The authorities have also sought to muzzle foreign media outlets, including the programming of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the BBC and Voice of America. The Kremlin has undertaken a systematic intimidation campaign in which RFE/RL’s Russian partners have been subjected to harassment. In a span of eight years, a total of 26 RFE/RL affiliates have been knocked off the air. Today, only seven remain.
While the slide is unambiguous in our findings, one of the distinct features of Russia’s modern authoritarian model is that, unlike the Soviet model, it does not attempt to control every medial outlet. Instead, the authorities have adapted their approach and now seek to prevent or disrupt only what its politically consequential, either through direct control or indirect interference. Where the state does not have direct control, proxies like government-controlled Gazprom Media — which owns television networks, radio stations and newspapers — perform a similar function, with the possible exception of Ekho Moskvy radio.
By using and abusing the law, the authorities have despoiled the environment for independent media. Today, independent reporting on sensitive issues occurs as an exception to the rule. When it does occur, it often comes at a great cost. The courageous journalists at Novaya Gazeta can attest to this harsh reality.