I’m very concerned for the staff at the BBC in Moscow, who have experienced a spate of individual violent attacks outside of work in recent weeks. First native Russian reporter Davlat Qudrat was assaulted on the Moscow metro after work, and subjected to racial abuses. The very next day Mikhail Denisov was attacked in his home and robbed by two men. Later Yevgeny Demchenko was jumped while walking home from work, receiving a head injury which required stitches.
The news organization has registered its alarm, and has requested the Russian Foreign Ministry to investigate the attacks. I suspect that the Kremlin will respond to this violence with diplomatic rhetoric (they still haven’t said a word), yet I really doubt that anyone believes they will treat the matter with any urgency or sincerity. The open hostility by the Russian state toward the United Kingdom predates the Litvinenko affair and Lugovoi extradition requests, and is better explained by the Kremlin’s determination to “reassert” its influence as a global power (which obviously can only be defined through confrontation with the West). Last August, the BBC World Service was pulled off the air on the FM signal, after the radio host mysteriously declared the output to be “foreign propaganda.” Among the more absurd attacks against British entities was the attempt to evict the harmless young English teachers of the British Council from their offices over worries that they enjoyed unfair diplomatic immunity.As Luke Harding commented in his article on the beatings, these attacks appear to be “the latest episode in a semi-official campaign of harassment and intimidation in Russia against British targets,” which has been most recently capped off with a renewed campaign of harassment by the Nashi of the British Ambassador.That’s precisely the problem with the extreme nationalism and the politics of hate that the Putin administration has indoctrinated in these sponsored youth corps – it can quickly snowball out of control and result in violence or worse. Can you imagine the reporters of RIA Novosti beaten in the streets of London, lavishly sponsored rallies by a government youth group in front of the Russian Embassy (calling the Ambassador a “loser” on giant placards), and various attacks on cultural institutions like Pushkin House? It’s entirely implausible. Why is Putin allowed to get away with this with no credibility lost?