Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Putin Has Radio Svoboda On His Mind

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went after RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda during a prime-time interview for Russian state television.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went after RFE/RL's Radio Svoboda during a prime-time interview for Russian state television.
Dangerous and subversive CIA tool, harmless propaganda organ, or evidence of Russian liberalism? Russian Prime Minister (and once and future president) Vladimir Putin wants to have it every way when it comes to describing RFE/RL's Russian Service, aka Radio Svoboda.

Putin provided Svoboda with a little backhanded publicity in a prime-time interview aired on October 17 with the heads of Russia's three largest television stations. Responding to a question from NTV's Vladimir Kulistikov about much-needed reforms to Russia's legal system, Putin prefaced his answer by chiding Kulistikov for having once served (1993-96) as a correspondent for Radio Svoboda.

WATCH -- Putin takes some potshots at RFE/RL during a prime-time interview on Russian state television:

"When I worked for the KGB, we viewed Radio Svoboda as a branch of the CIA. Of course, it was only a propaganda arm, but still. Anyway, such an attitude toward that station was not unfounded. It was funded by the CIA and, what's more, it was even involved in spying activities in the former U.S.S.R.," Putin said. "Today, the situation has changed, but still, no matter how you look at it, Radio Svoboda is a media outlet that expresses the views of a foreign government. In this case, it is the U.S. government."

Then, in a nice little bit of rhetorical jujitsu -- the man is an expert practitioner of judo, after all -- Putin pointed to Kulistikov's career trajectory as evidence of Russia's increasing liberalization.

"So, you used to work [at Radio Svoboda], and now you are the head of a national television channel in Russia. How long have you been working there? For quite some time, right? Isn't this a sign of liberalism? In other words, you can't say that there is no liberalism at all in Russia."

Putin is certainly correct that the CIA once covertly funded Radio Liberty, though by the time Putin joined the KGB in 1975, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were funded directly by Congress. The connection between the Radios and the CIA was a major scandal on Capitol Hill when it was publicly acknowledged by Senator Clifford Case in 1971, and it nearly led to the Radios' dissolution.

But as Putin also doubtless knows, there's plenty of hard evidence to suggest that while KGB apparatchiks may have viewed RFE/RL as a "propaganda arm," plenty of ordinary and extraordinary people across the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc relied on RFE/RL to provide them with accurate information when they most needed it.

During the 1991 military coup that ousted Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the dying days of the U.S.S.R., Radio Svoboda's central place in Soviet civil society became starkly apparent as Gorbachev -- under house arrest in Crimea -- used basement transistor radios to access Radio Svoboda and the BBC for information about what was happening inside his own country.

Putin's own predecessor and former boss, Boris Yeltsin, used Radio Svoboda to broadcast his call for a nationwide general strike. He later noted that "during the three to four days of this coup, Radio Svoboda was one of the very few channels through which it was possible to send information to the world and, most important, to the whole of Russia."

Putin's insistence that Kulistikov's move to state television from Svoboda is evidence of Russia's liberalization makes for another whopper of a claim. 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.

-- Charles Dameron
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 19, 2011 21:13
Thanks for the link to his performance. Oscar-worthy! Strange, but the Russians I know truly admire Putin, and who knows, perhaps this autocratic form of government is better suited to Russia’s needs today. Granted, Putin and company may not have the highest democratic credentials, but compared with some of the profligates in the EU and the political gridlock in the US, Putin appears decisive enough to provide the necessary stability for growth.

While some of his Svoboda criticism may be pandering to the pro-Russian/anti-American domestic audience, there is some truth to his sentiment. As a frequent listener, I sense that the editorial policy of this radio station is directed by a Washington perspective. Just as I get irked by watching some of the Russia Today TV programming, I imagine folks in the Kremlin get tired of the constant political criticism broadcast by Svoboda.

Finally, like every successful leader, Putin has muck on his hands, but pinning all the blame for these high-profile murders on him, is a bit of a stretch. I will start to really worry about Russia’s direction if Putin directs that Svoboda (and the few other liberal media outlets) be shuttered.
In Response

by: Daniel from: NY
October 26, 2011 11:28
to Ray F. I ran an FM radio station in Magadan Russia that used Radio Svoboda, giving local residents access to information they would never have received from Russian state radio. After 2000, with guess who coming to power, the Russian state worked to end my ability to use Radio Svoboda news or features, and I don't think hardly any station in Russia can use Radio Svoboda without endangering their broadcast license, so you better "start to worry if Svoboda has been shuttered" IT IS SHUTTERED. Don't believe it? Make a listing of all the startup FM stations in Russia from the mid 1990s on, that had Svoboda broadcasts, and now don"t. Do your research.
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
October 26, 2011 14:12
Sir, Hi and thanks for the info. Agree, this is a bad sign, and I was not aware on the clampdown on the FM band. Was there a Kremlin directive directing FM radio owners not to carry Svoboda, or was it just the local thugs who were trying to curry favor? Did Svoboda do local programming that cast a negative light on political abuses in Magadan? Can you still pick up the Svoboda signal on shortwave in Magadan? Do any of the locals have Internet access? Have they blocked the Svoboda portal?

I’m not a Putin supporter, and hope that Russia continues in its painful transition toward a law-governed state. I do think, however, that blaming Putin for all Russia’s ills is somewhat simplistic.

by: Fact from: Grozny
October 20, 2011 09:32
Even if the Radio Liberty is the propaganda of the CIA, I totally agree with that. That is what radio has always spoken the truth. All what they are doing is tells the truth. They speak the truth that is hurt to many politicians . I hope that the people hear my truth too.
In Response

by: Slava
October 22, 2011 19:06
More like half truths and outright lies.

by: Yuri from: Moscow
October 20, 2011 10:16
"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"
Proof or GTFO
In Response

by: Fact from: Grozny
October 20, 2011 14:41
totally agree with you
In Response

by: Joe
October 22, 2011 19:08
Total lie. The aforementioned deaths likely involve other particulars not related to the Kremlin ordering or favoring that journos be killed.

Politkovskaya was a dishonest hack.

by: Ben
October 20, 2011 18:26
" expressed the views of foreign" government" if it would be so,Putin flatter Swoboda,that express the American views no more then the Russian" Echo Moskvy". In addition the American Svoboda for the porpose of stimulating the Russian online readers,who are a bit affraid to express liberal views, resently have made registration!
In Response

by: Joe
October 22, 2011 19:10

Latynina, Arkhangelsky and a number of others like them have their outlets in Russia which censor patriotically reasonable pro-Russian views.

by: Jack from: US
October 23, 2011 13:37
RFERL was and remains CIA-operated mouthpiece of US government. It is pretty evident as they always push US government agenda - was it disseminating Pentagon-concocted lies about Christian (Serb) "autrocities" in Bosnia and Kosovo, or covering up for murderous muslim mobs in Syria who kill university professors and Christians. Good example of who works for RFERL is Politkovskaya - US-born fake who could not even write in decent Russian. She was an incarnation of a dishonesty. Pretty much everything she wrote was a fat lie and that's what RFERL needed

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

Most Popular

Editor's Picks