaints system to suppress this conversation, with independent analyst Mark Sleboda having been forced to delete most of his Tweets about it.
So is Rothrock on the payroll of one of the ABC agencies? According to his LinkedIn, he has a professional background in the American Enterprise Institute, where he mentored under the head of its Russia program, Leon Aron. Aron is an immigrant from the Soviet Union and a hardliner on Putin’s Russia, who has demanded the return of Crimea to the Ukraine as well as “the end of the Assad regime and a true Russian withdrawal from Syria, specifically ceding control of the Hmeymim airbase and dismantling recent expansions to the Tartus naval facility.” The AEI is strongly associated with neoconservatism, and one of its founding fathers, Irving Kristol, who is known to have worked for a CIA-funded anti-communism group, was once a senior fellow. Rothrock is now a one-note mouthpiece for American neocon interests and has also gone to some effort to ingratiate himself with the Moscow hack pack. And then there’s of course the “you are a gem” from Robert P. Otto in 2017. Was it a one-off? Or has the relationship “deepened” since then? Who knows.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that less than a decade ago, Rothrock’s views were almost the opposite of what they are today. In a 2010 interview at this blog, he described the Russian liberal opposition as a “bunch of spoiled brats” and “band of egotistical creeps” who are “hopelessly out of touch with the needs of ordinary Russians.” One can again only speculate as to what triggered the conversion.
Either way, there’s probably no particular need for Russians to be unduly concerned, since it seems that many of America’s spooks are drinking their own Kool Aid. Here is perhaps the most amusing observation on the Otto leaks: “A Russian scholar “Valery Solovei” is sending Robert Otto a monthly report on Russia. Also, Otto and his buddies HATE John Kerry and continually refer to him as an idiot!” In the real world, Valery Solovei is best known for having predicted all ten of Putinism’s past zero collapses (latest date of the Rapture: 2021), but apparently his monthly reports may be held in esteem by someone who is supposedly USG’s top Russia expert. Compared to that, even an asset like Rothrock would be an improvement.