Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s “government hour” performance before the Federation Council (or Senate), the upper house of Russia’s national legislature, is interesting for several reasons.
But nothing is more interesting than Shoygu’s brief, unexpected paranoid tirade against RF citizens audacious enough to want to know what their military is doing.
Shoygu described the “information space” as a TVD in its own right. One in which the RF Armed Forces have suffered 25,000 computer infrastructure attacks from abroad in three years. “All attacks,” he reported, “are neutralized.” Of course.
The countries of the West, he said, are purveyors of “fake news” that Russia interfered in America’s elections, conducted hacker attacks, covered up combat losses, and the like.
But it gets weirder. Shoygu says:
In our country a pro-Western opposition battalion, regularly trained abroad, scoops it [“fake news”] up. Hiding behind media laws, its activists try to infiltrate military facilities, hunt down relatives and witnesses. They thrust themselves into hospitals where our wounded lie, into cemeteries, into wakes. They photograph entrances and exits of our closed bases and upload them on the Internet. You can imagine the account they would be brought to in the countries of the West.
This sphere requires further legislative regulation.
Whoa. Surprising even after 20 years of Putin and ever tightening manual control. Are the gates of those bases really state secrets? No, this is all perfectly legal and normal in a Western democracy. Truly bizarre.
Of course, Mr. Shoygu is intensely irritated by Bellingcat, CIT, etc. and their success in uncovering Russian deeds and misdeeds in Ukraine, Syria, or Libya. He certainly can’t accept that this is independent civic activism. Instead he believes their researchers and investigators are paid Western agents.
As Kommersant indicates, however, Russian journalists believe the Defense Minister’s words are really aimed at them. Shoygu doesn’t like them writing about Russian troops fighting and dying in Ukraine. He doesn’t care for their reporting on Russian SSO troops or mercs in Syria or Libya. Or GRU assassination squads in Europe.
Shoygu would like to squeeze military journalism down to nothing. So nothing untoward ever gets publicized. He’d be happy if the MOD’s official channels were the sole source of information on the Russian military.
Russian Union of Journalists chairman Vladimir Solovyev had this response:
One could understand the minister if someone, somewhere inadvertently exposed military secrets or related something the military department didn’t like. But on the other hand, according to the law on media, journalists have the right to fulfill their duty and write about what they believe is necessary in order to inform the public about situations including those connected with the military department.
It gets better:
[If] some people infiltrate, like Western agents, then this is the business of the FSB and counterintelligence, not the journalistic community. It’s understood that representatives of Western special services can come to us posing as journalists. It’s not a secret that representatives of our special services worked and work abroad posing as journalists. It happens.
Chairman of Putin’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights until last October, Mikhail Fedotov also reacted:
Our Constitution gives every citizen the right to freely search for, collect and distribute information. This doesn’t apply just to journalists. If we’re talking about limiting the right of journalists to search for information, then change the Constitution. It’s the second chapter, and I want to recall the words of President Putin about how this chapter has to operate in unchanged form for several decades longer. Because it affects everyone.
If Sergey Shoygu has complaints about journalists, there are many different authorities to sort them out. There are courts, there is the Public Collegium for Press Complaints. It’s always possible to go there.