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Kremlin Mutes Putin's Big Crimea Speech


Seen but not heard -- only soundless video footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech in Crimea was made available in the hours after he made his Crimea address.
Seen but not heard -- only soundless video footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech in Crimea was made available in the hours after he made his Crimea address.

Few media events in Russia attract television cameras like a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose public appearances are regularly beamed out by state-controlled television as the lead news across the country's 11 time zones.

But, after state-run media promised an important August 14 speech by Putin in Crimea, the Kremlin made a move that left both Russian and foreign media scratching their chins: It canceled the live feed of the event.

In the hours after Putin's address to Russian lawmakers, the only video footage of the speech that appeared to be available was broadcast by state-controlled television. This footage, however, featured no audio from the event. Instead, the anchors quoted from text reports issued in real time by Russian news agencies like Interfax and ITAR-TASS.

The independent-minded Ekho Moskvy radio noted that the agencies did not attach the "urgent" descriptions that they typically use to relay Putin's public statements.

It's unclear why the Kremlin and state-run media opted to downplay coverage of the speech, in which Putin touched both on domestic and foreign policy, including the standoff with the West over sanctions and the Ukraine crisis.

A Kremlin spokesman said to check the Kremlin's website later in the day for video footage. Asked why live video of the event had been canceled, he referred the question to Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Attempts to reach Peskov on his mobile phone were unsuccessful.

Peskov was grilled about the lack of coverage in a testy August 15 interview with Ekho Moskvy, and said the speech was open and that journalists were there. "They saw it all, they filmed everything," he said. Television channels "have their own editorial policy, they themselves decide their priorities," Peskov added.

Putin, flanked by top lawmakers from the State Duma, said Crimea is "capable of playing a unique unifying role for Russia, the role of a historical and spiritual source and another line of reconciliation of the Reds and the Whites," according to ITAR-TASS.

ALSO READ: Putin: Russia Will Strive To Stop Ukraine Bloodshed

The absence of television coverage appeared all the more unusual given the fact that the Ukraine crisis has been a political winner for Putin at home, where his approval ratings have soared amid a patriotic surge following the Crimea annexation.

The Kremlin's own press service was comparably taciturn. Hours after the speech, it had issued a press release -- in both Russian and English -- with just one quote from the Russian leader.

"We will do all we can to end the conflict as soon as possible, to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine," Putin said, according to the Kremlin's press release.

Hype, Then Silence

The Kremlin and Russian state-run media had hyped Putin's speech in days prior to the event.

An August 14 curtain-raiser by ITAR-TASS featured the headline, "Putin To Deliver Speech Ahead Of New Political Season In Russia," while Peskov was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency on August 11 as saying that the Russian leader will deliver a speech "rich in content."

Both Russian and foreign media outlets had announced they would broadcast the address live. But around 30 minutes before the start of the event near the Crimean city of Yalta, journalists were informed that no live video coverage would be allowed, the independent Russian television network Dozhd TV said on its Twitter feed.

The network added that its live coverage of Putin's remarks would be confined to written Tweets.

Typically following a Putin speech, the websites of state-controlled television channels feature wall-to-wall coverage of the event. In the hours following the August 14 address, however, the coverage on these websites was minimal.

Both NTV and Channel 1 television featured short segments with video but no sound bites. On August 15, state-owned Rossia-24 television aired clips of the speech and was scheduled to broadcast the full speech the same day at 10 p.m. Moscow time.

The Kremlin-controlled RT television network featured stories about Putin's comments on both its English- and Russian-language sites. Neither offered video, however, nor did the network post footage on is popular YouTube channel.

WATCH: NTV's report on Putin's Crimea speech

WATCH: Channel 1's report on the same topic

The address was Putin's first major speech on the peninsula since May, when he spoke in glowing, historical tones about the Crimea annexation during a visit to the city of Sevastopol.

"I am sure that 2014 will also become part of the city's chronicle and of that of our entire country, as the year in which the peoples here expressed their firm desire to be together with Russia," Putin said before cheering, enthusiastic crowds on May 9.

The speech fell on Russia's sacred Victory Day holiday commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany and was covered widely by television networks in Russia and across the globe.

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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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