January 29, 2022

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How the Nobel Peace Prize Laid Naked the Schism in Russia’s Opposition

How the Nobel Peace Prize Laid Bare the Schism in Russia’s Opposition

MOSCOW — If you happen to lived in Putin’s Russia, what compromises would you make?

Dmitri A. Muratov, a Moscow newspaper editor, has made his alternative. He accepts donations from a enterprise tycoon with Kremlin connections, refuses to publish articles concerning the private lives of the Russian elite, and has petitioned President Vladimir V. Putin to assist youngsters in want of pricey medicine.

In contrast, Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most distinguished opposition chief, wrote a letter to his supporters revealed on Wednesday urging them to withstand any type of compromise: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists who take hostages.”

Mr. Navalny is within the ninth month of a yearslong prison sentence, whereas Mr. Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize final week with the journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines for his or her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.” Lots of Mr. Navalny’s followers, who had been hoping that the jailed politician would get the prize, reacted with outrage, deriding Mr. Muratov for a willingness to interact with the authorities that they claimed solely strengthened Mr. Putin’s energy.

It was a second that crystallized one of many many fault traces dividing the Kremlin’s various critics: Is the perfect strategy for these wishing for change one in every of principled and unyielding resistance — or of working for enhancements inside the present system?

“Look, you reside one life on Earth,” Mr. Muratov stated in an interview this week, defending the latter strategy in opposition to the wave of furor that got here his means from fellow Russians on Fb and Twitter. “Will you scribble away at these on-line feedback, or will you attempt to make folks’s lives higher?”

The anger confirmed how Russia’s opposition is atomized and on its again foot — all of the extra in order the authorities escalate their crackdown on dissent, forcing activist teams and information retailers to close down and ever extra dissidents and journalists into exile. Within the Kremlin, seeing the internecine disagreement within the opposition over Mr. Muratov’s award should have touched off “euphoria,” stated Tatiana Stanovaya, the founding father of R.Politik, a political evaluation agency.

“If you dwell below the barrel of a gun, such occasions result in divisions,” Ms. Stanovaya stated. “The authorities do a beautiful job capitalizing on this.”

Certainly, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, congratulated Mr. Muratov, calling him proficient and courageous.

Mr. Navalny, in jail, was unable to supply an instantaneous response, at the same time as one in every of his exiled colleagues slammed the Nobel committee for delivering “pretentious and hypocritical speeches.” On Monday, Mr. Navalny congratulated Mr. Muratov. He famous that the previous murders of journalists for Mr. Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper served as a reminder of “what a excessive value those that refuse to serve the authorities need to pay.”

Mr. Muratov co-founded Novaya Gazeta in 1993, with funding from Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the final Soviet chief. Six journalists working for Novaya have been murdered; their black-and-white portraits in black frames dangle in a row in a nook of a convention room on the newspaper’s Moscow headquarters.

As different media retailers both shut down below strain or had been co-opted by the authorities, Novaya maintained its independence and infrequently criticized Mr. Putin. Its 2017 reporting on the torture and killings of homosexual males within the Caucasus republic of Chechnya prompted a global wave of outrage. After a Novaya exposé final yr about an oil spill within the Arctic, a Russian court docket ordered the mining big Norilsk Nickel — run by one of many nation’s richest males — to pay a $2 billion wonderful.

However Mr. Muratov acknowledges that he holds again on what has turn into a very explosive kind of investigative journalism in at present’s Russia: exploring the hidden wealth of Mr. Putin and his internal circle. A lot of that wealth, reporters at different publications have discovered, is held by relations or suspected extramarital companions and their youngsters. Mr. Muratov says that although his reporters additionally pursue corruption investigations, “we don’t get into folks’s non-public lives.”

“With regards to youngsters and ladies — I cease,” Mr. Muratov stated.

The net information retailers that revealed these extra aggressive investigations have been outlawed or declared “foreign agents” in recent months, with lots of their editors and reporters pressured into exile. Novaya has managed to proceed working, regardless of widespread hypothesis that it additionally confronted a crackdown.

“We’re an influential newspaper, which implies now we have to have the ability to have a dialogue,” Mr. Muratov stated. “As quickly as you begin to offend folks — whether or not or not they’re in energy — you lose affect. Folks don’t speak to you anymore.”

Mr. Muratov has used his affect and his connections for causes past press freedom — particularly to assist youngsters with spinal muscular atrophy, or S.M.A., a uncommon muscle-wasting dysfunction for which the simplest remedies are extraordinarily expensive. He says he turned concerned — and began elevating cash for sufferers — after one in every of his reporters informed him early final yr concerning the plights of households combating the illness.

Andrey L. Kostin, chairman of VTB, Russia’s second-largest financial institution, donated $1 million to the trigger. He was among the many people the United States placed sanctions on in 2018 for taking part in “a key position in advancing Russia’s malign actions.”

And this previous February, in searching for extra assist, Mr. Muratov took a listing of names of younger folks in want of pricey remedies to an off-the-record assembly between Mr. Putin and Russian editors in chief. Two weeks later, Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, referred to as and informed Mr. Muratov that “a directive has been given” to assist.

“You’ll be able to say, ‘He’s an confederate of the regime,’ however inform that to the mother and father of kids ailing with S.M.A.,” Mr. Muratov stated. “Inform them that bankers who work for the state gave cash and you may’t take the cash, and the kid will die.”

One other well-connected financier, Sergei Adonyev, got here to Mr. Muratov’s rescue in 2014, for a distinct cause. Mr. Muratov’s newspaper was teetering financially, and Mr. Adonyev, a telecommunications entrepreneur who had lengthy partnered with a Russian state-owned firm, began making donations, in response to Mr. Muratov.

Nonetheless, after a yr wherein Russia’s crackdown on dissent has reached new depth, there is no such thing as a assure that Novaya will survive. Mr. Putin stated as a lot himself on Wednesday when a CNBC host, Hadley Gamble, requested him about Mr. Muratov onstage at a Moscow power convention.

“If he begins utilizing the Nobel Prize as a protect to violate Russian legislation, that may imply that he’s consciously doing this to get consideration, or for different causes,” Mr. Putin stated, eschewing the congratulations. “Regardless of his achievements, each particular person should perceive plainly and clearly: Russian legal guidelines have to be adopted.”

Mr. Muratov stated he wouldn’t hold any of the roughly $500,000 in prize cash he’ll earn from the Nobel. He’ll contribute about half to a medical fund for Novaya staff, and about $20,000 to endow a journalism award named in honor of Anna Politkovskaya, a Novaya reporter slain in 2006.

The remaining will go to charity, he stated, together with to a basis referred to as Circle of Good that helps youngsters with uncommon ailments. Mr. Putin signed an order creating it final January.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow on the Carnegie Moscow Heart assume tank who beforehand labored as Novaya’s managing editor, stated that final week’s uproar highlighted a weak point of Mr. Navalny’s motion: that its concentrate on him as chief, and a disinclination to think about different folks’s views, was stopping it from cementing a broader coalition.

The vitriol was additionally on show forward of final month’s Russian parliamentary election, when some liberals — together with Mr. Muratov — bristled on the Navalny camp’s calls to unite round Communist candidates as a coordinated rebuke to Mr. Putin.

“Sadly, this intolerance and aggressiveness,” Mr. Kolesnikov stated, “is dividing democratically oriented folks.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

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