Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, was upset with an article published in Novaya Gazeta (the paper that has already had several of its journalists murdered), written by Sergei Sokolov. He then took the rational next step of inviting him into
the forest provincial city of Nalchik, where he threatened to kill him, promising to personally oversee the murder investigation. Sokolov left Russia, and the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, published an open letter to Bastrykin, wherein he aired his (that is, Bastrykin’s) sins quite publicly, demanded that no harm come to his deputy editor, and explained how seriously Novaya Gazeta took this threat. “We have buried our colleagues,” he reminded Bastrykin.
To me, what is most noteworthy about this story is not that a Russian official isolated and threatened the life of a journalist, but that the editor of Novaya Gazeta took the action that he did. He, as editor-in-chief of this paper that is so often under governmental, ahem, pressure, is, I would imagine, constantly under pressure. The letter (which, if you read Russian, is right here) is a powerful piece. The fact that he wrote it at all means something, but to end it with, “Besides, Alexander Ivanovich, we have other unfinished business. For example, the case of Anna Politovskaya”—Anna Politovskaya being perhaps the most famous assassinated journalist—seems to me mean something more.
I don’t mean to suggest that this letter will bring down Bastrykin, or make him change his ways, or force him to see that he’s acted abominably. It will do none of those things. But I do mean that there are certain stereotypes that people toss around when discussing Russians—they can only have a strong leader! they care more for stability than they do certain basic freedoms! they are uninterested in a free press!—and, at least in the case of this one editor-in-chief, those aren’t true.
Also, Bastrykin went to law school with Putin. I have no idea what they could possibly have taught at the legal faculty of Leningrad State University. None at all.