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Russia Blocks Websites, Clears Space For Ultranationalists

Women walk past a Russian GAZ Tiger infantry vehicle near a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, Ukraine, on March 14.
Women walk past a Russian GAZ Tiger infantry vehicle near a Ukrainian military unit in the village of Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, Ukraine, on March 14.
As the crisis in Crimea escalates, the Kremlin has launched a crackdown on domestic independent media, allowing ultranationalist voices to move to center stage.

This week, the Russian daily "Izvestia," one of the country's leading dailies, ran an article by Aleksandr Prokhanov, a writer and journalist long known for his far-right, anti-Western views. "Izvestia's" close links to the Kremlin make the piece's publication significant.

Prokhanov has been active for many years but rarely has he had such a prominent platform.

In epic language, Prokhanov describes Moscow's takeover of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula as the start of a national awakening that will finally end Russia's humiliation at the hands of the West.

"In 1991, the Russians suffered a terrible blow," he wrote. "They were stunned, slashed, flogged. The most succulent, flourishing pieces of the country were cut off. Lest the Russians not rise up and clamor, they were trampled and tormented throughout the 1990s, while the cut-off pieces bled and ached. But now comes the healing. The Russians have awakened. The Russians have risen from decay and are shaking off the dust. The Russians are casting off a terrible yoke. They have embarked on a new campaign, on a triumphant march. They march, like the spring."

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Prokhanov, 76, began his journalistic career as a foreign correspondent for Soviet media in the 1960s. The journalist and writer publicly sided with hard-line communist leaders, who attempted a failed coup in August 1991 and went on to publish a small-time, right-wing journal known as "Zavtra" (Tomorrow.)

In his article for "Izvestia," Prokhanov hints that Crimea was only the beginning for Kremlin, which will take back what it believes belongs to it.

"Crimea was first to rise. The Russian army has its rangefinders aimed at Ukraine, standing ready to send its regiments to protect its brothers, who are being killed. Russia has made a grand, historic step. The Russian state has achieved such heights and strength in its development that it is now ready to rise to a historically new level."

As for potential Western sanctions, Prokhanov's answer is for the country to unite around its leader.

"Western pressure on Russia will be enormous," he wrote. "Fascist attacks on southern Russia are inevitable. The right response to them will be the spiritual mobilization of society, the consolidation of the people around their leader -- Putin."

Prokhanov's high-profile article in "Izvestia" appeared as Moscow moved to block three news websites which carried articles condemning the Kremlin's policies. This followed the dismissal of the editor of earlier this week, sparking an exodus of dozens of journalists from Russia's top independent news site.

RFE/RL's Pavel Butorin contributed to this report from Prague
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.