RFE/RL managers did more damage than KGB, Russian human rights figures say
Russia’s most distinguished human rights leaders blasted the managers of US government-sponsored broadcasting into the Russian Federation, saying that the managers did more harm than the KGB ever could.
Korn is also under fire for meekly going along with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to squelch Radio Liberty’s ability to reach Russian listeners by denying the venerable American voice access to medium-frequency airwaves. Putin imposed the restrictions, without any real protest from Korn, as part of his effort to stamp out free speech.
According to USGbroadcasts.com, “Reports in Russian media say that a letter of protest sent to the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Congress, which was signed by Russia’s most famous human rights leaders, condemns the management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for engineering a mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow. The signatories of the letter include such giants of the Russian human rights movement as Lyudmila Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Sergei Kovalyov, Chairman of the Russian human rights group ‘Memorial’; writer Vladimir Bukovsky, a former political prisoner in the Soviet Union; and Tatiana Yankelevich, daughter of Elena Bonner who was the wife of Andrei Sakharov.”
This development is shocking to me personally, since I have known many of the signatories for almost half my life, and worked with them to tear down the USSR. They are among the only Russians I ever truly trusted.
Weakness from Washington
The Obama Administration’s weakness toward Russia certainly encouraged Putin’s actions to cut off the broadcasting frequencies and to kick out the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which had been doing heroic work to keep Russia’s democratic opposition viable.
“A new Russian media law has prevented Radio Liberty from using the leased medium wave frequency in Moscow,” USGbroadcasts.com explains. But according to critics,
“Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management did nothing to prepare for it and refused offers of medium wave radio broadcasts to European Russia from the Baltic states. Instead, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on expanding the physical space of the Radio Liberty bureau in Moscow, RFE/RL management suddenly called dozens of Russian Service journalists to the office of a law firm in Moscow and told them they were fired. The employees were offered severance pay. Many of those fired were responsible for preparing successful and highly-praised online content, even though RFE/RL management claims that it wants to expand its new media outreach in Russia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is managed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. federal agency, and funded by the U.S. Congress.”
“Russian media reports speculate that RFE/RL President Steven Korn and his deputy Julia Ragona wanted to clear house before their newly selected director of the Russian Service, opposition writer, journalist and gay rights activist Masha Gessen was to start working on October 1. Gessen said that some Russian media reports on her future employment at RFE/RL and the firings were slanderous. Journalists in Russia are afraid of such accusations after President Putin signed in July a new law which has returned the slander article to the criminal code with the maximum fine of 5 mln rubles (approximately $160,000).”
More damaging than KGB
Russian human rights leaders described Korn’s purge of the Radio Liberty Moscow bureau as a “shameful and abusive special operation” – an expression that anybody familiar with Russian dissident vernacular would recognize as a less-than-oblique reference to a secret police or intelligence operation.
As if to underscore the hint, they added that Korn and his deputy Julia Ragona did more damage to the image of the United States in Russia than the KGB could have done on its own.
According to the letter:
“Reorganization of Radio Liberty work was carried out in a form of ‘special operation’ that was shameful and abusive for its employees. The KGB could not harm the image of the radio and the United States in Russia as did US managers – the President of the Radio Liberty Steven Korn and the Vice President Julia Ragona.”
As students of my foreign propaganda class know, the KGB and its surrogates worked for decades to infiltrate and disrupt RFE/RL.
Some Radio Liberty journalists who did not get purged have resigned in solidarity with their purged colleagues.