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Russia Continues Cutting Off Media, Education And Human Rights NGOs – OpEd

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Russia has ultimately collapsed foreign academic, human rights and media operations in the Russian Federation. It has crippled and ridiculed their work with civil society. Long before the start of the “special military operations” aimed at what is officially described as “demilitarization” and “denazification” in the post-Soviet republic, Russian authorities have been on the neck of these organizations, consistently accusing them of being biased and anti-Russian. 

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The battle against biased reporting (including issues relating to misinformation and disinformation and propaganda) has resulted on the shutdown of foreign media organizations, accreditation of foreign correspondents revoked over the past years. Social media including Meta platforms, Facebook and Instagram have come under scrutiny and designated as extremist organizations. It is still getting worse as the United States, European Union and Russia constantly lock horns about reporting ethics and information war. 

As already known, Russian authorities have unleashed an unprecedented, nationwide crackdown on independent journalism and dissenting voices following Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media regulator, blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, and so also the most popular critical media outlets, closing independent radio stations and forcing dozens of journalists to halt their work or leave the country, the authorities have almost completely deprived people in Russia of access to objective, unbiased and trustworthy information. 

“For two decades, the Russian authorities have waged a covert war against dissenting voices by arresting journalists, cracking down on independent newsrooms and forcing media owners to impose self-censorship. Yet, after Russian tanks entered Ukraine, the authorities switched to a scorched-earth strategy that has turned Russia’s media landscape into a wasteland,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. 

On 28 February, Roskomnadzor blocked Nastoyashchee Vremya (Current Times), a subsidiary of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for spreading “unreliable” information about the invasion. On 1 March, almost all Ukrainian news outlets were inaccessible to internet users in Russia. 

That was followed by the Kremlin ruthlessly censored a swathe of independent media, including broadcaster TV Rain, the Echo of Moscow radio station, Latvia-based Meduza, critical Russian news outlets Mediazona, Republic and Sobesednik, grassroots activism portal Activatica and the Russian-language services of the BBC, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle.

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The blocking of news sites and the threat of criminal prosecutions has also led to an exodus of journalists from Russia. According to Agentstvo, an investigative journalism site now inaccessible in Russia, at least 150 journalists have fled the country since the beginning of the war.

TV Rain chose to suspend broadcasting amidst fears of reprisals. Znak.com, a significant regional news channel, halted its operations citing censorship fears. The Echo of Moscow radio station was taken off the air; shortly after, its state-aligned owners decided to liquidate the company. Even Novaya Gazeta, a beacon of independent journalism led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, announced on 4 March that it would remove articles on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has closed the British Council, the American Educational Council with its Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) programme, and Alliance Française and Geothe Institute. These are the largest cultural networks of Britain, the United States, France and Germany. While Russia struggles with it non-profit NGO Russkiy Mir primarily tasked to popularize Russian language, literature and Russian culture around the world, it found it necessary to halt non-political and non-profit educational branches of western ones that operated under their diplomatic missions in the Russian Federation. 

The FLEX programme, created as the best way to ensure long-lasting peace and mutual understanding between the U.S. and the countries of Eurasia, enables young people, over 35,000 students who compete annually, to learn about the United States, and to teach Americans about their countries, mostly from the former Soviet republics. 

These educational and cultural centers have practically helped thousands of Russian students, with government-sponsored grants, to acquire comparative knowledge in various academic fields abroad. While some, after the training programmes, still remain abroad, others returned to contribute their quota in sustainable development in Russia. 

Early March 2022 perception survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, the results of an opinion poll, the majority of Russians reported that they feel negatively about the United States (71%). On the other hand, Russians are generally obsessed by American and European dreams, wealthy Russians have bought the most expensive mansions along the coast of Miami et cetera, placed their thousands of kids in western educational institutions. 

In addition, Russian academics throughout the year run forth and back under the umbrella of conducting research. Alexey Khokhlov, the vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Telegram channel early April that the decision made by the world’s largest publishers of science magazines to suspend access for Russian organizations would make 97% of scientific information unavailable to Russian researchers. 

Khokhlov said that legal access to the full-text collections of articles published by Elsevier, Springer/Nature, IOP Publishers and others, and in addition, the Web of Science and Scopus reference data bases in Russia’s territory would soon be terminated. 

“The publishers who signed this statement believe that in this way they punish not scientists but research organizations. This sounds very strange, because the above-mentioned services are used by scientists and not administrators. This statement is a serious challenge because Russia accounts for a tiny 2.5% of the world’s science products. This means that 97.5% of information is blocked,” Khokhlov said. 

Russia is experiencing a massive outflow of scientists from the country amid the foreign sanctions, which can only be stopped only by adopting a system of special measures, including an increase in financing, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) President Alexander Sergeyev suggested, speaking at the media conference late March. 

“In general, what can be done here is to provide better conditions for the development of science than exist abroad. Then, the scientists won’t leave. What else can you do? Certainly, there’s a need for a system of measures for our researchers and to stop this outflow. It’s hard to estimate the scope of the losses, but I think they are high. It’s necessary to offer benefits and increase the financing so that, apart from prestige, there should also be a proper material basis for it,” he said. 

The RAS has a major package of proposals submitted to the government as to how to organize the work of institutes and offer them more freedom. It is difficult to compete for science with the whole world. It is necessary to unshackle initiative and the creativity of scientists and give them a chance to work conveniently in the country, according to Sergeyev. 

On April 8, the Russian Ministry of Justice delisted Amnesty International’s Moscow Office from the register of the representative offices of the international organizations and foreign NGOs, effectively closing it down alongside with offices of Human Rights Watch, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Friedrich Ebert Foundation and other organizations. This decision was taken “in connection with the discovered violations of the Russian legislation.” 

Reacting to the news, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “The authorities are deeply mistaken if they believe that by closing down our office in Moscow they will stop our work documenting and exposing human rights violations. We continue undeterred to work to ensure that people in Russia are able to enjoy their human rights without discrimination. We will redouble our efforts to expose Russia’s egregious human rights violations both at home and abroad.” 

Callamard added: “We will never stop fighting for the release of prisoners of conscience unjustly detained for standing up for human rights. We will continue to defend independent journalism’s ability to report facts, free of the Russian government’s intervention. We will continue to work relentlessly to ensure that all those who are responsible for committing grave human rights violations, whether in Russia, Ukraine or Syria, face justice. Put simply, we will never give up.” 

Since February 24, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Rights Without Borders and many independent Research Organizations and Think Tanks have monitored and documented step-by-step developments, chronicled the global effects of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Monographs and books have already published around the world. For instance, Amnesty International has released well-written reports that Russian military forces have extra-judicially executed civilians in Ukraine in apparent war crimes published in new testimony following on-the-ground research. 

“In recent weeks, we have gathered evidence that Russian forces have committed extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, which must be investigated as likely war crimes. Testimonies shows that unarmed civilians in Ukraine are being killed in their homes and streets in acts of unspeakable cruelty and shocking brutality. The intentional killing of civilians is a human rights violation and a war crime. These deaths must be thoroughly investigated, and those responsible must be prosecuted, including up the chain of command,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International. 

To date, Amnesty International has obtained evidence that civilians were killed in  indiscriminate attacks in Kharkiv and Sumy Oblast, documented an airstrike that killed civilians queueing for food in Chernihiv, and gathered evidence from civilians living under siege in Kharkiv, Izium and Mariupol. Russian military’s siege warfare tactics in Ukraine, marked by relentless indiscriminate attacks on densely-populated areas, are unlawfully killing civilians in several cities. 

The Kremlin’s ruthless crackdown stifles independent journalism, anti-war movements, human rights and other non-profit organizations. The Justice Ministry has created a unified register of individuals designated as foreign agents, and for NGOs. It chooses to persecute all kinds of foreign NGOs, considered as “undesirable” and providing any kind of financial support for civil society organizations and activists. 

Earlier for instance, NGOs such as the Future of Russia Foundation (UK), European Choice (France), Khodorkovsky Foundation (UK), and Oxford Russia Fund (UK), the Civic Assistance Committee and the Memorial Human Rights Center’s Migration Rights Network, the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation (FBK and FZPG, and many others were listed as foreign-agent NGOs in the Russian Federation. 

As matter of facts, contemporary political history shows the level of degradation of the civil society in Russia. These have practically raised much public concern especially for academics, experts and the civil society. 

The U.S. based Freedom House says that “democracy is under assault” and that the effects are evident not just in authoritarian states like Russia and China, but also in countries with a long track record of upholding basic rights and freedoms around the world. According to the report by the Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2020, assesses the political rights and civil liberties of 210 countries and territories worldwide. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a special military operation, after both the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) approved the implementation of the presidential decision that has since sparked debates, analysis and criticisms throughout the world. It has resultantly pushed the United States and Canada, European Union members, Australia, New Zealand and many other external countries to impose stringent sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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