In a prime-time interview aired on October 17 with the heads of Russia’s three largest television stations, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that during the Cold War, his former employer — the KGB — viewed Radio Svoboda as a branch of the CIA engaged in spying in the former Soviet Union.
RFE/RL analyst Charles Dameron took issue with another of Putin’s claims in the same interview. Putin said that NTV’s Vladimir Kulistikov’s move to state television from Radio Svoboda is evidence of Russia’s liberalization. Kulistikov was one of the reporters asking questions.
RFE/RL’s Charles Dameron writes:
There is a long list of famous Russia watchers who might disagree with Putin’s rosy assessment of Russia’s liberal progress, were they not now dead. Paul Klebnikov, Natalya Estemirova, and Anna Politkovskaya are just a few of the dozens of journalists who’ve been assassinated in Russia during Putin’s reign for messing with the Powers That Be.
Indeed, Kulistikov’s path diverged quite sharply from that of RFE/RL’s own Iskander Khatloni, who was bludgeoned to death with an ax inside his Moscow apartment in 2000 after reporting critically on the Russian military’s human rights abuses in Chechnya. Khatloni previously worked as a BBC correspondent and was an accomplished poet.
His death was a tragic but typical case of the dangers that made Russia in the last decade — the Putin decade — one of the worst working environments on Earth for investigative reporters.
Read the full RFE/RL report: Putin Has Radio Svoboda On His Mind
Long after the U.S. Congress severed the link between RFE/RL and the CIA, the KGB continued to use hundreds of Soviet journalists as spies — a well-established fact that Mr. Putin had failed to mention. The U.S. intelligence community was officially forbidden to recruit journalists as spies after the passage of the Richardson amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (H.R. 3259).
For an analysis of this issue, please read the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) special report: Subverting Journalism: Reporters and the CIA by Kate Houghton.
According to the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting co-founder Ted Lipien, there was a clear purpose to Vladimir Putin’s comments linking Radio Svoboda to spying on the USSR during the Cold War. Such comments, Lipien said, are designed to intimidate both journalists and Radio Svoboda’s potential audience in Russia, in addition to reassuring Prime Minister’s Putin’s nationalistic supporters. Lipien, who had worked as the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governor’s regional marketing director for Eurasia from 1995 until 2003, said that the Russian secret police used the same tactics during Mr. Putin’s presidency to intimidate owners of Russian radio stations which were rebroadcasting Radio Liberty and Voice of America news reports. The FSB told them that if they continue to cooperate with VOA and Radio Liberty, their broadcast licenses will be revoked, Lipien said.