How the Nobel Peace Prize exposed the schism in the Russian opposition

MOSCOW – If you lived in Putin’s Russia, what commitments would you make?

Dmitry Muratov, editor of a Moscow daily, has made his decision.

Accept donations from a business mogul with connections to the Kremlin, refuses to publish articles on the personal life of the Russian elite and has requested the president Vladimir Putin to help children who need expensive medicine.

Instead, Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, wrote a letter to his supporters published on Wednesday urging them to resist any form of compromise:

“We do not negotiate with terrorists who take hostages.”

Dmitri A. Muratov, left, in the office of his newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, which he co-founded in 1993 with funding from Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Photo Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times.

Navalny is in the ninth month of a conviction year in prison, while Muratov last week shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Filipino journalist Maria Ressa for its “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.”

Many of Navalny’s followers, who hoped that the imprisoned politician would win the award, reacted with indignation, ridiculing Muratov for a willingness to dialogue with the authorities that, according to them, only reinforces Putin’s power.

It was a moment that crystallized one of the many fault lines that divide the various critics of the Kremlin:

Is the best approach for those who want change that of a principled resistance? inflexible, or to work to improve the existing system?

Dmitri A. Muratov in the office of his newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Photo Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times.

Dmitri A. Muratov in the office of his newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Photo Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times.

“Look, you live a life on Earth,” Muratov said in an interview this week, defending the latter approach against the wave of fury that came to him from his fellow Russians in Facebook and Twitter.

“Are you going to scribble these comments online or are you going to try to improve people’s lives?”

The anger showed that the Russian opposition andis atomized and weakenedAll the more so as the authorities intensify the repression of dissent, forcing groups of activists and the media to close down and more and more dissidents and journalists to go into exile.

In the Kremlin, seeing the internal war of words in the opposition over Muratov’s award must have sparked “euphoria,” he said. Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R. Politik, a political analysis company.

“When you live under the barrel of a gun, these moments are divisive,” Stanovaya said.

“The authorities do a great job capitalizing on this.”

Indeed, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov congratulated Muratov, calling him talented and courageous.

nobel NYT

nobel NYT

Navalny, in prison, was unable to offer an immediate reaction, even when one of his exiled colleagues criticized the Nobel committee for making “pretentious and hypocritical speeches.”

On Monday, Navalny he congratulated Muratov.

He noted that the past murders of newspaper journalists Novaya Gazeta Muratov’s are a reminder of “what a high price those who refuse to serve the authorities have to pay.”

Muratov co-founded Novaya Gazeta in 1993, with funding from Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Six journalists who worked for Novaya have been assassinated; his black-and-white portraits, framed in black, hang in a row in a corner of the conference room at the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

nobel NYT

nobel NYT

While other media outlets shut down under pressure or were co-opted by the authorities, Novaya maintained its independence and often criticized Putin.

Your 2017 information on the torture and killings of men homosexuals in the Caucasian republic of Chechnya it sparked a wave of worldwide outrage.

Last year, following a Novaya complaint about an Arctic oil spill, a Russian court ordered mining giant Norilsk Nickel – run by one of the richest men in the country – to pay a $ 2 billion fine.

Dmitri A. Muratov in the memorial office of Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter assassinated in 2006. Photo Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times.

Dmitri A. Muratov in the memorial office of Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter assassinated in 2006. Photo Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times.

However, Muratov acknowledged that he refrains from doing what has become an especially explosive type of investigative journalism in Russia today:

Explore the hidden wealth of Putin and his inner circle.

Reporters from other publications have found that much of that wealth is in the hands of family members or alleged extramarital partners and their children.

Muratov said that while his reporters are also investigating corruption, “we don’t get into people’s private lives.”

“When it comes to children and women, I stop, “he said.

The online media that published these more aggressive investigations have been outlawed or declared “foreign agents” in recent months, and many of their editors and reporters have been forced into exile.

Novaya has managed to continue operating, despite widespread speculation that it also faced crackdown.

“We are an influential newspaper, which means that we have to be able to dialogue,” Muratov said.

“As soon as you start offending people, whether they are in power or not, you lose influence.”

“People don’t talk to you anymore.”

Muratov has used his influence and contacts for causes that go beyond press freedom, in particular to help children with spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, a rare muscle wasting disorder for which the most effective treatments are extraordinarily expensive.

He said he got involved – and started raising money for patients – after one of his reporters spoke to him early last year about the struggles of families battling the disease.

Andrey Kostin, president of the VTB, Russia’s second largest bank, donated a million dollars to the cause.

He was one of the people the United States sanctioned in 2018 for playing “a key role in advancing Russia’s evil activities.”

And last February, seeking further help, Muratov brought a list of names of young people in need of expensive treatment to an unofficial meeting between Putin and the Russian editors-in-chief.

Two weeks later, Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, called and told Muratov that “a directive” to help.

“You can say that he is an accessory to the regime, but tell the parents of children with SMA,” Muratov said.

“Tell them that the bankers who work for the state gave money and that you cannot take the money, and that the child will die.”

Another well-connected financier, Sergey Adonev, came to Muratov’s rescue in 2014 for a different reason.

Money and donations

Muratov’s diary was reeling financially, and Adonev, a telecommunications entrepreneur who had long been associated with a Russian state-owned company, began to make donations, according to Muratov.

However, after a year in which the repression of dissent in Russia has reached a new intensity, there are no guarantees that Novaya will survive.

Putin himself said so on Wednesday when a CNBC host, Hadley Gamble, asked him about Muratov on the stage of an energy conference in Moscow.

“If he starts using the Nobel Prize as a shield to violate Russian law, that means he is doing it consciously to get attention, or for other reasons,” Putin said, avoiding congratulations.

“Regardless of their achievements, everyone must understand it clearly and plainly: Russian laws must be observed“.

Muratov said he would not keep any of the roughly $ 500,000 of the Nobel prize he will win.

It will contribute about half to a medical fund for Novaya employees, and about $ 20,000 toward a journalism award named after Anna Politkovskaya, a Novaya reporter assassinated in 2006.

The rest will go to charities, he said, including a foundation called Circle of Good that helps children with rare diseases.

Putin signed an order to create it in January.

Andrei KolesnikovA researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, who previously served as Novaya’s editor-in-chief, said last week’s uproar revealed a weakness in Navalny’s movement:

that her focus on him as a leader, and unwillingness to consider other people’s opinions, was preventing her from building a broader coalition.

The vitriol was also on display ahead of last month’s Russian parliamentary elections, when some liberals – including Muratov – raged at calls from the Navalny camp to rally around communist candidates as a coordinated rebuke to Putin.

“Unfortunately, this intolerance and aggressiveness,” Kolesnikov said, “is dividing people with a democratic orientation.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed a report.

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How the Nobel Peace Prize exposed the schism in the Russian opposition