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October 18, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9592

Reactions In Russia To The Nobel Peace Prize Conferred On Dmitry Muratov

October 18, 2021
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 9592

In its press release the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that it had decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.

With regards to Dmitry Muratov the press release said: "Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov has for decades defended freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions. In 1993, he was one of the founders of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Since 1995 he has been the newspaper's editor-in-chief for a total of 24 years. Novaya Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power. The newspaper's fact-based journalism and professional integrity have made it an important source of information on censurable aspects of Russian society rarely mentioned by other media. Since its start-up in 1993, Novaya Gazeta has published critical articles on subjects ranging from corruption, police violence, unlawful arrests, electoral fraud and "troll factories" to the use of Russian military forces both within and outside Russia.

Novaya Gazeta's opponents have responded with harassment, threats, violence and murder. Since the newspaper's start, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya who wrote revealing articles on the war in Chechnya. Despite the killings and threats, editor-in-chief Muratov has refused to abandon the newspaper's independent policy. He has consistently defended the right of journalists to write anything they want about whatever they want, as long as they comply with the professional and ethical standards of journalism."[1]

From the prize committee's praise for Muratov, it is quite clear that Novaya Gazeta is not the authorities' favorite newspaper. The authorities have recently been harrying independent media by labeling them "foreign agents" thus impugning their patriotism, signaling possible criminal actions, and warning potential advertisers to keep their distance. An additional sticking point related to the foreign agent issue is the money from the prize. The foreign agent law can impose criminal liability even against a Russian scholarly institution participating in a research project funded from abroad.

The Russian leadership was perhaps bracing itself for the award being conferred on the imprisoned Alexei Navalny and was therefore congratulatory of Muratov as a person, and particularly his intention to donate the prize to children being treated for serious diseases. From Vladimir Putin on down they said that the Nobel Prize did not make Muratov a foreign agent, although it offered him no immunity if he ran afoul of the law.

If Muratov was spared criticism, the same did not apply to the Nobel Prize committee that had politicized the award and used it as a way to attack the regime. Here and there Kremlin surrogates took a pot shot at Muratov, but they were off the official message.

Liberal circles in Russia praised the award to Muratov and explained the decision by the prize committee to confer it on Muratov rather than Navalny. Some liberals may have even done Muratov a disservice by touting him as a serious opponent for Putin in the 2024 presidential elections.

MEMRI's review of reactions in Russia to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dmitry Muratov follows below:


Dmitry Muratov (Source: Rbc.ru)

Official Congratulations To Muratov

Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov set the tone by describing Muratov as a person who "consistently works according to his ideals and is committed to them, and is both talented and courageous."[2] The state media cited Peskov but was reticent about the nature. Similarly the media cited Muratov dedicating the award to his martyred colleagues in Novaya Gazeta, who were murdered due to their investigation of sensitive issues: ""This is the award of those who died for their work: Igor Domnikov, Yura Schekochikhin, Anya Politkovskaya, Natasha Estemirova, Nastya Baburova, Stas Markelov - this is, of course, their award. It's just that it is not given posthumously." However, the audience was left in the dark about who these people were and the circumstances surrounding their untimely demise.[3]

Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT, "I know for a fact that Muratov is passionate and active in providing support for sick children. I enjoy the thought that he received the prize for these efforts and not for the usual stuff. Congratulations!"[4]

Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin exemplified the official position of congratulating Muratov, while bashing the Nobel Peace Prize for its biases: "I have known [Dmitry] Muratov for a long time, I am glad for him," said Viacheslav Volodin, commenting on the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to the journalist.

However, he continued, "as for the Nobel Peace Prize itself, it raises many questions for the selection of laureates, given that there are no clear criteria for assessing their contribution and merit".

"Among such inexplicable decisions is the awarding of this prize to [Barack] Obama and [Mikhail] Gorbachev. Both one and the other, by their actions, intentionally or unintentionally, have brought suffering to a huge number of people, "said Volodin.[5]

Elena Panina, a member of the Duma International Affairs Committee betrayed the relief of the authorities that the Nobel laureate was Muratov rather than Navalny. "The very fact that an international award was given to the editor-in-chief of the Russian media outlet can only be welcomed. This is a big achievement for the entire industry." Panina congratulated the committee for rejecting the campaign to grant Navalny the prize.

"I have doubt that [the decision to award Muratov] reflects not only the position of the Nobel Committee, but the entire collective West's stance on the Russian agenda. The main thing is that this year, an active campaign was waged to facilitate awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the blogger Alexei Navalny. The fact that he did not receive the award clearly indicates that the West has become disappointed with the extremists' activities and is prepared to abandon them...This explains the disappointment among [Navalny's] Anti-Corruption Foundation supporters. Their hoped-for assistance from foreign states failed once again."[6]

Muratov Will Not Be Classified A Foreign Agent

Russian officials have made assurances that receipt of the prize will not make Muratov a foreign agent. Yuri Sinelshchikov, the first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation said that the prize should not entail a foreign agent status althouth "receipt of the Nobel Prize is not an indulgence and does not confer immunity, but Russia recognizes the status of the Nobel Prize. ""This never raised any questions. And - what if we open our mouths and say? All our life everything was in order, and now let's say: were all foreign agents? I think there is no need to worry here."[7]

Senator Alexander Bashkin. A member of the Federation Council Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty said that the award does not constitute funding from abroad.[8] Vladimir Putin speaking at Russian Energy Week said that Muratov, unless he "violates Russian law" or provides "grounds for this", will not be declared a foreign agent. Putin, however warned Muratov not to use the prize as a shield.[9]

Bashing The Nobel Prize Committee As Hopelessly Politicized

If Muratov was moderately applauded and exempted from the foreign agent label, the Nobel Prize Committee was the target of harsh criticism for following a political agenda and neglecting more worthy candidates for the prize.

Chairman of the Federation Council Commission on Information Policy and Interaction with the Media, Alexey Pushkov claimed that the Nobel Peace Prize had become a tool for supporting liberal tendencies in world politics, and since 2009, when the prize was conferred on President Barack Obama has been discredited.

"I believe that the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded for achievements in defending a peace, for a settlement of a major international conflict, for saving lives that may have been lost due to hostilities, for successfully negotiating peace between warring parties or for ending a civil war," explained Pushkov.

"Judging by the criteria that the Nobel Committee has placed in the forefront this year, [...] there is only person qualifies to be an absolute and unconditional candidate for such a prize. This is WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. After all, he publicized the information that helped to shed light on the war in Iraq. For these actions he's persecuted by the US government, and has been suffering for many years, because he revealed the truth" stressed the politician.

"Meanwhile, Assange wasn't even considered by the Nobel Committee, because the Nobel Prize today is primarily a political tool." [10]


Alexey Pushkov (Source: Lenta.ru)

Sergei Markov the director of the Institute for Political Studies similarly blasted the Nobel Prize as a tool of political manipulation. Awarding Muratov the prize signaled the West's support for regime change in Russia by any means.

"I know Muratov and, on the one hand, I want to congratulate him. I'm happy that a Russian journalist was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. However, on the other hand, the Nobel Committee supports the opposition media [in Russia], in other words it promotes the destabilization of the situation in the country.

"I guess they simply didn't have the guts to award the Nobel Peace Prize to [Lukashenko's opponent Svetlana] Tikhanovskaya and [Alexei] Navalny and decided to moderate their signal.

However, the Nobel Committee has demonstrated its true nature and fulfilled the Washington's will. I have no doubt that this body transmits the Western ideology and confronts the Russian state," said Markov.

Like Pushkov, Markov believed there were more worthy candidates, for example those who supported the autonomy of Donbass in Ukraine. "People put their lives at risk to fight the repressive machine. The coup in Ukraine [in 2014] was organized by people who coordinate the work of the [Norwegian] Nobel Committee. The US and EU intelligence services have moved from organizing coups to an open support of armed power takeovers and law violations. A color revolution means the violation of peaceful democracy process. A color revolution in Ukraine happened in 2004 and an armed coup occurred there back in 2014," [11]


Sergey Markov (Source: Aif.ru)

Mikhail Vinogradov, President of the "St. Petersburg Policy" Foundation, "I have mixed feelings regarding the Nobel Prize awarded.

"On the one hand, 'winners won't be judged' [Russian expression meaning that victory should be achieved by any means possible] and it's good news that your compatriots' [work] is appreciated....

On the other hand, to call the Novaya Gazeta newspaper a good publication is rather an overestimate. They publish… usually depressing items... It's a sort of newspaper equivalent of [the liberal] Yabloko party [with which Muratov has been associated].

The foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov believed that the Nobel Committee, while politicized, avoided embarrassment by steering clear of active politicians "The last case happened with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. He was awarded the prize for his peace settlements efforts, but later but he started a war! Awarding Obama with Nobel Peace Prize was criticized too. In short, awarding activists is a better option.

The Nobel Committee is always trying to influence the international agenda, to support all the good things against all the bad ones. These days all the good and all the bad things are concentrated in the information sphere. This is the world of illusions that we live in. So it is logical to focus one's efforts on this sphere... The information sphere is the most politicized one today, [I would argue] that this sphere even gets mythologized. Myths have become inseparable from reality. Therefore, the decision to award [the prize to] Novaya Gazeta was correct [given the committee's liberal bias]."

Journalist Dmitri Olshansky not unexpectedly raised the issue of foreign intelligence agencies. "Revolutionary liberalism with a mandate from the CIA, MI6, BND etc. could've been awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize this year. [12]

Senator Sergei Tsekov claimed that he was embarrassed by the award of the Nobel Prize to Muratov.

"I think this decision is exclusively political. In principle, the Peace Prize has had a political motive for a long time, and the awarding of the prize to a newspaper that is opposed to the Russian leadership includes an anti-Russian motive, which is the basis for awarding the Nobel Prize, "Tsekov opined .

According to Tsekov, all the prizes of the Nobel Committee are "politically motivated", and when determining the laureate "the laureate's country of residence and his political views are also taken into account." Tsekov advocated establishing a domestic, "non-politicized" prize that would compete with the Nobel Prize.[13]

Russian Liberals Applaud Prize But Some Consider Navalny The More Worthy Recipient

While Russian liberals regarded Muratov as a sound candidate for the prize some would have preferred that the prize be conferred on the imprisoned Alexey Navalny or on Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Ruslan Shaveddinov, a close ally of Navalny's, criticized the decision not to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Navalny or the Belarusian opposition, another frontrunner.

"Instead of pretentious and hypocritical speeches about 'freedom,' they could have protected a person who survived an assassination attempt and is now taken hostage by the murderers. Or support a person who fights against a mustachioed fascist [Belarus strong man Alexander Lukashenko]," Shaveddinov tweeted.

 There was no bad blood on exhibit between Muratov and Navalny. Muratov said that Navalny deserved the prize more. Navalny wrote on his English Twitter account "I sincerely congratulate Dmitry Muratov and Novaya Gazeta with the Nobel Peace Prize...This is a well-deserved honor, and the symbolism of the date [15 years to the murder of Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politovskaya] is telling."

"This is a reminder of the high price that those who refuse to serve the authorities have to pay... The world is changing, and none of us knows exactly how the information sphere will evolve and how the media will change," he continued. "I am glad that by its decision (at least it seemed to be so) the Nobel Committee noted that no matter how much that likes, algorithms, content consumption, private and public money and subscribers affect us, the main thing that we always need is journalism, which is not afraid to tell the truth." Navalny tweeted.[14]

There were attempts in liberal circles to justify the Nobel Committee's preference for Muratov.

lya Grashenkov, director of the Russian Center for the Development of Regional Politics, commented:

If you were to approach the issue, thoroughly and bureaucratically from a European perspective, then you must regard the situation somewhat detachedly. Who was Tikhanovskaya before the events in Minsk that are only a year old? Who is Navalny, whose popularity is based on low-quality investigations? And then there is Novaya Gazeta, which has been conducting dangerous investigative activities for decades, where journalists literally risk their lives."[15]

Political scientist Alexey Makarkin also defended the decision:

"The Nobel Prize for Dmitry Muratov has several meanings.

"1. Support for modern principles of journalism, based on the fact that a journalist should not be a 'soldier of the state'. His function is to inform society about socially significant problems, including those related to the protection of human rights, and the fight against arbitrariness and corruption. This function can be implemented in different genres - from journalism to investigations - and they are all present in Novaya Gazeta. In Russia, political TV broadcasting has taken revenge on the worst propaganda traditions of Soviet journalism - and Novaya Gazeta is trying to resist this tendency to the best of its ability.

"2. A "soft" signal from the Russian authorities that the international community would like to preserve the space of information freedom in Russia, which has recently shrunk a lot. Dmitry Muratov cannot be called a radical in any way, but he is a man with firm liberal principles. And simultaneously, he knows how to preserve his newspaper without burning it, by crossing the brink of the possible...

"3. The 'softness' of the signal is causing yet another demarcation in the Russian opposition, many of whom are disappointed that Alexei Navalny did not receive the prize. But there are several circumstances that made such a choice almost impossible. On the surface: the prize for Navalny would be too big a responsibility for the Nobel Committee, associated with an acute and long-term conflict with the Russian government. The committee is not ready to assume such responsibility. Now Dmitry Peskov congratulated Dmitry Muratov on the prize - this is a demonstration that there will be no conflict.

"4. There is a pragmatic aspect. In 1975, the Nobel Committee, when awarding the prize to Andrei Sakharov, not only made a political gesture, but also sought to push the USSR to comply with the obligations it had just assumed within the framework of the 'third basket' of the Helsinki agreements. Now the same committee demonstrates the importance of preserving freedom of speech in Russia as one of the fundamental human rights. It is quite possible that Mikhail Gorbachev, the official co-owner of Novaya Gazeta, played a role in the selection of the laureate - the committee listens to the opinion of the Nobelists.

"5. And the last thing. The Nobel Committee tries to be cautious about awarding acting politicians, fearing controversial decisions - not only criticized 'here and now', but also [to be criticized] in the future. Usually in this connection they talk about Yasir Arafat, but the situation of 2018 is more relevant for the committee, when it came under fire for the prize awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi back in 1991. During this time, the prisoner laureate became a minister, and she was accused of complicity in the persecution of the Rohingya people by the military (and after a new military coup, as a result of which she was reimprisoned, Aung San Suu Kyi did not receive wide international support). The unpredictability of the current politicians apparently influenced the decision to withhold the prize not only from Navalny, but also from the Belarusian opponents of Alexander Lukashenko. Awarding journalists or public figures looks safer for the international image of the award."

Alexey Venediktov editor-in-chief, host and co-owner of the Echo of Moscow radio station summed up Muratov's long track record and called him Novaya Gazeta's captain on the bridge: "It is quite obvious that the editor-in-chief Muratov is in charge of such a media outlet, which began investigations in the pre-Internet era and laid, in my opinion, the parameters of these investigations, which are quite serious. And to question his professionalism or patriotism - seems indecent, or rather, it seems dishonorable. Even then, a long time ago and back in the last century, Novaya Gazeta from the very outset established parameters, and became an example of how real evidentiary investigations should be conducted – most toughly, while distinguishing suspicion from proof. And it is quite obvious to me that it set the standard for the professional press in these matters and the main topics were, as you remember: Chechnya, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and long before these scandals minority rights. By the way, it very strongly defended the rights of civilian Chechens during the first Chechen war and thus during the Boris Yeltsin period, saved I would say thousands of people.... It seems to me that this was all because the captain was on the bridge. Dmitry Muratov was on the bridge and it is clear that when the dissatisfied, let's call them officials, generals came... it was Dmitry who took the blows on himself, and behind his back stood his employees, that is, he protected them with his back.[16]


Alexey Venediktov (Source: Kommersant.ru)

Muratov In 2024?

A few articles appeared after Muratov was announced the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize recommending that the opposition to Putin should unite behind Muratov's candidacy in the 2024 Presidential Elections, when Vladimir is  Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin and now an independent political consultant wrote two articles in Echo of Moscow touting Murtaov's chances:

"For a presidential candidate, Muratov is too intelligent. In a normal situation, he probably would not have won the elections in Russia. In the situation of 2024, however, as a candidate from the united opposition, he could prove to be a very dangerous competitor for Putin. Against the background of Putin's brutality, which is pretty boring for everyone, Muratov's intelligence will appear to be less a disadvantage than as an advantage. Just as Putin took off as a contrast to Yeltsin, so now it can happen to Muratov.

"To win against Putin, his rival first of all needs to have a minimum negative rating and be a consensus type of figure. The mass voter is tired of the Manichean confrontation into which the authorities are immersing Russian politics together with the opposition. People are terribly tired by the endless opposition of some groups of citizens to others. In this sense, Muratov, with his intelligence, is just what you need. It is his manner that corresponds to what the mass voter unconsciously craves. Moreover, he is 'not a politician, and he must remain so [an anti-politician] as long as possible. Politicians are not trusted anywhere, and especially in today's Russia. It is necessary to enter the game at the last moment - preferably in response to the public's call and, seemingly, reluctantly. Well, something on the order of 'force of circumstances ', 'I can no longer look at where the country is heading', etc.

"Another important plus for Muratov is that no one will call him a 'weakling - and this is the flip side of 'intelligence' in mass consciousness. He looks like a Russian hero outwardly, and his biography is quite convincing. Leading an independent media in Russia is definitely not for the weak."[17]

Gallyamov, the next day, sought to explain why Muratov's image as a liberal would not be a turn-off to the Russian voter. In principle, generally, one must understand that in a protest campaign situation, the qualities of an opposition candidate are highly secondary to the electorate. The very fact of his opposition is important to them. If a candidate has become a symbol of resistance, then voters will not critically analyze his business characteristics. Criticism from the pro-government camp will only strengthen their resolve to support him. Therefore, we can safely say: people who write that Muratov, they say, is a "liberal", but they do not vote for "liberals", they simply do not understand the specifics of the upcoming presidential campaign. It will be a campaign not for, but against. The main motive that will guide the voter is to vote against continuing the current course, that is, against Putin. In this sense, Muratov's 'liberalism' is not a problem; on the contrary, it is an asset. Because if you are a 'liberal', then you are against Putin. And this is the main plus.[18]


Abbas Gallyamov (Source: M.businessgazeta.ru)

 

[1] Nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2021/press-release

[2] Vesti.ru, October 8, 2021

[3] Currenttime.tv, October 11, 2021.

[4] Vz.ru, October 8, 2021.

[5] Gov.duma.ru, October 13, 2021.

[6] Ria.ru, October 8, 2021.

[7] Interfax.ru, October 13, 2021.

[8] Echo.msk.ru, October 9, 2021.

[9] Rbc.ru, October 13,2021.

[10] Iz.ru, October 8, 2021.

[11] Riafan.ru, October 8, 2021.

[12] Vz.ru, October 8, 2021.

[13] Gazeta.ru, October 8, 2021.

[14] Themoscowtimes.com, October 11, 2021.

[15] Rosbalt.ru, October 8, 2021.

[16] Echo.msk.ru, October 9, 2021.

[17] Echo.msk.ru, October 9, 2021.

[18] Echo.msk.ru, October 10, 2021.

 

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