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Who's Helping Putin? Dozhd Controversy In Latvia Inflames Tensions Over Émigré Anti-War Russians


The Dozhd office in Moscow was shut down in March for its coverage of the Ukraine war. In July, the television channel was relaunched from studios in Riga. On December 8, Latvia revoked its license, citing a threat to national security.

"There is a line between freedom of speech and support for war," Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said in an interview published on December 5. "I think no Latvian authority will delay making clear decisions regarding the television channel Dozhd. But it should be a decision based on facts and laws."

On December 6, Latvia's electronic-media authority made that decision, revoking the exiled independent Russian television station's broadcast license effective on December 8, citing "the threat to national security and public order."

The decision came after Latvia fined Dozhd 10,000 euros ($10,500) on December 2 for showing a map that included the occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea as part of Russia and calling the Russian armed forces "our army."

The same day, Latvia's state security service opened an investigation into on-air statements by moderator Aleksei Korostelyov on December 1 in which he invited viewers to submit stories about violations of Russian law during the military mobilization decreed by President Vladimir Putin in September and about possible war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Editor In Chief Tikhon Dzyadko says Dozhd has "never, does not, and will never supply equipment or anything else for any army, including Russia's."
Editor In Chief Tikhon Dzyadko says Dozhd has "never, does not, and will never supply equipment or anything else for any army, including Russia's."

While making the request, Korostelyov said: "We hope we also helped many military personnel, namely by assisting with equipment and bare necessities on the front line."

The incidents at one of the most widely respected Russian-language media outlets struck a nerve with many in Latvia, Ukraine, and other countries who have argued that many Russian opposition figures -- consciously or unconsciously -- sympathize with the Kremlin's neo-colonial, imperialist impulses.

Dozhd supporters, however, counter that muzzling the station -- which was hounded out of Russia for not adhering to the Kremlin's rhetoric on the invasion of Ukraine -- is a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a blow to efforts to stop Russian aggression.

The management of Dozhd, known as TV Rain in English, quickly dismissed Korostelyov and went into crisis mode amid accusations the station supported Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

"Dozhd has never, does not, and will never supply equipment or anything else for any army, including Russia's," Editor in Chief Tikhon Dzyadko told Current Time on December 2.

But such actions were not enough to convince the Latvian regulators, who said in their statement that the station's management did "not understand or acknowledge the significance and the seriousness of the violations and therefore it cannot operate on the territory of Latvia."

Dozhd pledged to continue broadcasting via social media and the Internet.

Above The Law?

The channel was launched in Russia in 2010 under the slogan "Optimistic channel." It earned a reputation as a serious, professional outlet covering protests, corruption, dissent, and other issues in Russia despite pressure from the government. In 2021, during the crackdown that preceded Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin listed Dozhd as a "foreign agent." It was shut down in Russia in March, less than one month after the war began, because of its coverage of the war. In July, it was relaunched from studios in Riga.

The Dozhd contretemps clearly inflamed long-standing tensions between émigré Russians and citizens of other former Soviet republics.

"Oh, my God!" one user wrote on Twitter. "Again somewhere they didn't cave in to the Russians who think only local suckers should follow the law while the representatives of a ‘stronger state' are above all that. Only the Russian opposition has been disgraced by this story."

A Latvian on Twitter applauded regulators for "not succumbing to the hysteria of 'good Russians.'"

"The idea that 'Russia's borders don't end anywhere' warms the souls of vatniki and Russian liberals alike," wrote another Dozhd critic on Twitter, using a quote from Putin and a slang pejorative for a Russian who uncritically believes Kremlin jingoism.

Others claimed that Dozhd managers showed up for their hearing with Latvian regulators without anyone in their delegation who spoke Latvian.

"They thought that they would speak Russian there," a Twitter user wrote.

An image of Russian President Vladimir Putin by the artist Kriss Salmanis hangs outside the Russian Embassy in Latvia on July 9.
An image of Russian President Vladimir Putin by the artist Kriss Salmanis hangs outside the Russian Embassy in Latvia on July 9.

A Latvian nationalist Twitter account that has since been suspended dug up a 2014 post by Dzyadko as supposed proof of Dozhd's imperialist leanings. In the post, Dzyadko wrote sarcastically, "Crimea, welcome to Russia!" while linking to a video showing Russian-installed occupation authorities brutally breaking up a protest in the Crimea city of Sevastopol.

Another commentator on Twitter described Dozhd as "an imperial Trojan horse."

'Opening Champagne In The Kremlin'

Prominent Russian liberals, most of whom have left Russia for fear of persecution for their opposition to Putin's policies, argued that Latvia's decision was a cause for celebration in the Kremlin, adding that no one seriously believes Dozhd was providing equipment for Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

"Today is a celebration for Putin," Leonid Volkov, a top aide to imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, wrote on Twitter. "Life has given him little cause for joy lately, but today they are opening champagne in the Kremlin."

Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh similarly wrote: "Annulling Dozhd's license helps Putin and does nothing to hurt him."

Writing days before Latvia's decision, St. Petersburg lawmaker Boris Vishnevsky said canceling the license would be "a very large gift for Russian propagandists."

A journalist holds a placard which reads "Foreign agents yourself" near the headquarters of Federal Security Service in Moscow in August 2021, soon after Russia added Dozhd to a growing list of "foreign agent" media outlets.
A journalist holds a placard which reads "Foreign agents yourself" near the headquarters of Federal Security Service in Moscow in August 2021, soon after Russia added Dozhd to a growing list of "foreign agent" media outlets.

Lev Shlosberg, head of the liberal Yabloko party in Russia's Pskov region, which borders Latvia, criticized Riga's decision as "a populist reaction to demands from a radical part of Latvian society that is calling for the complete de-Russification of the country's media and politics."

Critics responded to such arguments by saying they proved the point of the Dozhd detractors.

Under Shlosberg's post, one reader commented: "The essence of this post is that Latvia is hopelessly provincial but dares to make decisions without the permission of 'higher ups.' What is your suggestion? You'll come and create order? I don't support banning Dozhd, but they are not freed from the obligation to follow the laws of Latvia. Your reaction is quite telling."

Russian journalist Yulia Latynina on Twitter connected Latvia's decision to a claim that the country has accepted far fewer Ukrainian refugees than much-smaller Estonia. While many commentators disputed her numbers, others took her to task for attempting to dictate policy to Latvia.

"A citizen of the country that created the refugees in the first place accuses others of accepting too few of them," one commentator wrote. "Pure surrealism."

'Natural Allies'

Russian economist Konstantin Sonin, who teaches at the University of Chicago, wrote a thread on Twitter that captured many nuances of the Dozhd dispute.

"I totally understand [the] frustration of many people in Ukraine, Latvia, and other countries that are attacked or threatened by Russia," he wrote, while lamenting Latvia's decision regarding Dozhd. "I understand the reluctance to take a nuanced view that makes a distinction between pro-war, pro-Putin Russians and anti-war Russians."

"I also understand that anti-war, anti-Putin Russians bear responsibility for [the] war (and for Putin)," he continued. "I myself think about what I could've done differently, what kind of efforts I could've made to prevent Putin's regime from taking hold of Russia and launching war against Ukraine."

But, Sonin insisted, anti-war Russians "are natural allies and help for defenders of Ukraine," even though they were unable to "stop the criminal war" themselves.

Current Time correspondent Yevhenia Tahanovych and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.
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