Russia: Crackdown on opposition and independent media

Alexei Navalny’s poisoning a year ago marked the beginning of a new crackdown on independent politicians and journalists. Labeled “foreign agents,” some wonder if staying in Russia is worth the risk to their lives.

Journalist Olga Churakova was declared a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities in July, along with her 27-year-old colleague Sonya Groisman and several other journalists.

Today Churakova and Groisman are recording a new episode of their podcast, Hello, You Are a Foreign Agent, in a small Moscow studio. They use the show to talk about the difficulties that come with the label. Along with the Cold War stigma, “foreign agents” have to declare all their income and spending and include a written warning about their status on everything they publish — even on personal social media posts.

Their previous employer, the investigative online outlet Project, was declared an “undesirable organization” in July and forced to close. Project focused on investigations into the upper ranks of Russian business and President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. It joined a long list of critical media outlets declared foreign agents and undesirable organizations this year, with journalists facing police searches and detention, particularly since protests supporting the jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny in the winter.

Churakova believes the timing of the crackdown on the media and other Kremlin critics is connected to Navalny. The politician was poisoned a year ago with a military-grade nerve agent during a trip to Siberia. Navalny insists that state security agents were behind the assassination attempt, which the Kremlin denies.