My name is Alexey Kovalev, I've worked as a reporter for 16 years now. I started as a novice reporter in a local daily and a decade later I was running one of the most popular news websites in Russia as a senior editor at a major news agency. Now I work for an upstart non-profit newsroom as the managing editor of their Russian-language website and contribute reports and op-eds as a freelancer to a variety of national Russian and international news outlets.

I also founded a website called The Noodle Remover ('to hang noodles on someone's ears' means to lie, to BS someone in Russian) where I debunk false narratives in Russian news media and run epic crowdsourced, crowdfunded investigations about corruption in Russia and other similar subjects. Here's a story about it:

Ask me questions about press freedom in Russia (ranked 148 out of 180 by Reporters Without Borders, what it's like working as a journalist there (it's bad, but not quite as bad as Turkey and some other places and I don't expect to be chopped up in pieces whenever I'm visiting a Russian embassy abroad), why Pravda isn't a "leading Russian newspaper" (it's not a newspaper and by no means 'leading') and generally about how Russia works.

Fun fact: I was fired by Vladimir Putin's executive order (okay, not just I: I've also just returned from a 9 weeks trip around the United States where I visited various American newsrooms as part of a fellowship for international media professionals, so I can talk about my impressions of the U.S. as well.


Here are a few links to my stories in English:

How Russian state media suppress coverage of protest rallies:

I found an entire propaganda empire run by Moscow's city hall:

And other articles for The Moscow Times:

About voter suppression & mobilization via social media in Russia, for Wired UK:

How Russia shot itself in the foot trying to ban a popular messenger: for Washington Post and Coda Story:

I helped The Guardian's Marc Bennetts expose a truly ridiculous propaganda fail on Russian state media:

I also wrote for The Guardian about Putin's tight grip on the media:

And I also wrote for the New York Times about police brutality and torture that marred the polished image of the 2018 World Cup:

This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Come back for new AMAs every day in October.

Comments: 1880 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

Franconio2024 karma

Recently the Pravda editor did an AMA himself, have you seen it and what do you think about it? He rejected accusals of being partial but it looked like he was naively trying to whitewash their image

Edit: itself himself

Yenisei233851 karma

Don't get me started!! I've never heard of him, frankly, and Pravda is neither "leading" or a newspaper. Its website is the hub of a bunch of fairly obscure propaganda websites and online tabloids dating back to early Putin years. They have no journalistic value whatsoever, most of their content is just copypasted news briefs from state-owned newswires interspersed with anti-Western screeds and coordinated attacks on the opposition and the few remaining independent outlets. This guy clearly has a very vague idea of what journalism is in general, difference between fact and opinion etc. I can't believe his AmA got so much traction, but he's still the laughingstock on Russian internet, and for good reason.

seanprefect1441 karma

How do you ensure your own safety? You are very brave and I'm curious how do you make sure nothing bad happens to you and those close to you?

Yenisei232730 karma

Thanks, but I'm not nearly as brave as, say, folks from Novaya Gazeta who have to deal with stuff like this on a daily basis:

In terms of safety, I guess I've developed a habit of looking over my shoulder, but what's more important, having strong, randomly generated passwords on all my social media accounts & devices, never going online without a VPN on etc. A digital attack is still a more realistic threat than a physical one.

ulvain247 karma

I have read about some journalists having "dead man switch" articles or facts, that they used as a dissuasive strategy (talking about some very damaging piece of info being kept with a lawyer or notary with instructions to send it to X number of publications in case of death, accidental or not), what are your thoughts on this?

Yenisei23226 karma

Interestingly, I found that to be the case with government people (in a more general sense). Some are basically unfireable because they know too much!

MoonBoots691352 karma

Remember when Mike Keenan left you out there for a five minute shift as punishment and you ended up scoring a goal?

Yenisei231110 karma

Fun fact: I have one of the most popular name/surname combos in Russia and ex-USSR. My surname means basically "son of smith", so I do have quite a few full namesakes. But wow, I've never heard this joke before lol

GreyJersey917 karma

What do you think is the largest misconception Americans have of Russia?

Yenisei231493 karma

The problem is not misconception, I'd say that Americans on the average have a very vague, outdated notion of what modern Russia really is. A shop assistant in Austin, TX, asked me where I was from, and when I told her, she was like "oooh I have so many questions, is it true that you guys don't have enough to eat so you can only buy food with government-issued coupons or something?" Man, that was 30 years ago! Also, those anti-Trump memes, stickers, signs at rallies etc, where he has a hammer&sickle logo on the forehead, implying a Russia connection: we're not a Communist country and we haven't been since 1996, when the Commie Party of Russia candidate was annihilated in the elections (with considerable American assistance btw). In many ways Russia is more capitalist than the United States. I could go on, but you get the general idea.

Yenisei231453 karma

Another common mistake is seeing Putin as this omnipotent, all-powerful superdictator who is behind everything. In reality, he's more or less a feudal ruler surrounded by constantly scheming, backstabbing vassals whom he cannot really fire or even fully control, although they all sing praises to him and assure him of their unwavering loyalty.

Ha_omer312 karma

Why can't he really fire them? I thought Putin had firm grip on all the Russian oligarchs and they basically do whatever he wants

Yenisei23642 karma

Because that would disturb a very fragile balance of power, with potentially fatal results. He has to keep them close, but not too close so that one doesn't accumulate too much power at the expense of others. Something like that.

guto8797179 karma

Speaking of which, has his grip on power been rocked by the pension's bill as some report?

Yenisei23358 karma

Yep, it's definitely put a dent in his ratings. There's simply no way even the most silver-tongued demagogue can sell this policy while Putin's friends, their friends, wives, mothers in law, kids and security guards to their security guards are getting obscenely rich. They've managed to put down/dissipate some of the most explosive dissent but there's a lot of grumbling still.

Plan4Chaos246 karma

Slav squatting /s

Jokes aside, I'm just a random Russian dude who's hanging on Reddit for quite few years and IMHO Americans is lacking of conceptions of Russia in the first place. Almost all I see it's folks either citing some random fragments of a Cold War propaganda (good chunk of which was false from scratch) or just don't give a dime about Russia.

royalsocialist107 karma

I can speak from experience, slav squatting is legit.

Yenisei23783 karma

PRO TIP: while Slav-squatting, plant your heels firmly on the ground. If you don't, it's not a true Slav squat. That's how we weed out spies.

GameOfPatrons799 karma

What's the one thing everyone should know about Russian foreign policy that isn't talked widely about?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

Yenisei23843 karma

I'd say that a lot of it is extremely shortsighted and generates a lot more backlash than any potential gains. Eg Crimea did provide a huge boost to Putin's ratings and generated a surge of patriotism even in Russians who are normally neutral or even opposed to him, but the glow is fading fast and the sanctions aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Putin isn't the master strategist, he's an expert at exploiting momentary opportunities, but without much forethought. Same thing with US elections meddling: what have we achieved, really, apart from more sanctions on top of already existing ones? So less 4D chess, more Chapayev).

Kappasig2911632 karma

During your trip around the US, what were the biggest differences you noticed between American newsrooms and Russian newsrooms?

Yenisei231360 karma

American newsrooms are far more efficient and organized! There's a lot more screaming and swearing and mad scrambling around a deadline in Russia. I was in awe at the professionalism of my American colleagues, there's a lot to be learned from them.

chairmanmyow522 karma

What, if anything, are the American media doing incorrectly in covering the current political climate? If you could say anything to the editorial boards of all the newspapers in the U.S., what would you say? What would you say to young journalists in this country?

Thanks for fighting the good fight. I was in journalism for ten years and can't imagine being in editorial today. Low pay, little respect or understanding of the importance of the job and now violence are all part of the deal. You are a brave person!

Yenisei231316 karma

I'd say "ignore Trump's tweets and focus on the important stuff", but that would be too idealistic. Plus, a lot of American media, especially in the nonprofit sector, like ProPublica, are doing exactly that and they're an example to follow. I've also met a lot of young, eager American reporters who are doing a fantastic job and need no further encouragement from me. I also wish American media were more curious about the world, not exclusively focused on the U.S., and inject more nuance in their foreign coverage.

Demon-Jolt211 karma

When we do cover foreign, it seems to be purely biased and focused on negative events.

sash187193 karma

I came over to the US in 1995 when I was almost 10. In 7th grade, roughly 3 years later (1998), I asked my friends: "What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Russia?" Essentially all of them had the same answer: "I think cold, dark, stray animals running everywhere and broken glass in trashy alley ways. Rusted dental tools and broken down cars." I almost wanted to cry lol. I then asked them why in the world they think that, and their answer was that's what they saw on TV and news.

Yenisei23275 karma

To be honest, it was most definitely true in both 1995 and 1998.

cooperSt451 karma

How are you not dead?

Yenisei23983 karma

Let's face it guys. It's dangerous being a journalist in Russia, but nowhere nearly as dangerous as, say, in Turkey. So let's not overestimate the threat. A far more plausible scenario is my website or newspaper dying a slow death after losing all advertisers, access to other sources of funding or a back-breaking punitive fine:

PeteWenzel372 karma

How bad is online censorship in Russia - including of social media and messaging services?

Do you feel the need to use VPNs?

Yenisei23641 karma

It's pretty bad, quite a few websites have been banned, and still more are under constant threat of violating some ridiculous new law and having their licenses stripped or websites blocked. But, luckily, the censorship agencies are a bunch of incompetent idiots (see my story on Telegram:, so circumventing these bans is fairly easy.

XoHHa330 karma

Am Russian and as we say here "The strictness of law is compensated by lack of need to follow it"

I mean, pretty many of popular sites are blocked but it doesnt affect them

The latest campaign of government against Telegram messenger to block it resulted only in its increased popularity among Russian users

Yenisei23316 karma

Another fun fact: Telegram is banned in Russia, but Putin's own spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and RT's editor in chief Margarita Simonyan, among other high-profile people, still use it, not giving AF. Because who cares about these bans really.

ThatKarmaWhore337 karma

What is the general view the Russian people take of their own government? Do they acknowledge (unofficially) any of what the entire Western world sees coming out of Russia?

Yenisei231349 karma

Okay, let me clarify something first. You'll probably be surprised to learn that the government of Russia, as in the cabinet of ministers led by our ex-president and now prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, is a legitimate target of criticism even on state-owned (to a certain extent, of course) and loyalist media. That's because the government — which includes a few Western-educated, economically and politically liberal members — has little agency of its own and is subservient, like most other branches of power in Russia, to the president's administration. It's so obvious that reporters don't even bother calling the prime minister's press secretary to ask a question about the government's policies. They call Putin's spokesman because that's where the real power is. So the government acts as a sponge for people's outrage when unpopular reforms have to be implemented. Here's a typical scenario, exemplified perfectly by the massively unpopular pension reform: 1. Government demands $120 from every Russian citizen. 2. People are mad at the government, there are critical articles and even protest rallies. 3. Two weeks later Putin finally breaks the silence and scolds the bad, uncaring government (although it was his admin which had forced the govt to demand the new tax in the first place). How can you demand $120 from every hard-working, honest Russian citizen? Won't $100 be enough? 4. Govt rolls back, gets 100% of what it (aka Putin's admin) originally wanted, civil society pats itself on the back, repeat cycle.

JHutch95247 karma

Can you ever see Russia becoming "free" from Putin and becoming more liberal?

Yenisei23765 karma

I have a rather dim view of Russia's post-Putin future. I don't see any way of him being removed from office through democratic means. More plausible scenarios include: * Putin, hopefully aware that he can't be president forever, nominates a successor only a few weeks or even days before a snap "election" (with the Byzantine system that we have in place, he can't appoint one earlier because that'd trigger a brutal clan war between various factions of incredibly corrupt, powerful and utterly immoral barons in his circle), the electoral commission pushes said successor through the elections without any real competition. There's a faint hope of reforms. * Putin suddenly dies, which triggers a brutal clan war (see above) with uncertain results, possibly culminating in a proper civil war with regional nationalist flare-ups on Russia's far edges. * Putin stays in power, growing ever more senile and detached and surrounded by a tight clique of octogenarian sycophants. Russia slides into slow stagnation and further isolation.

JD_Walton101 karma

Isn't there any room for "Powerful individual in Russia manages to lie his way into the inner circle, then ruthlessly stab Putin in the back (metaphorically or figuratively) and then cow the other power players into obedience?" I've always thought of Putin as less of a central figure than we might imagine in the west, and more of a pivot, a cornerstone upon which a whole range of other powerful interests are the ones actually managing the nation? Is that incorrect? An oligarch among the oliogarchs, something similar to the old tsarists, where the tsar was just the member of that family with the willingness to wrangle the power or else become the instrument of the aristocrats?

Yenisei23210 karma

Very astute analysis — that's indeed how the system works, Putin is less of an omnipotent, all-knowing superdictator and more of a mediator between various clans and factions — but wrong hypothesis. There's no way of worming one's way into Putin's inner circle unless you were in the same judo club with him in Leningrad in the 70s. And there's not enough pressure anyone in the US or anywhere else can put on his cronies that they turn on him, that's just not happening.

thecosmicmuffet29 karma

In light of that, what is the purpose, in your opinion, of Putin's political grandstanding, like having his QnA sessions, or holding puppies, etc. I've never heard any russian act like they didn't know the score (as you have just stated it), and I'm not aware of any other world leaders who are impressed with these issues. Do you think he has some conception of continuing or recreating the institution that created his inner circle by way of apprenticeship or something like that? It's hard to understand the relationship in russia between the cynical real politik aspect of the situation and the public theater for me.

Yenisei2319 karma

So look, we are now at a point where he literally appoints his bodyguards to ministerial and gubernatorial positions, because they are the only people he can trust. So there's a pressing issue with passing on the reins to the new generation of managers, and they've even come up with some future leaders program to pick bright young minds and groom them to become future members of the cabinet and CEOs of state corporations, but the problem is that the old guard also has kids and they fully expect them to inherit the highest positions in the state by birthright. Re Putin's antics: these Q&A sessions are his way of appearing as the good, benevolent and caring leader to the people (I wrote about this), but he's visibly tired and bored of doing the same thing twice a year for the last almost two decades. Re puppies and bare-chested photoshoots: he really love does nature and the outdoors, it's his favorite pasttime, and his PR people just drag along with a photographer because they know it's great clickbait stuff, especially in the West. Every year, without fail.

JimBob-Joe190 karma

What can you tell us about troll farms? Who runs them? Whats their main goal? Are they as effective as many fear?

Edit: Spelling

Yenisei23365 karma

Let's go point by point: 1) Russia has a lot more than one, I uncovered one massive operation myself (1, 2 ), run by the Moscow city hall. It includes both traditional social media campaigns where hundreds of "volunteers" post pro-mayor messages on Twitter and Vkontakte, Russia's domestic social network, and a whole galaxy of identical, centrally managed news websites whose goal is to game the algorithms of the national news aggregator, Yandex. Many regional governments have smaller but similar operations.

2) The goal is to promote the government's causes, creating the illusion of widespread support, and to drown out the critics.

3) They are pervasive, but not terribly effective, just annoying. Most people are aware of them and have learned to ignore or ridicule the very obviously pro-government messages they are seeing on social media.

MortyMcMorston145 karma

How is the standard of living of Russians since the fall of the USSR? I've had Russian friends tell me that Putin is a great leader that is helping them advance as a nation. He explained that after the fall, Russians were confused and unable to advance as a nation and they needed strong leadership for the people, and that Putin is quite popular there.

However the news here and some other friends paint him as a dictator that rules ruthlessly and uses policies to advance himself and those who keep him in power. They take advantage of the hard work of the people to make themselves richer.

I know its a general question but I'd love it if you could share a bit of history since the fall with the good & the bad.

Finally, I'd love to know if there's room for freedom in the future, if there's a possibility for better social services for the people (health and services). Or is Russia descending hard into dictatorship.

Thanks for this!

Dawidko1200693 karma

I'm a Russian. I'll try to provide the best picture I can.

In the 1970s, USSR's economic growth started to stagger. Ever since WWII ended, USSR was growing at an unprecedented rate, easily comparable with Japan's "economic miracle". The country was just beginning industrialization before the war, and after the war, people started to flow into the cities in millions. Up until the 70s, Soviet Union, on its own, could compete with the world economy lead by the US. As you might be aware, USSR tried isolationism, and only got involved politically or unilaterally in other countries (be it military like in Vietnam and Korea, or economically like in many African countries). They didn't get much out of those deals. So, with a closed economy, they were still doing quite well.

The 70s come, and the miracle wears off. Western historians claim it was the arms race and the space race that caused it, but I disagree. It's much more easily explained by a simple lack of people. USSR in 1970 numbered 241 million people, with a surface are bigger than that of Pluto. An economy of 250 million, especially without beneficial naval positions, can't compete with the rest of the world. The US lead (and still does) an economy much larger than its own population, because it included Europe and many Asian countries, like the aforementioned Japan, or South Korea. So, USSR started to lack workers. The resources were abundant, and nobody starved. Few people were homeless as well. 70s are a period when a big amount of khrushchevkas were built (cheap panel housing, big grey slabs like this).

But there weren't enough workers, and stagnation was getting obvious. USSR started to lag technologically. Students, instead of getting proper professional practice as they did before, were sent to kolkhoz as workers. Everywhere you went, signs "Workers needed" could be seen. And as we all know, that lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, the details of the collapse are scarcely known in the West. Initially, the government tried to reform the country, somewhat inspired by NEP and China's semi-communist example. That's the perestroika, or as it's translated from Russian, "reconstruction". Reconstruction of the country. It had mixed results, but a lot of liberties were granted. Private businesses were allowed, information was less censored, etc. Still, the Party wasn't quite homogeneous. There were fractions within the party, who saw different futures for USSR. Eventually, that lead to armed conflicts in the cities and even in Moscow. Prior to that, a referendum was held, where people were polled on whether or not USSR should remain a thing, albeit heavily reformed. Most people answered "Yes". And frankly, given what followed, any sane person would do the same.

The referendum had to be ignored after the events of the August coup, and USSR was officially disassembled. What followed is chaos. The 90s are called "Wicked 90s" in Russia, because it was not in any way reminiscent of either modern Russia or the USSR. Crime ran rampant. Shootings in the streets weren't all that uncommon. Ruble was in the pit, people started using dollars as currency. All the Soviet infrastructure was ruined, the borders that were suddenly in place between Russia and Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc. ruined trade and ruined lives. Putin is sometimes quoted for saying that the collapse of USSR was the biggest tragedy of the late 20th century. If we didn't rip out the context, that quote is just the truth. Millions of people were suddenly living in a different country. Some were discriminated against (two of the Baltic republics have refused to give them a chance to get a citizenship, treating them as second sort). Some were murdered (national movements in the republics escalated into terror acts and sometimes even wars - Chechnya was one those). Food was harder to find, the stores were empty. Gasoline was too expensive for emergency services to afford. Gasoline, the one thing Russia has an absolute abundance of!

And amidst all that, the politics got interesting. It's true that they were freer than they are now. But they were without rules, and they were without any desire to help the country. Instead, politicians got cozy with the oligarchs and plundered the country - much more than they're doing now. Yeltsin wasn't really popular in his first election, but good enough to pass. He was a great public speaker back then. In his re-election, however, he was not popular at all. Yet he won. TIME magazine made an article about that, pretty much bragging how Americans helped Yeltsin win. Against the Communists, of course.

And so, Yeltsin got a second term. And he was horrible. The economy kept going down. 1998 was the worst year for Russian economy. Yeltsin was a drunkard, he lost all his aptitude for public speech. And so in his New Year address to the nation in 1999, he announced that he's "going away". There's a bit of Mandela effect at work there - people always remember him saying "I'm tired, I'm going away". He never said that he was tired, but simply looking at him, he as good as said that. He pretty much made a confession then. Asked for forgiveness. He ended his term several months early, and appointed Putin as his temporary replacement. In the election three months after, Putin won, barely getting above 50%.

And things started to improve. One cannot blame or praise Putin for all that happened in that time. But nevertheless, for many he represented the new era of Russia. Economically, Russia was getting better all the way to 2008, and it rebounded quite well after that, having continued growth until 2014. Crime rate dropped. People stopped to fear being shot on the streets. Food returned to the stores, and finally reached the level of supermarkets Yeltsin was so impressed with in the US. Life was starting to get better.

In the background, looking at it now, moves were made to consolidate power and to limit the press. It wasn't always done out of malice, in my opinion. Russian history is rife with people trying to use evil to achieve good. Putin made deals with the oligarchs, didn't even hide it. He put them in line. It does seem like something wrong, if you're looking at it with the benefit of the time that passed, or the benefit of living in a stable democracy like the US. But reality is always complicated and grey. Putin's done the best he could out of a horribly terrible situation. But that is just an opinion, I want to outline that.

In any case, life of the ordinary Russian became better. And as it is often the case with nations, the leader became the symbol of that improvement. Just as a bad leader becomes the symbol of degradation. But no man rules alone, and so Putin isn't entirely to praise here, just as he is not entirely to blame for anything bad. Some in the opposition, mainly Navalny, will have you believe that things only got worse under Putin. I'm afraid facts disagree with that. Almost any statistic you look at - GDP, unemployment rate, minimum wage, average income, even suicide rate, - everything from started to improve starting in 1999.

And that is how a lot of the people in Russia see Putin. Not as a perfect man, few are dim enough to think that, but as someone who managed to put things in order after the chaos of the 90s. That is by no means an argument that he should remain in power indefinitely. But as Yeltsin has appointed Putin to prevent a power vacuum, so Putin will need to do something similar. Because the opposition is next to useless. Be that because of their inherent traits or because of actions by the state, I won't try to guess. If Navalny is the best alternative to Putin (as a lot of the Western media seems to think), then I'm worried for the future of Russia.

The future of Russia is uncertain, as it always was. Putin is a strong leader, capable of uniting the majority of the country. Navalny doesn't even come close to that, and the opposition "within system" wouldn't do that well either. When Putin goes, we've no idea what happens. Maybe we'll have to get a "shock" of a bad president with a bad administration to get the politics heated up and working. Or maybe that'll just drive us to huddle around a single leader again. Russians are willing to endure great hardships, and sometimes that isn't a good quality.

Russia needs change. Stagnation is what killed USSR, and we mustn't ignore the mistakes of our past. But as many Russians, I am afraid of what would happen if that change was too violent. Or too unpredictable. The US can usually afford to play such gambles, they have a long history of it, and some stable institutions that will withstand. But even they are having trouble with Trump. Russia doesn't have that great of a stability. If the new leader is incompetent, or if the change in power is violent, things will come crashing down. And nobody wants to be sitting beneath those things when they do.

Americans have a habit of treating others in a distant way, disregarding their troubles and worries. To them, a revolution in Russia would be a good thing, because they don't take into account the chaos it will bring into ordinary people's lives, or the losses it will incur. So they chide Russians for not standing up, and talk about how more sanctions are needed to make people march on Putin.

I hope I've made some things clearer. I want to underline that, while a lot of what I wrote is just historical fact, a great part is still my opinion. I'm not claiming to preach the truth, but this is how I see it, from my position as someone living in Russia. I'm not Alexey, but I'm also a Kovalev. Signing out.

Yenisei23257 karma

What he said, basically.

Yenisei23406 karma

When I was 9 in 1990, we had a chicken coop on the balcony of our residential tower in southwestern Moscow, and their eggs were the only source of protein we were lucky to get our hands on. True story. Now, 18 years into Putin's rule, you can choose between organic, free range and cage-free eggs in dozens of Whole Foods clones in Moscow. For a while, I'd say until 2010, people were generally quite content with that, and state propaganda keeps hammering home this point: you were poor in the 90s, now you can afford stuff, thanks to our glorious leader! But now more and more are wondering: we had a decade of extraordinary high oil prices, how come prosperity is still limited to a few pockets in Moscow and a few other largest metropolitan areas? Why is that it's only Putin's buddies that are getting extraordinarily rich, and we are increasingly saddled with more debt, new heavier taxes and consistently rising prices? So while there's still a lot of people confused about correlation/causation between the abject poverty of two decades back and Putin's years, it's not as straightforward as "people love Putin because he made them rich."

kiloskree138 karma

Do you know if the US also has its own Troll Farms in use against other countries? Have you encountered any evidence of US companies even engaging in that kind of online work?

Yenisei23245 karma

I'm not sure about US government, the evidence is scant, but various US-based "reputation laundering" PR firms most certainly do. Basically, everyone does it because it's just so cheap and cost-effective.

CaptainFuture12134 karma

Other than being fired by executive order, what methods have the government used in order to try to suppress your views and the views of others like you? Additionally how many Russians would you say share your views and how many believe the lies and propaganda of the government?

Yenisei23291 karma

1) If you're a TV channel, all cable providers might simultaneously decide to carry your signal 2) If you're a magazine, all printing shops in town might suddenly refuse to print your next issue, and if you do somehow manage to get it printed, news stalls won't sell it. 3) If you depend on ad revenue, the clients you depend on are suddenly reluctant to buy ads from a politically risky publication. Or you're just too small for them. 4) You can be slapped with an enormous fine for violating some ridiculous new law or regulation ostensibly introduced to fight "terrorism" or "extremism", but somehow no state-owned or loyalist outlet is ever sanctioned under it. 5) Your owner fires you and the entire editorial team and replaces them with loyalists.

The list goes on, but you get the general idea.

Yenisei23126 karma

Okay folks, I have to wrap this up. I can't possibly hope to answer every question, but thanks so much for asking them, I really enjoyed this, hope you did too! Follow me on Twitter and drop me an email at [email protected], I can't promise an answer right away, but I'll do my best (unless you ask me if I'm related to Alex Kovalev — I'm not, let's just get this over with). A big shootout to all my compatriots who picked up the slack here and answered some of the most complicated, nuanced questions about Russia and IAmA mods for hosting me. Пока!

Squirrelthing106 karma

How widespread are the russian troll farms? Is it more or less serious than us in the west might expect?

Yenisei23248 karma

They are a real problem, but mostly in Russia itself. They're used far more intensively for disrupting conversations and peddling pro-Kremlin narratives on Russian social media, in Russian. They are also pose a threat to Russia's neighbors like Ukraine and Lithuania, but that's because these countries have significant Russian-speaking populations. That said, I find the threat posed by Russian troll farms to the West a bit overblown.


Compared to Russia how free is the press in the United States? Would you also agree that news media’s have biases on how they report the news?

Yenisei23366 karma

Although countries like Finland and Sweden consistently outscore the U.S. in terms of press freedom, I think the States is still the best place to be a journalist. It has a combination of really strong constitutional and legal protections of our trade, an enormous media market (which is also important, because if you have a country of several million people with the freest press, your options are still limited to a couple of national newspapers) and a society that, by and large, appreciates the value of a free press. But the same market can and does undermine the press when unscrupulous owners milk newspapers for profit, gutting newsrooms and reducing great media institutions to pale shadows of what they used to be. I found that to be the case with almost every strong regional publication like the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, the Miami Herald etc etc. Just 10-15 years ago most of them had a fully staffed bureau in Moscow. Today, none of them, with the exception of the Washington Post and the New York Times, the WSJ and Financial Times, don't even have a foreign desk. That's a real shame.

Missing4227 karma

Today, none of them, with the exception of the Washington Post and the New York Times, the WSJ and Financial Times, don't even have a foreign desk.

I have heard this before, but why exactly is this? Are they simply cutting costs by getting news abroad from news agencies like Reuters instead of instead of going for it themselves?

Yenisei2365 karma

I flipped through 14 pages of Chicago Tribune's Sept 26 morning edition and their entire foreign coverage was three curt newsbriefs lifted from AP: So yes, the foreign desk is usually the first to go because why bother, really.

Yenisei2358 karma

I took this pic in Chicago: You can see the Tribune Tower, which the bankrupt Chicago Tribune can no longer afford, so it's being converted to luxury condos. Their windows offer a great great view of the Trump Tower occupying the former spot of Chicago Sun-Times offices.

DdCno1104 karma

Thanks for your AMA! I highly respect your work and am humbled by your bravery.

What's your opinion of fellow Russian journalists who, for one reason or another, have decided to follow the government line (like this guy who did an AMA recently)?

Do you still consider them journalists in the first place? Do you think they chose to abandon journalistic principles out of fear, for ideological reasons or because they are opportunists? Have you personally interacted with them and what was the interaction like?

Yenisei23175 karma

Thanks, and good question. It's a fairly complicated one, too. I know many good, professional journalists who, for one reason or another (mostly pragmatic, they have families to support), are still working at state-run outlets. For what I know, they're just trying to keep a low profile and stay away from the more obvious propaganda. It's a tough moral choice and I don't really blame them. Others are indeed cynical opportunists, and if you look at the worst, the most obnoxious assholes on Russian state TV (eg Dmitry Kiselyov or Vladimir Solovyov ), most of them were model Westernized liberals during Yeltsin's times. But turns out they never really were, all this time they've just been saying things they found to be the most conductive to their careers, privilege and wealth. Them I don't consider to be journalists at all. Then there are young employees of these state-owned media conglomerates who have no institutional memory at all and just accept the rules of the game because they don't know better. Some of them with time wake up to the sheer dishonesty of the job they're doing and leave the trade altogether or become proper journalists, but that's a relatively rare case, most just go with the flow and grow up to be the next generation of unabashed Kremlin apologists — because it pays well!

DdCno136 karma

Thank you for your reply. It's just as thoughtful and nuanced as I expected it to be.

If you don't mind, I have a somewhat personal follow-up question: Have you ever at some point thought about becoming one of "them"? Have you received job offers of this sort?

Yenisei2393 karma

I was one of them! And I consider myself lucky to not having had to make the hard choice of staying in a job I despise or risking my family's wellbeing and slamming the door behind me. I was simply laid off without much fuss, and I probably could've been rehired, but I kind of made myself unemployable.

Diprose54 karma

What do the Russian public actually think about the chemical weapon attacks on the Skripols in Salisbury, UK? The Russian government has publicly denied it on a number of the occasions. But it would be good to know what your average Joe Russian believes.

Yenisei23132 karma

The answer to your question just happens to be extremely precise: Only 3% of Russians Believe Moscow Was Behind Skripal Attack, Poll Says


H4PPYGUY22 karma

Not sure if you're doing follow up questions but how different would the public opinion be if something like the Skripal attack happened on home soil?

Yenisei2356 karma

The irony of all this is that Sergey Skripal right until the attempt on his life (he's keeping a low profile these days for obvious reasons) was a full-on Putin fan, supporting the war in Ukraine. The answer to your question is that something like the Skripal attack probably couldn't have happened on home soil because living abroad in exile is kind of a natural state of defectors.

zxcvbnm987814 karma

Who do you think attacked Skripal?

Yenisei2366 karma

My more or less educated guess is a rogue three letter agency seeking revenge against what they see as irredeemable betrayal of their omerta. More on this in this story I wrote.

nihilistikuikelo46 karma

Hello Alexei and greetings from Finland.

We Finns seldom get proper glimpses into Russian journalism but what most of us are familiar with is this Johan Bäckman guy who apparently gets interviewed quite a lot by Russian media and touted as an expert on all things topical (as in Finnish-Russian families being allegedly broken up and the children taken wrongfully into custody etc.). From your perspective, to what extent is this Bäckman/Бекман character visible / does he carry a lot of clout when it comes to projecting image of Finnish goings-on to the average Russian?

Secondly, can you estimate if the average tone of news when it comes to reporting on Finland has undergone any changes recently or at all?

Thanks for the AMA, appreciate the work you do.

Yenisei2324 karma

Hi there, and thanks for tuning in! He used to be big on Russian TV, but not anymore for some reason. I can't believe it took you so long to finally nab this evil gnome! I'd say that Finland isn't very high on the list of Russian priorities in terms of propaganda, and most Russians I know see right through it and consider you good neighbors.

XoHHa44 karma

Privet from your Russian reader:) any chance of NoodleRemover to be reborn in any form?

Yenisei2333 karma

Privet! I wish, and I do hope sometime to relaunch it, but the truth is that a) I simply don't have any time and b) I guess it's just burnout? What's the point of shaming people who have no shame? But I'm constantly thinking about it and I have a couple of stories in the works.

RegressionToTheDream41 karma

Was the press more free before Putin? If so, did the change happen quickly or gradually?

Yenisei23128 karma

I'd say the press in Russia was only truly free between around 1988 and 1993. It's been a slow and uneven decline since then. And it didn't start with Putin — some of the worst practices, like consolidating the most popular media outlets under the direct control of the presidential administration, were introduced in the Yeltsin years.

scotchy9138 karma

Hi Alexey,

I'm curious if you know anything about Cambridge Analytica or any sister/offshoot data targeting companies and any potential connections to Russia's global goal of electing far-right candidates in the majority of the world. Does Steve Bannon ever make his way to Moscow?

Yenisei2382 karma

I don't really think that certain people in Putin's circle responsible for these things have a global goal of electing far-right candidates. It doesn't really matter if they're right, left, green or black — they're only useful as long as they parrot the Kremlin line, out of sheer contrarianism or greed, and support the lifting of sanctions. CA has a lot more connections to Western rightwing power brokers than to Russia (if any), and Steve Bannon has never been to Moscow and I don't think he'd feel particularly welcome here.

UndauntedMite413 karma

Hi Alexey!

How did you like your trip to America? What was your favorite part of your trip!

What do you predict will be the lasting effect from the current events between the administrations of the US and Russia?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

Yenisei2376 karma

I did enjoy it a great deal, and I would like to use this opportunity to thank the World Press Institute, its donors, staff and volunteers for the opportunity. My favorite places in the States in descending order from the most likeable to the least are: 1. Austin, TX 2. Twin Cities, Ely, MN and Minnesota in general. 3. Denver 4. Chicago 5. Miami 6. DC 7. NYC 8. San Francisco. I'm sorry folks, but the place is a humanitarian catastrophe. The wealth inequality and the sheer magnitude of human misery on the streets of downtown SF is just surreal.

As far as the current state of US-Russia relationships are considered, I wanted to say this. If you look back in history, we've spent much more time as partners and friends ready to lend a helping hand to each other in times of need. Eg look at these two paintings by the great Russian artist Ivan Ayvazovsky (scroll down to the catalogue note). If we look beyond this petty little squabble that we're having right now, we'll see that we are two great nations destined for a great future together.

ObviousPenguin10 karma

What story were you most scared of publishing? Are there any pieces that you've written that have never been published out of fear?

Yenisei2326 karma

I'm scared of getting a crucial detail wrong and getting pilloried for it. There are pieces I've written and never published because I couldn't independently corroborate a scoop from a source I couldn't compromise.

spidersnake10 karma

How likely do you think it is that the American Midterms being meddled with?

To what end do you think they would be trying to alter the Midterm results?

Yenisei2339 karma

I think that the American Midterms are indeed being meddled with heavily. Top meddlers include: Fox News and every hyperpartisan news outlet, unhinged demagogues of all shades, political operatives with algorithmic targeting of voters and "activating the base" etc etc. You get the idea. We couldn't screw America any more than you're already screwing yourself guys, even if we tried really really hard.

Meta_Digital6 karma

How does Trump's relationship with the press in the US compare to or differ from Putin's relationship with the press in Russia?

Yenisei239 karma

It does differ in that Trump lifts his talking points and whole policies from Fox News whereas in Russia Putin's admin literally dictates them to media directly controlled by them. There's a guy whose job description is "deputy chief of staff" but what he does actually, and I'm not shitting you, is regularly phone the editors of major TV networks and news agencies and tell them, point by point, how to cover politically sensitive stories, from which angle and what to avoid. He can order to completely blacklist certain topics or events, but this policy can sometimes backfire. They're similar in their symbiotic relationship with the press, even those outlets which may be opposed to them but still dependent on the president's outlandish statements to generate readership and traffic to their websites, as I outlined in my blog post.

alexander_london2 karma

Is there any viable threat to Putin's political rule and, if there is, how do we support it from overseas?

Yenisei233 karma

See my answer above, but generally, and this is my educated guess, the only viable threat to Putin's political rule comes from within his own circle. Supporting a palace coup from overseas would be a terribly cynical and potentially destructive thing to do, and anyway I don't see anyone from his entourage to be susceptible to it. The whole policy of sectoral sanctions banking on the hope of starving ordinary Russians enough that they turn on Putin is that too, and also terribly misguided. As far as the genuine grassroots opposition to Putin, they're better off without any overseas support which immediately paints a target on their backs while not being very effective. So when an opposition activist gets arrested at a rally, a State Department statement in his support actually hurts his chances of being released.