In the background of a glossy new website, a grinning family, apparently in Crimea, looks on with pride at two Russian soldiers. In the foreground is a list -- a who's who of Russian journalists, activists and entertainers who are said to threaten the family's implied bliss following Russia's annexation of the peninsula.
The website, called "Traitors
," is the most recent incarnation of an effort by hard-line Kremlin supporters to out the so-called fifth column of "national traitors" referred to by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a national address on March 18.
In Putin's 14 years in power, the Kremlin has used its heft to target opposition members and independent media before. But the president's rhetoric appears to be a signal that an enhanced crackdown is on the way, and it has spurred a mainstream intimidation campaign.
Soon after the United States and Europe imposed sanctions targeting individuals from Putin's inner circle, a special broadcast
on Russian state TV said those lists were fed by the very "fifth column" that Putin had mentioned days earlier.
"The lists, in my opinion, are being created in Moscow, among the capital's intelligentsia -- the people who Putin just this Tuesday called a 'fifth column,'" said Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of Russia's newly reorganized information agency, Rossiya Segodnya. "In fact, Putin legalized that term [for use] in the political language of Russia. We know their names. We know how they wrote our names and sent them to these Western embassies."
Kiselyov himself named names
, too, singling out opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and journalist Sergei Parkhomenko as fifth-column "heroes."
The call has been spreading on social media.
Sergei Markov, an analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, used Facebook to share a list of 41 names and organizations, including the Russian Service of RFE/RL, that were said to support the Kyiv protesters.
"Traitors to Russia!" he wrote
The rhetoric seems to be accelerating a recent crackdown on Russian opposition and independent media.Cable operators have removed Dozhd TV
, a popular liberal-leaning channel, and the station has been ordered to vacate its building by June. The chief editor of a widely respected news website, Lenta.ru, was fired in early March and replaced by someone who had recently led a pro-Kremlin website.
Rights activists fear that worse may be on the way.
In 2012, Russia's state Duma expanded the definition of treason, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to include "consultative or other assistance to a foreign state...against the security of the Russian Federation." In March, Yevgeny Fyodorov, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party, proposed legislation that would punish Russian media executives for spreading "false anti-Russian information.
"We are deeply concerned that authorities throughout Russia's regions could read Putin's comments to mean that anyone who criticizes government policies, including policies regarding Ukraine, could be a traitor," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
On the "Traitors" website, which was apparently created by a pro-Putin youth group, that is the very logic given in the site's preamble.
"We believe that Russian citizens who insult our soldiers and who cast doubt on the need to fight neo-Nazis are traitors," it says.
-- Glenn Kates