Reading on Russia Roundup #8

Hello, lovely readers! We resume Reading on Russia Roundups this week with articles on EU-Russian relations, anti-Russian propaganda, ‘independent’ Russian media, and the Ukraine crisis.

At last, we have the event recap from the recent panel at the NYU Jordan Center on the Ukraine crisis, ‘Beyond Political Games’.

As some of you may know, the Russian media company RBK underwent editorial reshuffling last week. Russia Direct’s liberal takes on the situation suggest that RBK may have been a victim of Russia’s ‘siege mentality’, had an editorial policy too independent for the government’s liking, or was shaken up to curb the political ambitions of its owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

I recently discovered a new site, PolitRussia.com, while messing around on Twitter. I honestly don’t know what to make of this site, but I did find an interesting article that interprets the recent recognition of Crimea as Russian by the regional council of Veneto in Italy and the French parliament mulling the repeal of sanctions as a clear turnaround in policy – the boomerang effect of anti-Russian propaganda. What do you think?

This Tuesday in Brussels, the Valdai Discussion Club and the European Policy Centre held a discussion titled “Russia and the EU: what options for a retuning of relations?” This event was the Valdai Club’s third in a series of EU-Russia dialogues. The summary is here. Basically, Russia’s not going to adapt to European norms and rules of behavior, so we must identify new principles of cooperation; Russia shouldn’t bypass Brussels to deal with individual EU member states; the EU won’t respond with sanctions to the EEU; the EU is seeking closer cooperation with Russia’s neighboring states, and Russia should just accept it; relations between Russia and the EU are at a stalemate and no one knows what to do next. Somewhat related speech by Andrey Bystritskiy here.

And lastly, as the West is sucked deeper into the Syrian conflict and starts a new Cold War with Russia, the mainstream news media has collapsed as a vehicle for reliable information, creating a danger for the world, writes Robert Parry.

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13 comments

  1. About RBK. A couple Lots of things that our shy and conscientious democratic journalists (aka “durnalists”) can’t stomach to say out loud.

    “As a result of this influx of new talent, RBC became not only a stronghold of critical and well-informed journalists, but also a successful business operation that occupied a profitable media niche for liberal readers and viewers.”

    [Long, thunderous, “fall-from-your-chair” sort of laughter]

    Profitable?!

    “When the company came under Prokhorov’s control, RBC was a non-performing asset that required restructuring. With his financial backing, though, RBC became an economic turnaround story.”

    In what reality?!

    Okay, history time. I know, that shy and modest durnalists employed by Russia Direct (the most unbiased source of information about Russia, I’m *sure*) already knew all of that and just assumed that their readers were equally enLYTTENed, so there were no need to repeat any new info. Hey, these people don’t even post links to their ballsy claims of this or that, hoping that you will believe just their word!

    RBK stands for Rum, Brandy, Kilograms of snuff RosBusinessConsalting. It began just as that – a business consulting firm as the main enterprise for which the news site in 2001 was just a hobby. At that time their news gathering consisted a little bit less than entirely of just dumb copy-pasting from Interfax.

    A watershed time came for RBK came when in 2002 it decided to place its stock on IPO. Here to probably everyone’s surprise (in then RBK leadership) that no one is interested in some boring business consulting firm. Thus RBK transformed into an “economic TV channel” understood only to a number of gurus or financial cultists with nothing better to do than to watch it 24/7.

    At that time RBK, one of the lesser Russian TV channel, had 2000 employees. Now, some context – 2000 employees for a small TV channel, based solely in Moscow, with no international correspondents or local offices throughout Russia. Still shooting their 24/7 news/”analytic”/”investigation” programs in the same small, crappy claustrophobic studio. Good ol’ times of stealing the news from other agencies were still observant – while Interfax brought them to the court and forbid to steal news items without their approval, nowadays (meaning – yes, still up to this day) BK steals from Euronews, BBC, CNN and just about anyone foreign who won’t notice.

    In 2009, right on the heels of the world economic crises, RBK faced their first meeting with reality. By that time their coffers were stuffed with $13 millions. Their debt was $200 000 000. How can a “successful business channel” ™ achieve that in just less than a decade? Well, consider the number of “absolutely necessary” employees, who thought of themselves as “top-level journalists” and who demanded the salary according to their rank. Add to that channel provided housing, cars, insurance, etc. for their “valuable assets”, i.e. those “free and independent journos”. Add to that the same set of benefits only turned up to 11 for channel’s leadership, plus private yachts and planes from the channel budget. And then add to THAT a bumb-ass idea to play with your own stock and invest seemingly at random not only your own money, but also over 100500 millions of credit rubles.

    Enter Mikhail Prokhorov.

    “Some critics would claim that he is notorious in Russia for turning everything he touches into a failure.”

    So true! Skolkovo, “Ё-мобиль” and the fact, that he entered the KPSS in 1988. Also shows that Russian durnalists prefer supernatural explanations over reality.

    “However, at the same time, the company still had a large, nearly unbearable burden of debts from his predecessors.”

    Well, d’uh! Prokhorov bought RBK for c. $80 mils and agreed to the restructuring of the debt – while also agreeing to increase it o $240 mils. And he done this, I remind you, long-long time before he decided to show any “political ambitions”. Who knows what possessed him to buy RBK? Since its acquisition Prokhorov limited himself only to firing the bunch of idiots who ran the channel before and inviting the recently fired idiots. That’s it! He didn’t influence the channel all these time! Not once! They were free to continue their moronic brand “journalism”. Salaries for top-management and “super-stars” remained exorbitant, studio remained on the level on some provincial TV channel. Only instead of 2000 of good for nothing nobodies, now there were “just” 1000 of them – still crammed in the same old Moscow building. No one “repressed” during 2011-12 “white-ribbon” protests, despite their obvious pro-liberast pandering. Yay, freedoom of speech!

    “Journalists started writing about the holding as the last outpost of the free press, speculating whether all its employees should follow their leadership’s resignation.”

    Pfffft! What about Ekho Moskvi, Do\\\d’ and Novoya Gazeta, not to speak of lesser liberast panderers like BusinessFM, KommersantЪ (and his media empire) etc, etc?

    “Recently, the opposition radio station Echo of Moscow experienced some troubles as well.”

    “Troubles”? Define troubles, please. The bastards are still writing and posting top-tier Russophobic spiel.

    “The majority of media insiders believe that the RBC move was a political decision that is bound to affect the entire media industry. Nikolai Svanidze, a well-known Russian journalist and historian, argued that the abrupt staff change at one of the leading independent Russian media companies was a message to everyone in the industry. “It’s disturbing news for the other media; it means that they all should behave in a more cautious way and avoid touching certain delicate issues,” he told Russia Direct. “In my opinion, the main reason here is that some of the RBC stories enraged a very influential part of our ruling elites.””

    Proofs, sources, links? Something of substances? Nah – only Putinite slaves need that! We are Free Thinking Proponents of the Western Life – we Need No Proof! We Believe You! We Are All Individuals ™!

    “Is it all connected with the brave journalistic investigations of the media company? None can prove it directly, but this theory is, at least, partly true.”

    In Putin’s Russia if you are durnalist you don’t need to stick to filthy facts! If not Putin, than who?! You can safely blame anything on him.

    Letter “Q”: “Quality”.

    Should I remind about the founding document of RBK, according to which:

    they are to “avoid completely any political commentary on the current events”?

    “First of all, other oligarchs may begin to abandon the media and not use these outlets as part of their own political wars, either against the state or against each other.”

    [Another burst of long, thunderous, “fall-from-your-chair” laughter]

    Tell this to Khodorkovky. Or Rupert Murdoch. Or…

    “Thirdly, a group of professional journalists is now available on the market – they have a portfolio of previous successes, they have a smaller appetite for risk after the recent scandal with RBC and they are famous because of the entire situation.”

    Bingo. Here lies the answer.

    Despite the typical ballsy banter from RBK colleagues (who know about finance even less than RBK shills), the channel was doing crappy. Like – really-really crappy.

    Not once did this “shining beacon of truth” that was supposedly so popular and (somehow!) profitable ever was popular enough to enter even top-20 of Russian TV channel. Which means – he is even less popular than some really annoying and low-budget Kids channels. And this directly translated into really, really sad financial situation for the channel.

    As seen here, just long-term debt of RBK nowadays remains 17 billions of rubles. That’s more than $262 millions of dollars. Yes, more than the amount of the debt which RBK “earned” by the moment of its purchase by Prokhorov. In 2014-15 the net loss of RBK totaled to 1.5-2 billions of rubles:

    For the shy and conscientious journos working in RBK this is… good! Because as this way they are NOT PAYING INCOME TAXES. While Prokhorov (remind me once again, how this idiot become the oligarch?) invested in this “profitable” asset $300 in total. Including $140 mils not so recently:

    right after the purchase. 6 years since RBK managed to repay back to its boss and chief funder only $16 mils. Now, I ask you – what should a businessman in any “normal”, western society do with such all-sucking money pit, especially if he and his country is weathering a financial crisis? Sell off this cursed place! Besides – they are once again facing a bankruptcy:

    Sensing that their luxurious life under Prokhorov’s “laissez faire” approach is coming to an end, lots of RBK “professionals” began desperately building up portfolios for themselves for the future employment in other “handshakable” media. Status of “victims of repressions” is good, but having several “bold journalistic investigations” is even better – no matter how much truth is beyond them. Everybody knows – Putin is baddie. Russia is aggressor. Gib monies, please!

    Conclusion.

    Next time you hear or read about another “free Russian media trampled by Kremlin”, keep in mind that the “innocent victim” would be a supporter of 2% popular “opposition” with 0.002% Media ration and over $200+ mils of debt incurred by the “effective managers”. Such channels simply can’t be popular and profitable in Russia, so to see another dawn they must rely an all sorts of external “grants” or “geshefts”, which in itself, if not announced official, puts them on a very thin ice judicially speaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for giving some background on this, Lyttenburgh. I’m very grateful to have the input of a real Russian who’d probably understand this situation and others far better than I ever could. If you don’t mind me asking, are you a scholar/historian? Your expertise in Russian philosophical/political movements past and present and the general lengthiness of your comments suggest you’re something of the sort.

      ‘“It’s disturbing news for the other media; it means that they all should behave in a more cautious way and avoid touching certain delicate issues,” he told Russia Direct. “In my opinion, the main reason here is that some of the RBC stories enraged a very influential part of our ruling elites.””

      Proofs, sources, links? Something of substances? Nah – only Putinite slaves need that! We are Free Thinking Proponents of the Western Life – we Need No Proof! We Believe You! We Are All Individuals ™!’
      I read elsewhere that the ‘RBC stories that enraged a very influential part of our ruling elites’ may have been on the Panama Papers and the alleged Putin daughter (Katerina Tikhonova or smth.) If I can find the links to the stories again, I’ll post them. Anyhow I’ll take the reports as I usually do – with a grain of salt (0.3mmX0.3mmX0.3mm is best*).

      *something of substance!

      Like

      • “If you don’t mind me asking, are you a scholar/historian? Your expertise in Russian philosophical/political movements past and present and the general lengthiness of your comments suggest you’re something of the sort.”

        I’m bloody гуманитарий, i.e. the scholar of Humanities, history in my case. I specialize in the International Relations in the Interwar Period (1920s-30s) and the collapse of the Versaille-Washington system. From your comments I also gatheredthat you are studying/teaching in some Uni.

        I decided to become Russian “Russia Watcher” (i.e. someone who takes for a hobby the foreign reporting and analytics concerning Russia) in April 2010, when the plane of Polish president Katczynski crashed near Smolensk. My first thoughts were – “Oh, crap! Polacks gonna blame us for that!”. And that day I stumbled on lots of on-line reports concerning that, several by already established Russia-watchers. The rest is history 😉

        As for RBK doing something unseemly – please! This was nothing compared to the constant barrage of filth from Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta and Do\\\d’. All of them were running dropping their pants with excitement after “Litvinenko Court Ruling” (which wasn’t even an official court ruling) and BCC’s “documentary” about $20 billions stashed by Putin (without any proof, naturally) just this year. And, of course, they are linking Putin to every single resonance assassination/death of handshakable people. Because if not Putin, then who?

        Liked by 1 person

        • It all makes sense now.
          ‘From your comments I also gathered that you are studying/teaching in some Uni.’
          Then you’d be right. To the former, of course – surely the sheer number of naive questions I ask and preference of listening to others’ POV rather than sharing my own could tell you that!
          As for Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta and Do\\\d’, how do you Russians deal with such badmouthing? The last time I read Novaya Gazeta, it made me want to find every internet article claiming “there’s no free speech in Russia” and write “f— your argument. these bastions of ‘free speech’ haven’t been shut down yet” in the comments. (And I’m one of the most passive userpersons you’ll ever meet!)
          Of course then the other commenters would say I’m probably a Kremlin troll, probably sent there on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin.

          Like

          • “As for Ekho Moskvy, Novaya Gazeta and Do\\\d’, how do you Russians deal with such badmouthing?”

            As a rule, we don’t “deal” with them at all. They have their own cultists hungering for “truth”. Sometimes these paragons of Free and Independent Media ™ commit an enormous faux pas that even people not belonging to their auditory notice them. Like when in 2014 Do\\\d’ TV launched a poll on their site “Would it be better to surrender Leningrad to the Nazis to avoid the blockade and all those deaths?”. People were pissed off. Maybe “Do\\\d’ TV” journos missed all their history classes while in school, but most people here in “This Country” still remember, that Nazi Germany had special plans for Leningrad – its complete annihilation. As in – both the city AND population. And because we Russians are, obviously, wild and civilized barbarians who don’t value the Sacred Freedom of Speech, we didn’t like this trollish question. TV provider who leased to the “Do\\\d’ TV” ended the contract. The Veterans of the Great Patriotic War Union of Saint-Petersburg brought the TV channel to the court and sued them successfully for 200 000 rubles of damages. The auditory of Do\\\d TV dropped significantly.

            That’s what we can do with them – stop reading/watching/listening to, till they run out of money. The fact that they are still existing and that none (yet) shared the fate of “Charlie Hebdo” (probably) means, that Russian people are not so wild and savage as someone (like the aforementioned media) tries to paint them.

            “Of course then the other commenters would say I’m probably a Kremlin troll, probably sent there on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin.”

            Of course they would. What’s the need to preach to the ignorant and try to make them “see the light”? You know how it is – and that’s already a good thing. If a few more people will change their opinion of what they take for granted simply by reading you blog – this will be tremendously good! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Quick run-down of the financial problems of the “Free and Independent Russian Media” ™

    TV DO\\\D’

    1) Never was profitable. One enormous ever-hungry financial Abyss.

    In 2011-12 (i.e. before they fatally shoot themselves in the foot with their infamous “Leningrad poll”) they accumulated 426 million rubles of net loss.

    In 2013-14 due to their tireless efforts they managed to increase it to 640 mils of net loss.

    How do they still exist and why just refuse to go belly’s up? Ah, all because of the help from the Good Samaritan(s).

    In 2014 the channel got a state “credit” (“state contract”) for 1 826 640 rubles. Yes, that’s state money. Budget money. Given for “free” with no strings attached. How is this ever possible in totalitarian Putin’s Russia, where neo-KGB controls everything – even the thoughts themselves and all dissidents are sent into gulags?

    Remember how while back in response to Sean Guillory’s article I said “Kremlin has many towers”. Well, that’s a textbook case of it. See, DO\\\D’ has always enjoyed the patronage of the liberal wing of the ruling elite, especially during Dmitriy “ Jolly Gnome ” Medvedev’s unimpressive stint as a president of Russia. These people are still there on various important and “moneyed” postings and offices. And some of them become rather radicalized.

    This particular “gift” (seriously, I can’t find another word for 2 bill rubles given for free) was the courtesy of the State Polytechnic Museum (key word here – “State”), which is headed by Yulia Shakhovskaya. Her father Vasiliy Shakhovskiy once was a high-roller in the YUKOS, and later he (and his daughter) took an active part in the foundation of “Open Russia” – Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s project to topple the “Bloody Regime”.

    Now pause and think about it. We are talking about a “Bloody Regime” which allows some “rogue elements” within it to finance anti-Kremlin and Russophobic Media, thus preventing their closure due to bankruptcy. Despite Mr. Khodorkovsky’s numerous instances, when he admitted that he is using all resources available to him to topple the “Regime”, the “Open Russia” is not banned from existing on Russian premises.

    Meanwhile, the financial situation of DO\\\D TV remains crappy. They were on the edge of bankruptcy in 2014 right before the happy “windfall”. Since that they had to change studio (all due to the “governmental pressure”, right…) and make their channel subscription only. They also increased the payment for the subscription (five times!), which is the most assured way to end up with an abysmal auditory. In 2014 it was 70 000, in 2015 – 50 000, in 2016 – 72 000 (woo-hoo!) of which 20 000 are those who are using the free “testing regime” subscription (not so woo-hoo?). And way back in 2014 Natalya Sindeyeva, DO\\\D’s CEO claimed that the channel need 300 000 paying subscribers to become profitable. She repeats this mantra yearly since.

    I ask – is 70K auditory (all across Russia) something that makes you a “voice”, a “leader” or even “influential” by any media standards? Judging by the frothing/tearful comments from the Western Punditocracy, bewailing the sorry state of Russian Free Media – yep, it does. Double standards, ahoy!

    2) TV DO\\\D’ is so desperate to earn some money that they are ready to do anything – even resort to illegal actions. AS was recently reported:

    “Trade in souvenirs, which is conducted through the official online store of TV channel “DO\\\D”, takes place without the knowledge of the tax authorities, found out a lawyer Ilya Remeslo, studying the necessary documents.

    https://rpcdn.ruposters.ru/newsbody/4/49cf8b0acf191da1a1d9915db56ee19b.jpg (*)

    As is known, souvenir shop was proclaimed as one of the most important sources of funding of this opposition media.

    The official website of the TV channel said that one of the sources of income of the company is trading various kinds of souvenirs with the symbols of “DO\\\D” through the official online store.

    Lawyer points out that, if you look at the note from the ЕГРЮЛ Ltd. “TV Channel DO\\\D”, according to which the media has registered only one activity relating to souvenirs – “the provision of other services” ( ОКВЭД 74.84).

    This includes “modeling of textiles, clothing, footwear, jewelry, furniture and other interior items and other fashion products and goods for personal and domestic use.”

    The blogger notes that there is no provision of buying and selling, but only about the services on the designing and engineering of branded products. This activity directly violates Article 5 of the Federal Law № 129-ФЗ “On the registration of legal entities”, emphasizes Ilya Remeslo.

    It turns out that the TV channel “DO\\\D” is misleading the tax office by giving false NACE codes. This violation entails administrative liability to a fine.

    In addition, the company is threatened to be included into the register of unreliable taxpayers, as well as counting and additional charging of insurance contributions to state funds, adds the blogger.

    However, it turns out that’s not all. If the charter of the “DO\\\D’” does not include the right of the company to enter into such transactions, this means that all the agreements signed before will be declared invalid. As a result, the organization will have to return the money to all customers.”

    2000 rubles for perfume “The Aroma of DO\\\D””?! 1000-1200 rubles for a crappy bag with DO\\\D’ logo?! IMHO, someone lost the last vestiges of shame and pretense to be “conscientious” journalists.

    And here they have no one to blame but themselves for their greed and judicial nihilism. Next time they will bitten in the ass for their dumb policy – don’t rush to believe the tearful accounts of other “democratic MEDIA” about the suppression of their already sparse ranks by the “Regime”.

    Like

  3. “Charting the transformation of Vladimir Putin from a passionate fan of the West and a liberal reformer”

    […]

    […]

    Oh, wait – you are serious? Then let me laugh even harder!

    That’s also the first time I’ve ever heard about this “Mikhail Zygar” – super duper famous independent journolaist. That’s amazing, really – how the West Media capitalizes on its audience ignorance and tries to pass nobodies as the “true voices” of this or that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What really tickles me/pisses me off is that only books by Russian liberals seem to get translated…except for that one book by Alexander Dugin, which was chosen no doubt for its title ‘Putin vs. Putin’. As we all know, Putin = $. (but Evul Putin = $$$)

      Also, this:
      “In this new work, Russia’s elder statesman draws on his wealth of knowledge and experience to reveal the development of Putin’s regime and the intentions behind it. He argues that in order to further his own personal power, Putin has corrupted the achievements of perestroika and created a system which offers no future for Russia. Faced with this, Gorbachev advocates a radical reform of politics and new fostering of pluralism and social democracy.”
      A translation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent book После кремля.

      Like

  4. >Russia shouldn’t bypass Brussels to deal with individual EU member states
    >the EU is seeking closer cooperation with Russia’s neighboring states, and Russia should just accept it

    Once again, double standards.

    Liked by 1 person

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