You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

Banned by Putin: Editor at Russian Outlet Meduza on Censorship, Eroding Freedoms & Ending Ukraine War

StoryFebruary 09, 2023
Watch Full Show
Media Options

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in Brussels today to address the European Union Parliament. The visit comes after he made surprise trips to Paris and London where he urged European nations to begin providing Ukraine with fighter jets and long-range weapons. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has repeated his call for the war to end. For more on the war’s prognosis, our guest is Alexey Kovalev, investigative editor of Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet recently banned by the Russian government, which designated it an “undesirable organization.”

Related Story

StoryJul 12, 2022As U.S. Funnels Money & Arms to Ukraine, Independent Media Faces Pressure to Parrot Official Narrative
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The Ukrainian president, President Volodymyr Zelensky, is in Brussels today, where he addressed the European Union Parliament. The visit comes after he made surprise trips to Paris and London, where he urged European nations to begin providing Ukraine with fighter jets. The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed heavy tanks are being sent to the battlefield, and pledged to train Ukrainian forces on NATO-standard jets, indicating the U.K. would likely follow up by providing fighter planes, though they haven’t agreed to this yet.

Moscow has warned such a move would only prolong the war. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today, “The line between indirect and direct involvement is gradually disappearing,” unquote.

This all comes as Ukraine prepares for what’s expected to be a major new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. Earlier this week, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres repeated his call for an end to the war.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: I want to convey my deep sadness about the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. I extend my condolences to the families of the victims. The United Nations is mobilizing to support the emergency response. And so, let’s work together, in solidarity, to assist all those hit by this disaster, many of whom were already in dire need of humanitarian aid. During my tenure as high commissioner for refugees, I went several times to work in —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Alexey Kovalev, investigative editor of Meduza, an independent Russian news outlet. We were scheduled to interview Alexey in January, but just before we went to air, the Russian government banned Meduza and designated it an “undesirable organization,” forcing him to postpone the interview. Last March, Alexey Kovalev wrote a piece for The Washington Post headlined “I’m a Russian journalist. I had to flee my country. Putin’s latest crackdown has destroyed the independent media.” And now we see this latest attack on Meduza.

Alexey, welcome to Democracy Now!, speaking to us from Berlin, Germany. Can you start off by saying what does this designation mean? How does this affect all of your work?

ALEXEY KOVALEV: Hello, and thank you for having me.

So, this effectively means that both producing and distributing our content is illegal in Russia. It’s a criminal offense. So, anyone who is involved in our work, as a freelancer or a staff member, is liable, but also anyone who shares a link to one of our stories on social media. That is also — under the undesirable organization law in Russia, is also a criminal offense, which is punishable by prison up to four or five years. So, yeah, it’s pretty drastic. It could be worse. For example, in neighboring Belarus, it’s not just the production and distribution of content that’s criminalized, but also the consumption. For example, you go outside, and the police stop you in the streets and see that you subscribe to a certain Telegram channel, for example, and that’s also a criminal liability. So, yeah, it could be worse for us, but here we are now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alexey, so, explain what the fallout of this has been already. Do you still have people working with you from Russia? And has there been any impact on them?

ALEXEY KOVALEV: I cannot, for their safety, go into specifics. But we — for example, we had to remove most of the bylines of our freelance contributors to protect them from criminal liability. We still have sources, and we still have contributors, but they have to work on deep background, because they cannot be publicly associated with Meduza now, because this is very serious. I mean, even for people who left the country, they are not — still not safe, because unless they’ve evacuated their entire extended families and friends from Russia, they are still in danger, because the Russian security services can and will and have in the past gone after relatives of people who left Russia. So this is also something that we have to keep in mind.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And explain, Alexey, how — you know, the impact of this on the Russian public. How are people learning? I mean, at the end of this month, it will be one year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How are people in Russia learning of what’s actually going on? I mean, talk about the kind of reporting that Meduza and the few other independent news outlets that remain — the critical reporting that you were doing, issues that you were covering, that simply aren’t being covered now.

ALEXEY KOVALEV: OK. Look, so, on February 24 last year, Meduza and all other independent media in Russia — by “independent,” I mean outlets that are not directly owned or indirectly controlled by the Kremlin. And that is most of the media consumption in Russia. Most of the media consumed by Russians are either directly or indirectly controlled or owned by the Kremlin. So, all of the others, on the day of the invasion, received a memo from the censorship ministry. It has a different name, but it’s, in essence, the censorship ministry. So, we all received a memo where they demanded that we only use information in our coverage provided to us by government officials. Everything else will be considered fake news. And a few days later, the Russian parliament adopted a set of laws that effectively criminalized any independent journalism.

So we were facing a choice whether to self-censor. Even the — in this memo, even the word “war” itself was out of bounds, so you could only refer to the invasion as a “special military operation,” not “war.” And people have already been persecuted for calling this a war. But we made a choice on that day. We made a choice that we will not be submitting to these demands, and we will be covering this for what it is — a criminal invasion. And we had to — well, we had to face the consequences. We had to — I was living — until March last year, I lived in my home in Moscow. I had to leave it all behind, all my life. But I don’t regret it. I mean, this is what we were — we have been preparing to do all of our lives. This is probably the most important missions, to record the crimes committed by a country in our name, no matter the cost. And this is what we’ve been doing for day in, day out, most of the time without weekends, for 20 — for 12, 14 hours a day.


ALEXEY KOVALEV: We have sources in Russia and Ukraine. We are covering the war both the domestic consequences of this war for Russians and for Ukraine. We are investigating war crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine — so, doing basically our job —

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you —

ALEXEY KOVALEV: — as journalists, as any journalist would do.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Alexey, about — you have Zelensky going from — you know, from Britain to Paris to Belgium, appealing for more weapons. And you have the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres speaking about the call to end the war. Earlier we played the wrong clip about him on the earthquake. Let’s go to the correct clip.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people with profound global implications. The prospects for peace keep diminishing. The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war; I fear it’s doing so with its eyes wide open.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to this? I also want to ask you about this latest news, the former far-right Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett saying he actually brokered a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine early last year, but Western leaders blocked it. He made the claim in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12.

NAFTALI BENNETT: [translated] I’ll say this in a broad sense: I think there was a legitimate decision by the West to keep striking Putin, and not —

HANOCH DAUM: [translated] Striking Putin? Putin was striking Ukraine.

NAFTALI BENNETT: [translated] Hold on, yes, but given — I mean the more aggressive approach. I’ll tell you something: I can’t say if they were wrong.

HANOCH DAUM: [translated] Maybe other thugs in the world would see it.

NAFTALI BENNETT: [translated] My position at the time in this regard, it’s not an Israeli interest. Unlike the consulate or Iran when I’m concerned about Israel, I stand firm, yes. Here, I don’t have to say that I’m just the mediator, but I turn to America in this regard. I don’t do as I please. Anything I did was coordinated, down to the last detail, with the U.S., Germany and France.

HANOCH DAUM: [translated] So they basically blocked it?

NAFTALI BENNETT: [translated] Basically, yes. They blocked it. And I thought they’re wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Alexey, your response to both him and Guterres’s call for an end to this war?

ALEXEY KOVALEV: OK, there is a — you know, it’s actually perfectly clear when the war will end. This is when Russian troops withdraw from Ukraine — not sooner, not later. I mean, this is pretty straightforward. So, any peace — any proposed peace deal must involve that.

And it doesn’t sound to me very likely that a peace solution could have been reached at any point in the first months of the war, while the Russian army was occupying large chunks of Ukraine, which then the Ukraine — if Ukrainians were pushed into a peace deal, for example, in summer last year, they would have been — they would have had to concede large chunks of their territory which they later liberated. So it doesn’t seem very likely to me that a peace deal could be reached by — could be negotiated by some third party last year. And I don’t think it’s ethical for anyone to claim credit for the effort, because, well, any peace resolutions that don’t involve the Ukrainians, and it’s just, “Let’s have the Americans or British or someone else negotiate a peace deal, or blame someone else for torpedoing such a peace deal,” any peace deal of that kind would involve, like I said, Ukraine conceding parts of its territory to the aggressor, Russia, which is —

AMY GOODMAN: Alexey, we have to break now, but we’re going to bring Part 2 of this conversation at Alexey Kovalev, investigative editor at Meduza. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

As U.S. Funnels Money & Arms to Ukraine, Independent Media Faces Pressure to Parrot Official Narrative

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation