BOB GARFIELD: Earlier this month Oleg Kashin, a popular reporter and blogger for the Russian daily Kommersant, was bludgeoned outside his home. A closed-circuit video of the attack was leaked online and showed him being beaten with an iron bar hidden in a bouquet of flowers. It’s no secret that Russia is a hostile environment for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists it as the fourth deadliest country for reporters. Furthermore, the outright impunity enjoyed by attackers has left dozens of cases unsolved over the past two decades. Response to the attack on Kashin, however, has been a bit different. Dmitry Babich is a political analyst for the Russian news outlet RIA Novosti. Dmitry, welcome to the show.
DMITRY BABICH: Thank you for inviting me.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me, in general, about the environment for reporting, especially investigative reporting, in Russia.
DMITRY BABICH: The riskiest kind of journalism is exposing local businessmen or local state officials. In general, attacks against journalists are not very easy to investigate. Very often the actual killers are found, but there are problems finding the people who ordered the killing. With Politkovskaya’s case, for example -
BOB GARFIELD: This is Anna Politkovskaya who was shot to death in the vestibule of her apartment building.
DMITRY BABICH: Yeah, the investigators found the people who followed her but because there is no 100 percent proof that they actually pulled the trigger, they were acquitted.
BOB GARFIELD: In the case of Kashin there was what he reported in Kommersant, but then there was also his blog, which was very confrontational. He’s quite the provocateur, no?
DMITRY BABICH: That’s exactly true, but that’s the case with many blogs. And this is the reason why so many people were dismayed when these attacks happened. A lot of people make provocative blogs.
BOB GARFIELD: There but for the grace of God, go I.
DMITRY BABICH: [LAUGHS] Yes, exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: Give me an example of some of the stories he was writing or some of the opinions that he was voicing that you think put him most at risk.
DMITRY BABICH: About several months ago a group of anarchists calling themselves anti-fascists attacked the district administration of Khimki, and Khimki administration was notorious for its corruption. These young anarchists, they just painted some of their slogans on the wall of the building, so Kashin wrote in his blog that he supports this action.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, let's talk about Khimki because it’s been at the center of a lot of criticism and a lot of violence against other reporters and activists.
DMITRY BABICH: Khimki is a part of the Moscow Region, and there is a game going on aimed at removing the head of Moscow Region, Boris Gromov. Federal authorities want him to be removed because he is inadequate. And the mayor of Khimki was a friend of Gromov, so in this case the anger of the media and the blogging community was reinforced by the government people.
BOB GARFIELD: This brings me to a couple of unusual aspects of the reaction to the Kashin beating. One concerns the public outcry.
DMITRY BABICH: Mm-hmm.
BOB GARFIELD: But the second thing was the reaction by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, vowing to get to the bottom of this. Is your sense that Medvedev is interested in this case because at long last he’s fed up with the violence, or because it happens to serve his interests of pushing out the governor of the Moscow Region?
DMITRY BABICH: I think you can have both. Medvedev is clearly sympathetic of the liberal media but there are also political considerations, and they don't contradict each other. Gromov is a former Soviet general with clear Communist convictions, so there are many reasons why Medvedev would like Gromov out.
BOB GARFIELD: We discussed how the government reaction to this assault is very different from what we've seen in the past. So has the public reaction, not only in the blogosphere but in actual flesh and blood rallies and protests on the streets. Is he a martyr for people who two weeks ago had never heard his name?
DMITRY BABICH: Well, he is a martyr for the Internet community but not for a large part of society. Human rights is a religion for part of the Western countries, but not yet for Russia.
BOB GARFIELD: Are we any closer to that religion taking hold, this week, than we were the day before Kashin was beaten?
DMITRY BABICH: We're a little bit closer but if the West persists in spreading that religion in the way it does now, which is a bit more aggressive than it should be, this religion may never take hold in Russia, or in Iraq or in some other countries.
BOB GARFIELD: So everything you've just said leads me to the following question: Is it that the Russian public has been indifferent to this sort of crime, or is it that the Russian public accepts this sort of crime as just - the way things are?
DMITRY BABICH: There is a part of this public which is angry about the beatings and murders of journalists. There is a part of Russian public which is very angry about the murders of policemen and more or less indifferent to the beatings of journalists. There is a huge majority of Russian public which is sad about all these events, but just doesn't feel powerful enough to influence what’s going on in the country.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Dmitry, thank you very much.
DMITRY BABICH: It was very nice talking to you.
BOB GARFIELD: Dmitry Babich is a political analyst for RIA Novosti.