The expulsion from Russia of the prominent American journalist David Satter two days ago is becoming a case involving press freedom and media intimidation. It is actually the first time since the breakdown of the USSR that something like that happens, but there is no need to bring up a revival of the Cold war.
Persona non grata
Satter, a former Financial Times and Wall Street Journal correspondent, who has published three books on Russia and the former Soviet Union, has been declared persona non grata and denied entry into the Federation for five years. Authorities accused him to have violated the country’s visa-entry rules by staying in Russia on an expired visa.
“I was told that my presence in Russia, in the view of the security organs, was undesirable. Other than that, no reasons were given”, Satter said. “But the real reason for my refusal was given by Alexei Gruby, senior diplomat in Kiev. Gruby said: ‘The competent organs have decided. Your application for entry into Russia is denied’. It means that I was expelled from the country at the demand of the security services”, he commented in a statement published on his website.
Nobody should be surprised if the FSB is behind the expulsion of a foreign awkward journalist, considering the long list of Russian colleagues that had a worse fate. Satter is the author of a book titled “How Putin became president”, and the explanation given is something far from what Vladimir Vladimirovich likes to read about himself.
The Indian reservation of demonstrator
At less than one month from the Olympic games of Sochi, the crackdown on anything that could spoil the party is getting at its climax. In an article about the costs of the Games, Satter wrote that “In 2007, when Putin persuaded the Olympic Committee to choose Sochi, there were already powerful reasons to refuse. Russian representatives depicted Russia as a ‘young democracy’ but political opposition had been suppressed and investigative journalists murdered”.
Sochi 2014 is President’s personal showcase, to demonstrate to the world that Russia is back on the superpowers scene. The town of Sochi is under a virtual state of emergency: more than 30,000 policemen have been deployed in the city, army units patrol the area, and even six Pantsir-S air defense systems have been positioned in the region to protect the airspace along the southern borders from any flying threat, including cruise missiles and aircrafts.
The Winter Olympics Games will take place just a few hundred kilometers from the North Caucus region, where rebels are fighting to install an Islamic state, and there have been concerns about security threats posed by an Islamic insurgency that has raged across the region.
But behind the banner of security and anti-terrorism, much has been done to compress and narrow freedom of speech. The control over journalists admitted to follow the Games is tightened, and even the right of demonstration has been moved 12 kilometers far from Sochi in a so-called “protest zone” that looks more like an Indian reservation.
I forgive you
Despite “this is an ominous precedent for all journalists and for freedom of speech in Russia”, as himself said, the expulsion of Satter is not a bolt from the blue. Who has viewed the recent release of the Greenpeace activists and the pardon of Mikhail Kodorkovsky as a sign of goodwill and openness couldn’t be more wrong. Putin staged a coup de téâtre and delivered a strong message to any other head of state in the world: arbitrarily send to jail an oligarch for ten years is a form of absolute power, but giving pardon is a form of greatness.
While western presidents and head of state are tight to complicated system of government that limits their leading role, the autocrat Putin has a complete control over Russia’s guided democracy, i.e. not only its executive power, but its legislative, judicial and economic power as well, including the divine power of forgiveness. That’s the czar’s rule.
Just a few hours after Satter was denied the visa, the Federal Migration Service let him know he has the right to appeal the decision. Probably a new pardon is on the way.