The Adventures of Russian Propagandists

Оповідь українською

Story by Nazar Tokar

Illustrated by Asta Legios

The white ceiling of the oval-shaped hall is decorated with bas-reliefs and massive frescoes. Hanging in the center is a round copper chandelier swollen with hundreds of light bulbs shining so brightly your eyes hurt after a while. The walls are covered with endless lists and if you get close enough, you can discern individual names, some of whom died in World War II. The crown jewel of this setting is a four-meter-tall bronze soldier wearing a cloak with his left hand reaching for the sun. In his right hand, he holds an inverted helmet and a wreath, which together, apparently symbolize Stalin’s defeat of Hitler.

This is the Central Museum of the “Great Patriotic War,” built in Moscow on Poklonnaya (Genuflection) Hill. It’s crowded today: Russian flags are hanging everywhere and clean-shaven young men in uniform are standing at attention, holding polished assault rifles to their chests, and straightening their backs to the sound of the Russian national anthem. It is December 2014. Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and launched the war against Ukraine’s Donbas region less than a year ago. The empire has to grow in order not to die, and therefore requires new victories. Just like their grandfathers who once fought in the “Great Patriotic War,” these young men would not mind conquering Berlin and building the “dream” empire from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

The museum was built and dedicated to victory in the Great Patriotic War, which is what Russians call World War II. Construction began a year before the Chornobyl tragedy, when, amid the setbacks in the war in Afghanistan and the fall in world oil prices, the level of Soviet welfare had fallen so low, no slogans of “sausage for two rubles” could keep the Soviet empire together. Construction lasted for 10 years, and it was completed in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. It happened at just the right time, when the collapse of the USSR, inflation, unemployment, corruption, ration cards, and rampant criminality in the former “union” republics, as well as Russia itself, did not engender much patriotism. Not to mention having caused another wave of emigration.

Today, soldiers from the 154th separate command regiment are taking their oath. They are part of the army elite, and thus are unlikely to become cannon fodder. Units such as these are sent to the front as a last resort when the leadership becomes desperate, having depleted the stockpile of non-Russians from remote corners of the pseudo-empire to throw at the front. Which is why the mothers of these new soldiers aren’t particularly worried and use handkerchiefs to wipe tears of joy rolling down their garishly made-up faces. “The soldiers, transformed forever, march out of the hall carrying their battle flag to the sound of the regimental anthem, which has not changed since Peter the Great,” says journalist Dmitry Kozhurin[1], who works for the Zvezda television channel, solemnly reporting from the museum on this great occasion.

Zvezda is a propaganda-filled “patriotic” TV channel[2] operated by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The stories produced by its journalists raise many questions, even among people who are convinced politics doesn’t affect them. For example, they have produced and published materials covering themes such as:

● Zombie soldiers fighting in the Ukrainian army[3];

● How the local population in the west of Ukraine in 1939 kissed Red Army tanks (allegedly greeting the Russian occupation)[4];

● When schismatics seized the last church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of the Moscow Patriarchy in the Ivano-Frankivsk region (in reality about the transition of churches from the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine to the Kyiv Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine)[5];

● Ukrainian nationalists resumed shelling Donetsk city[6];

● Why Czechoslovakia should be grateful to the Soviet Union for 1968[7];

● The Finnish military started the Winter War of 1939[8] and much more.

Even now, not a lot of information can be found about Dmitry Kozhurin himself, but he definitely worked for the Russian Ministry of Defence channel Zvezda from at least 2014 to 2017.[9] He is listed on their website as an in-house correspondent.

In August 2014, in the first year of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Kozhurin traveled to the Russian border with Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which was already occupied by Russian troops, to report the Ukrainian side was denying Russian humanitarian aid to cross the border and provide relief for the local population.[10] To quote from Kozhurin himself: “It seems as though the Ukrainian authorities are not willing to speed up the movement of the convoy and do not want to help the people of their own country.” That same month, the tragic battle of Ilovaisk took place, with Russian troops surrounding the Ukrainian Army, killing more than 350 and wounding more than 400 Ukrainian soldiers.[11]

It’s worth noting these Russian convoys actually had a different purpose — to transfer food, weapons, military ammunition, fuel and motor oil, and other supplies to Russian and pro-Russian proxy forces under the guise of humanitarian aid. These were the “humanitarian items” Ukrainian border guards detected when they were able to gain access to inspect Russian trucks.[12] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine had repeatedly demanded Russia stop supplying weapons under the guise of humanitarian aid, but to no avail.

In the June 27, 2014 episode of the program “Here’s What’s Happening”[13] on the Zvezda TV channel, Kozhurin reported that Ukrainian refugees were fleeing from Ukraine to Russia. He described how the administration of the Rostov region in Russia was accepting refugees, providing them with access to the internet and television, and how great their lives had become. He pleasantly nodded along as a psychologist assured him the children would easily endure the evacuation and the war.

A few years after these reports, Kozhurin underwent an interesting metamorphosis — he quit the propaganda TV channel and moved to Spain, and in 2022 he started working for the Russian-language channel Nastayashchee Vremya (Current Time), where he broadcasts live almost daily about the war in Ukraine[14] from a completely different perspective.

Nastayashchee Vremya is a Russian-language TV channel with a Prague-based editorial office, created by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. It is funded by the US Congress and administered by the US Agency for Global Media. The channel aims to promote democratic values, in particular uncensored news and a responsible exchange of opinions.[15] Voice of America broadcasts in 48 languages, and this Russian-language service is one of the first channels they established.

Voice of America has a Ukrainian-language radio program (with extremely meager funding compared to Nastayashchee Vremya), but it has not created a Ukrainian-language TV channel which could broadcast for at least a few hours a day. As a result, many Ukrainians watch Nastayashchee Vremya instead of the monopolistic and rather limited Ukrainian television marathon started in February 2022. The Russian-language Nastayashchee Vremya is a popular channel with more than three million subscribers on YouTube[16] and, according to the site’s statistics, is watched by about the same number of viewers from Ukraine and Russia[17], the vast majority of which are under the age of 40.

Having watched several of Dmitry Kozhurin’s recent programs[18], it is hard to find anything wrong with them. Since 2022, he has been saying all the right things and, unlike many other Russians, he allows himself to call the war a war and Putin an aggressor. Kozhurin has become such a “good Russian” he was invited to appear on the Ukrainian state-run TV channel Freedom.[19] At the time he was interviewed, it was still broadcasting in Russian. From that time forward, Kozhurin has been considered a liberal journalist not limiting himself to making critical comments about the Russian regime only on an American sponsored channel. The question of whether Dmitry has truly realized the error of his ways and left the dark side, or whether he has simply decided to find a warmer and safer place to live, is rhetorical. I wrote to Dmitriy inviting him to comment on his previous work, but at the time of writing this, I have not received a response.

Kozhurin turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. I decided to find out more about the Russian-language TV channel on Voice of AmericaNastayashchee Vremya and inquire whether he was an exception among the other staff members. He was not.

In the autumn of 2022, Russian journalist Harry Knyagnitsky[20] started working in the office of the Russian-language service of Voice of America. Prior to that, he had worked for the Russian propaganda TV channel NTV, where he reported the Ukrainian military allegedly guided artillery by targeting civilian cell phone signals.[21] In the same story from 2014, he claimed residents of the occupied territories were “ready to take up arms,” referring to their willingness to participate in the so-called “Donbas militia.” Knyagnitsky never once mentioned it was the regular army of the Russian Federation, supplemented by a handful of collaborators, who occupied Ukraine’s Donbas and the Crimean Peninsula.

In another story near the end of 2014, Knyagnitsky reported Russian militants allegedly “had to return fire” otherwise a Ukrainian tank would have destroyed a residential area.[22] At the time, he called the Russian-Ukrainian war in the east of Ukraine a genocide by Ukraine against the “people of Donbas,”[23] and the journalist’s reporting falsely identified Ukrainian children kidnapped by Russians as war refugees.[24] He is also the author of a story about the detention of the so-called “terrorist group” whose members included Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov.[25] Following his detention, Oleg spent 5 years in Russian captivity.

None of Knyagnitsky’s reporting at the time mentioned Russian aggression, and he consistently referred to Russian proxies as “militias” or “Donbas self-defense units.”[26] Interestingly, the “self-defense” narrative was even picked up by some Ukrainian media outlets. In 2017, Knyagnitsky quit NTV, moved to the United States, and then said in an interview he was no longer willing to “toe the party line.”[27] In 2018, he got a job at the Russian-language TV channel RTVi in New York. From 2012 to 2019, this TV channel was owned by Russian businessman Ruslan Sokolov, the former director of the previously mentioned Russian propaganda Zvezda TV channel.

In 2021, in a story titled, “A Year Without George Floyd: How the United States Has Changed and What Black Lives Matter Activists Have Achieved,” about the protests after the murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer, Knyagnitsky wrote: “Wherever there are black people, there is crime. That’s what the Russians who left South and East Harlem say. A year ago, it was safe there but after Floyd’s death and the protests, it became dangerous. Today it’s politically incorrect to associate this with African Americans.”[28]

In any sane, moreover, mainstream American media, a journalist would have been immediately fired for making such statements, but not in this case. The article had no effect on Knyagnitsky’s career. After leaving NTV, he neglected to change his rhetoric, and in 2019 when Russia seized Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait[29], he claimed Ukraine had allegedly provoked Russia and it was not really clear who was to blame.[30] But after switching to the Russian-language Voice of America, Knyagnitsky did change his tune a little: he began to criticize Russia[31] and even allowed himself to call the war a war.

In 2020, Knyagnitsky cautiously criticized NTV and said: “The management forbade me to do live broadcasts with Ukrainians who spoke about Russian shelling and killings. Voice of America allowed me to tell the truth about the war.”[32] So, it turns out he had wanted to tell the truth, but the evil managers of NTV forbade him from so doing. Shifting responsibility onto others has always been very popular, in particular at the Nuremberg trials, where Nazis justified the bloodiest crimes against humanity with orders that could not be disobeyed.

In 2016, RTVi updated its policy and expanded its broadcasting network, and well-known Russian journalists began moving to the “rebranded” channel en masse. A significant number of the new employees had previously worked for NTV. In addition to Knyagnitsky, Leonid Parfyonov, Anton Khrekov, Vladislav Andreev, Dmitry Novikov, Konstantin Goldenzweig, Natalia Metlina, Svetlana Cheban, Marianna Minker, Elsa Gazetdinova, Konstantin Rozhkov, Sergei Mitrofanov, Tikhon Dzyadko, and others joined RTVi. Some of these journalists then proceeded to quietly switch from RTVi to the Russian-language Voice of America. Dzyadko, who served as deputy editor-in-chief of RTVi for almost two years, became editor-in-chief of the “opposition” TV channel Dozhd (TV Rain) in 2019. Dozhd caused a scandal in the autumn of 2022 by raising money to buy supplies for the Russian occupation forces in Ukraine. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia did not take long to ban the broadcast of this propaganda channel in their countries and did so in December 2022.[33] Another propagandist, Daria Davydova, who had previously worked for Russian state television, where she justified Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, has also been working for Voice of America since the autumn of 2022.

The staff of RTVi strangely combines both seemingly opposition journalists and journalists loyal to the Kremlin authorities, some of whom continue to pave the way for their colleagues to find jobs at Voice of America. For example, in 2020, one of RTVi’s producers was Sergei Shnurov, the leader of the Russian band Leningrad, which performed frequently for the Kremlin. Shnurov had been co-hosting the program “About Love” on Channel One Russia since 2016[34] and in 2019 was appointed to the Public Oversight Council for the State Duma Committee on Culture in the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. In this capacity, he has acted as a “release valve” dissipating the anger of Kremlin critics. His songs gently ridiculed the corruption and gaudy lifestyles of officials, but Shnurov eventually wound up alongside those he sang about. From August 2022 to March 2023, RTVi hired another producer, Konstantin Obukhov, a KVN performer (KVN is a Russian and former Soviet comedy television show) and one-time producer of entertainment projects on the Russian TV channel TNT, owned by state-run Gazprom.

In March 2023, another former RTVi journalist, Ilya Klishin[35], also joined Nastayashchee Vremya (the Russian-language Voice of America), having served as editor-in-chief of the Dozhd channel’s website in 2013–2016 and having worked previously at RIA Novosti, one of Russia’s largest state media agencies. In 2014, he published an article “How Russia can keep Crimea after Putin,”[36] reflecting on the legalization of the occupied Ukrainian peninsula. Since 2022, he has been living in Vilnius and tweeting about anti-war rallies and Russia’s problems.[37] After the news about Klishin became public, management of the channel announced he would not be heading up the internet team behind Nastayashchee Vremya.[38]

According to an investigation published in 2023 by Alexei Navalny’s team[39], from 2019 through 2021, RTVi received 1.3 billion rubles from Moscow City Hall as payment for advertising campaigns and as transfers through “shell companies.” These payments made up 60 percent of the channel’s budget, which directly points to the Kremlin’s funding of the alleged opposition American-based TV media.

But Russian propagandists are not only going to America. On March 14, 2022, Marina Ovsyannikova erupted onto a live evening broadcast of the “Vremya” program on Channel One Russia with a handwritten anti-war poster[40] and shouted several times, “Stop the war! No to war!” At the time, news anchor Yekaterina Andreeva was calmly reporting that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was calling on the Belarusian prime minister to cooperate with Russia to circumvent sanctions. A video of a different story abruptly interrupted the anchor in mid-sentence, and the channel’s management subsequently announced an internal investigation. What Ovsyannikova did not write on her poster was there are no live broadcasts on central Russian television, and any “live” broadcasts are aired with a 15-second delay to avoid exactly these kinds of situations.

Ovsyannikova was born in Odesa and had the surname Tkachuk before her marriage. Since 2003, she has been working at Channel One, the job she had long dreamed of. Marina mentioned someone had let the air out of the tires of her car in the parking lot near the Ostankino television tower as well as being detained for several days by the police[41] as the only consequences of her performance with the poster. She claims for the 19 years she worked at Channel One, she was fine with everything, but the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops on February 24, 2022, affected her so seriously, she could not eat or sleep for several days. The journalist wrote a letter of resignation four days later, paid a fine of thirty thousand rubles, and left the country without any problem at the border. In an interview, Marina stated she did not support the government but didn’t take part in street protests because… she was “too busy.”

Having quickly become a hero, Ovsyannikova’s name was trending on Twitter, and her gaudily made-up face became a frequent sight with a host of interviews on Western and liberal Russian media. She started writing protest posts on Facebook and announced she was working on a book. At the same time, in late March and early April 2022, western media were covering stories about Russian occupation forces’ tanks firing on evacuation convoys, Ukrainian and foreign journalists were reporting on the massacres in Bucha and Irpin by Russians, war crimes unheard of since World War II, and the exodus of people trying to leave Ukraine.

But the damage was done. The world’s attention shifted for several days from the war crimes of the Russian army to a woman who resolved to say “No!” to the propaganda she herself had been creating for 19 years. Ovsyannikova quickly changed her comfortable existence in Moscow for an equally comfortable one in Berlin. As early as April 2022, she became a journalist for the German media Die Welt, and in June she even returned to her “native” Odesa, causing a flurry of criticism and questions for the Security Service of Ukraine about how she managed to cross the border.[42]

The editor-in-chief of Die Welt, Ulf Poschardt, said Ovsyannikova’s protest “upheld the most important journalistic ethics,”[43] while Ovsyannikova herself complained about the Ukrainian “haters” who had written in to protest her appointment to the German media. In May, she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for her creative protest.[44] This raises a question: can propaganda be considered journalistic work? If not, then hiring Ovsyannikova to work for Die Welt is surprising, since she has no experience in journalism.

In July 2022, Ovsyannikova astonished the public again by unexpectedly returning to Russia. After a single one-woman protest in Moscow, she was re-detained by police and placed under house arrest, where she began writing her autobiography. In the autumn of 2022, her ex-husband said she and her daughter had escaped from arrest, after which she was put on a wanted list, which somehow did not prevent her from leaving the country unhindered, again. In February 2023, Marina presented her German-language book “Between Good and Evil. How I finally Opposed the Kremlin’s Propaganda” in Paris[45], which can be bought for twenty euros.[46] The book has already been translated into several languages.

Another example of a propagandist who took root in the West is the Soviet-Russian journalist Nikolai Gorshkov, whose father was a naval intelligence officer in the USSR. In the 1970s, Nikolai studied the United States and Canada at one of the institutes of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, and in the 1980s he worked for the World Service of Moscow Radio, whose transmitters operated in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Cuba. The radio station broadcasted in 70 languages and was one of the main tools of Soviet propaganda aimed at the West. It was later used as the foundation for the Sputnik propaganda media platform.

Gorshkov was a loyal supporter of the Kremlin and even back then accused the West of trying to influence the Soviet Union. In May 1984, in a program for Austrian listeners discussing the topic of “The West’s Psychological Warfare Against the Soviet Bloc,” Gorshkov claimed the USSR was opposing the damage to international relations caused by the West’s lies and slander.[47] More than 40 years later, in 2017, he commented on his work as the head of Sputnik in Britain as follows: “In the three years I have been working here, I have never received a call from Moscow telling me what I can and can’t say. We are accused of being biased, but sometimes I wonder if there is a bias against us.” Gorshkov did not clarify whether he has received calls from any other cities telling him what to say, and the gist of his rhetoric has not changed at all in more than half a century.

Finding a foreign-language journalist from the Soviet Union who was not a member of the state secret services is like finding a live unicorn. In a BBC story dated March 21, 2011[48], Gorshkov himself recalled his work at Moscow Radio as follows: “It was not just the country’s broadcast, it was the broadcast of the CPSU. Our bosses worked in the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU. They told us, via our managers at the World Service, what we should say, what we should talk about, how we should talk.”

None of this stopped him from working in Western media. From 1993 to 2013, Gorshkov was a journalist at the BBC, where he helped set up the Moscow office of the Russian service. It was he who came up with the domain name, and this format later became the standard for BBC local services. At different times, he lived in London and Moscow, and in 2008–2013 he was the head of the BBC office in Kyiv, responsible for Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and the Western Balkans.

One of Gorshlov’s responsibilities was the BBC Monitoring service[49], which provided Western media with expertise on various countries. According to Gorshkov, he turned it into a “valuable source of stories” for the BBC, particularly about Ukraine. Researching what kind of expertise the experts provided under Gorshkov’s guidance, I came across a 2015 article titled “Ukrainian TV’s partisan coverage of conflict belies its bold new journalism.”[50] The author of the article is Andriy Kondratyev, a Kyiv resident who worked in President Viktor Yushchenko’s press office in 2005–2007.[51] In the article, Kondratyev accused Ukrainian TV channels of calling Russia “the aggressor” too often, and of incorrectly naming “Kremlin-backed rebels” (sic!) as terrorists or bandits. Kondratyev also accused Ukrainian channels of coordinating their messaging and being one-sided, claiming the military operations were presented only from the Ukrainian government’s point of view.

Under Gorshkov’s leadership, the Ukrainian-language service of BBC Radio held its last live radio broadcast on April 29, 2011, and the following year the website launched a Russian-language news section. He could hardly be called interested in developing a Ukrainian news service: instead, Gorshkov was building a branch of the Russian BBC office in the former colony. In March 2014, in an article titled “Will the Ukrainian conflict turn hot?”[52] for the Russian government-funded website Russia Beyond, Gorshkov wrote that Luhansk and Donetsk were Russian provinces until they were annexed to Ukraine in 1918. He also mentioned the classic Russian propaganda theme claiming ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east are unhappy with nationalist and anti-Russian statements made by Kyiv and in Ukraine’s western regions.

In 2014, Gorshkov returned to the UK, where until March 2022 he ran the local branch of the Sputnik propaganda news agency, whose editor-in-chief is the infamous Margarita Simonyan.

One of Gorshkov’s colleagues, Oksana Brazhnik, the head of Sputnik’s Edinburgh office, had previously worked as a political adviser to Vyacheslav Volodin. Volodin was the deputy chief of staff in Putin’s presidential administration  and is currently the chairman of the State Duma (the lower house of Parliament). In April 2022, he demanded to recognize Ukraine as a “terrorist state.”[53]

For years, these and many other journalists have been creating and popularizing Russian propaganda to promote the phenomenon of the russkiy mir (Russian world), which has nothing in common with peace [the Russian word for world is mir, which is also the Russian word for peace — author’s note]. We have already discovered the media they worked for are sponsored by the Kremlin, which means they have the financing to invest in drawing a large audience. This could also have attracted those who did not fully share Putin’s and his team’s views, but who, seeking a large audience, were unable or unwilling to look for alternative sources of income. Over time, the Kremlin’s policies became increasingly aggressive, and eventually, journalists who remained loyal to the imperial government found themselves increasingly isolated. This happened to the most famous of them: Vladimir Solovyov, Yekaterina Andreeva, Margarita Simonyan, and other top journalists in the country. Their property and accounts in Europe and the United States have been at least partially seized, and their entry into the European Union and the United States has been hampered or banned, making it very difficult or impossible for them to take a break from their blood-soaked daily routine in a lake house on the shores of Lake Como or in a chalet in the Austrian Alps.

The most famous Russian propagandists are trapped within the borders of their empire and its underdeveloped satellites, from which they will not escape, as the collective West has imposed numerous sanctions on them. However, the same practice should be extended to smaller-scale propagandists. Are the knyazhnitskys, ovsyannikovas, and kozhurins really any different from the conventional solovyovs and andreevs? If so, then how? And if not, why are some under sanctions while others are successfully building careers in the American media? These are questions which need to be answered.

With a dark cloud on the horizon, the propagandists began to change their tunes, look for escape routes, and at least partially move to the other side of the barricades. And even if today most of these people speak in half-truths or even tell the truth, it was these artificially created opinion leaders who for almost 20 years laid the groundwork for the current war in Ukraine, justified the annexation of Georgian territories, the war in Syria, the Central African Republic, and other hot spots, and distorted the memory of both Chechen wars. It was these propagandists who helped the Russian regime to zombify its own people, as well as a part of the population of Ukraine, and even Western countries. These journalists promoted and sometimes still promote the idea not all Russians are bad, some are “good and democratic liberals,” while also pushing the narrative Putin is the only one to blame, and all other Russians do not want war. Sanctions, they say, should be lifted, and Russophobia is completely unnecessary.

The search for a better life only partially explains the phenomenon of journalists leaving Russia for Western channels. It can also be explained by the development of the FSB’s agent network abroad. Over time, we will see many exposés about these agents. Remember this tweet.

Western lovers of finding a middle ground feel uncomfortable being reminded it was not Putin who personally tortured people in Bucha and it was not Prigozhin who manually guided the missiles fired at Dnipro in January 2023 and Kharkiv in February 2022. It is unlikely Shoigu himself stole toilets and destroyed the Skovoroda Museum in Kharkiv. The likelihood Kadyrov personally drove an APC to capture Kyiv in three days is also negligible. All of this is the work of ordinary Russians, whom their liberals like to call “our boys.” By the way, the term “Russian liberal” is way off mark, because what kind of liberalism can there be in a totalitarian system? A “Russian liberal” is an oxymoron, like dry water, because these people want their empire to become democratic, to have a strong army, and to fight corruption. Ukrainians want the empire to disintegrate.

So, when the second ranked army of the third world failed to take Kyiv, instead managing to lose more manpower and equipment in six months than in 10 years during the war in Afghanistan, many journalists started bailing. Those who have something to lose did not want to be responsible for the consequences of their actions. And they don’t want to be put in prison alongside their bosses either.

It’s important to understand, to be a real journalist in Russia is truly difficult. A real journalist who wants to write the truth has three options: to die, to go to prison on false charges, or to leave the country. But if, before fleeing Russia, a journalist goes to the Crimean Peninsula to report on the “happy” Crimeans living under occupation, or to Rostov to find the “smiles” of children saved by the occupiers, or to Ukraine’s Donbas to write stories about the fictitious civil war conjured up by the Kremlin, the so-called journalist is dealing in propaganda and disinformation, not journalism. And he or she should have to answer for their actions, rather than answering questions on an application for a work visa at the U.S. Embassy.

After the backgrounds of the propagandists became known, fifteen employees of the Russian-language service of Voice of America sent a non-public request to management in November 2022 demanding they be fired[54] and in February 2023, the letter was made public.[55] Nevertheless, on February 23, 2023, managers of the Russian-language Voice of America spoke out in support of the propagandists, stating no violations had been found in their work in the newsroom nor at their previous jobs. During the investigation[56], Davydova and Knyagnitsky were temporarily suspended from work[57] but were never fired.

Voice of America’s management is turning a blind eye to open violations of journalistic standards and the use of propaganda. There is an unexpectedly simple explanation for this. The Russian-language service of Voice of America is headed by Irina van Dusen. While she was on long-term leave, one of her managers, Arkadz Charapanski[58], a former counselor at the Belarusian Embassy in the United States, ran the service. He applied for political asylum in 2000[59] and subsequently built a successful American career.

One of the heads of Voice of America’s Russian-language service in New York is Mikhail Gutkin[60], a former employee of the Russian channel NTV.[61] Predictably, he does not see a problem with his former propagandist colleagues working for the US taxpayer funded media. He is, of course, happy with their work, since they continue to have the same approach to their jobs as journalists, which also satisfied him when he was part of NTV’s management. The propagandists have simply changed their place of employment. Along with Gutkin, Victoria Kupchinetskaya[62], a former editor of the NTV program “Today in America,”[63] works for the Russian-language Voice of America. Anonymous sources at Voice of America explained that Kupchinetskaya is Gutkin’s common-law wife and is also involved in decision-making.

According to these same anonymous sources at Voice of America, the problem of Russian propagandists was actually discussed at an internal meeting. However, the main focus of the meeting was not the issue of having propagandists in the ranks of the American media, but how to mitigate public discontent. Therefore, these pseudo-journalists still continue to work for the service and  receive a not insignificant salary at the expense of American taxpayers. It is worth noting professional journalists who have never spread propaganda also work in the Ukrainian and Russian-language services of Voice of America, but their propagandist colleagues are destroying the reputation of the entire multilingual news service which these honest journalists have been building for decades.

Developed democracies are now facing a difficult task: to revise the thesis of Russia as a monolithic state which had emerged after the collapse of the USSR. What had been the main axiom of “restructuring” at the end of the 20th century turned out to be only a theory, and the variables in this equation have been significantly transformed over the past 30 years. Five Forums of Free Peoples of Post-Russia have already been held, bringing together representatives of at least a dozen nations enslaved by the empire. The forums were attended by representatives of governments in exile, civil society organizations, and activists who aim to establish the independence of their states from Russian occupation. The main goal of the meetings is a peaceful and controlled withdrawal of independent democratic states or their unions based on both ethnic and political nations from the so-called “Russian Federation”.

Voice of America and Nastayashchee Vremya (the Russian-language Voice of America), where former employees of Russian propaganda outlets work, paid virtually no attention to the Forums of Free Peoples of Post-Russia, instead publishing news stories stating the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation had called the Forum “undesirable.”[64] The Ukrainian (Russian-language) service of Radio Donbas “Realii” casually mentioned the Forum in one of its February podcasts[65], and in August 2022, the Russian-language Radio Liberty published material by Moscow political scientist Alexander Kinev, in which he described the proposed borders of future states as follows: “Its [the Forum — author’s note] little-known participants, mostly unknown to the general public… published several funny maps of many ‘states’.”[66] Instead of what he called the “chaos of disintegration,” he proposed to revise the structure of the Russian Federation on a democratic basis and de facto preserve the imperial conquests by slightly reformatting the facade of the empire and replacing the current tsar with another.

At the time I wrote this story, Russian-language sites associated with Radio Liberty had made virtually no mention of this initiative. The only exception was Idel.Realii, a media project of the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Liberty in the Volga region, which has posted materials[67] about each of the Forums on its website.

It’s quite likely that I’m not very good at googling and Russian journalists in the United States did write about the Forum of Free Peoples in compliance with industry standards. So I did my due diligence and contacted Oleg Magaletsky, a co-organizer of the Forum, who confirmed none of the representatives of the American offices of the above-mentioned outlets had asked him for comment. The next meetings of the Forum are scheduled to take place in late April 2023 in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. The fact that Russian journalists ignore the fate of the subjugated peoples of the Russian Federation is another indication of their bias against the truth.

In Russia, a country with a poor population and a rich government, journalists are used to working for media outlets having power and money, and to do so, they need to learn how to censor their own materials. After Putin came to power, a whole generation of propagandists were raised on a worldview clearly matching the Kremlin’s interests, and whose seemingly critical materials still correlate with the ruling party’s line. Even if some of these journalists have left for Latvia, the Czech Republic, Britain, or the United States long ago in order to “not toe the party line.”

The Russian Federation continues to demonstrate its inability to act as an independent state, and Russian propaganda has failed to understand what freedom of speech means. After all, these propagandists practice neither freedom nor journalism.

Other stories written by Nazar Tokar

Other stories illustrated by Asta Legios

Nazar Tokar is an investigative journalist and author of the YouTube channel (

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[43] BBC. “Marina Ovsyannikova: German outlet hires Russian protester”. April 11, 2022. [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 2023].    

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[61] НТВ America. “Сегодня 14 апреля в 9:30 pm EST смотрите первый выпуск местных новостей “Сегодня в Америке” из собственной студии НТВ Америка в Форт Ли, Нью-Джерси. Ведущие: Михаил Гуткин, спортивный комментатор Владимир Гурвич”. April 14, 2023. [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 2023].   

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Kyiv Rising

Stop searching for keys to opened doors.

Irreconcilable Eulogies

Surrendering without abandoning imperial ideology is a tonic against atonement.

A Carnival of Self-Deception

The faithful delusion of misguided reason.

Totalitarian Brotherhood

Different flags — same genocide.