Kirill Martynov, Russian journalist: “It’s hard to understand why we continue in this job if we can’t stop the war”

Kirill Martynov is deputy editor of Russia’s oldest and most widely read independent daily “Novaya Gazeta” (Maximiliano Luna)

He greets cordially and his first comment is from a colleague to colleagues, when he says, in a friendly way, that he really likes talking to journalists. Kirill Martynov passed through Buenos Aires as part of a Latin American tour organized by the embassies of the European Union region of. He currently lives in Riga, Latvia, has a remarkable academic background and is a deputy editor of the oldest and most widely read independent newspaper in Russia, “Novaya Gazeta”founded in 1993, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. On site he works hand-in-hand with Dmitry Muratovthe Editor-in-Chief of the publication, who in 2021 received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the fight to enforce the freedom of expression in Russia.

The site where Martynov works is an internationally recognized publication for its ability to investigation and for his critical look about the Kremlin’s policies. His journalists covered the two wars on the ground in Chechnya, in southern Russia and systematically denounced abuses and crimes against civil society by the Russian military. Unfortunately, “Novaya Gazeta” is as famous for its rigorous professional work as it is for having lost seven of its journalists in dark episodes and little and badly investigated by the Russian Justice. they all went murdered for their journalistic denunciationsamong them the award-winning Anna Politkovskaya.

Last year, a month after Russia launched the war in Ukraine, and in the start of actions aimed at silencing dissenting voices, the Russian government fined and suspended the website of “Novaya Gazeta” and then they were prohibited from publishing on any medium, so that, like the vast majority of independent media, they were forced to close their offices in Russia. “The real place where the Russians fight against discrimination is the Russian Federation itself,” Martynov will say, in relation to the fact that only in his country citizens are prohibited from expressing themselves against the war.

What follows is a exclusive interview with infobae.

—Just in the press conference you pointed out the importance of this trip to be able to explain what the current situation is, after the war in Ukraine. Do you think that in Latin American countries people are closer to Putin or to believe in the version of the war given by the Russian government?

—The truth is that I am not an expert on Latin America, but I think that in the region people could perhaps have some fantasies about Russia. They see it as a kind of romantic country with a beautiful culture, which also meant the attempt to be a fairer society in the 20th century.

So many people are still seeking to understand how President Putin could have become some kind of pure evil. And this is a normal reaction. They say: “It cannot be true that a Russian leader has started to be almost like Hitler. Probably the situation is more complex, possibly Russia was provoked; without a doubt, the western countries have something to do with what is happening”. People try to fit the effect of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine to the world’s image of him. That is why the vision from Latin America may not be very correct, it may not be so clear.

—On the other hand, in Western countries there is a growing anti-Russian sentiment due to the aggressive war. How does this affect you, as a Russian citizen?

—It does not affect me personally because I am a person with a university profile; I have several colleagues at universities in Europe, academics and journalists who help me a lot, they are very kind to me and my colleagues. Many people around the world love Russian culture and want to find the so-called “good Russians” in order to somehow clarify what has happened. It is an interesting situation for us because we have the opportunity to rebuild this relationship with Western society.

But it will be very difficult and obviously the problem is the war crimes committed by the Russian army. Still, I think we have an opportunity to relaunch our relationship with the Western world. Russian propaganda always insists that the Russians in the European Union are under great pressure and suffer some discrimination. But actually, I think the real place where Russians are fighting discrimination is the Russian Federation itself. I live in Latvia. It is a small country on the Baltic Sea that, in the European Union, has the largest Russian minority in relation to its population. And I see people on the streets of Riga, people who speak Russian as if they were natives, who are not going to war. Their families are not suffering from the war. And it’s terrible how my compatriots deal with this. This is the real discrimination: sending people to die on the front lines.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (Maxim Shipenkov via REUTERS/file)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (Maxim Shipenkov via REUTERS/file) (POOL/)

—You are a journalist. A Russian journalist. When and why did you decide to be a journalist in a country like Russia, which is not exactly characterized as a country where freedom of expression is a common value?

“I’m not sure I have a good answer, because I probably never decided. What is valuable to me is to speak freely, and it is increasingly difficult to achieve this goal. I was a university professor and I was fired from the university in Moscow basically because I talked too much. I found my chance, even a kind of refuge, in “Novaya Gazeta”. They offered me to write some opinion columns, given my academic profile. Over the years I realized that I had to give more to this newspaper, help more, and that’s where I am in this place right now.

—Anna Politovskaya, the “Novaya Gazeta” journalist who denounced the crimes in Chechnya and was assassinated in 2006, is she still an important figure for you and for your generation?

—Yes, she is a symbol of what we are doing and a true friend to the older generations. I am friends with her family, with her son and her daughter. She is an example. It’s easy to make decisions when you have such an example. Dmitry Muratov He told me that often, when faced with a difficult situation in which he tries to survive, as when faced with heavy censorship, he wondered if he should make some compromise. And she told me that in those cases she wondered what Anna would say. And that she replied that she would say: “Shut up, there are no commitments here.” So yeah, it’s an important experience.

Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on October 7, 2006, Vladimir Putin’s birthday. (Novaya Gazeta/Epsilon/Getty Images) (Epsilon/)

—Do you still have active journalists in Russia? How do they protect them?

“We protect them by hiding our relationships with them. They do not sign their articles, they do not receive money directly from us. We can provide you with a lawyer if needed. And we can provide them with some form of evacuation if they face criminal prosecution.

Currently we cannot hire people either; we can only use people who decide to offer us their service, we cannot ask people to work for us, it is too dangerous.

—And how do you proceed when someone introduces himself as a journalist asking to work for the newspaper?

—When it happens, we have to check who it is, we have to know them personally.

—In this situation, do you think there is any chance for independent journalism to survive in Russia?

—We already survived, but almost in exile. The idea is to report on Russia from the outside, posting from somewhere safe, and then get that information out to the public. For now it is working. I don’t know what will happen next, but I think these two Nobel Prize winners in two years (N. de los R. that of “Novaya Gazeta” and that of Memorial) are somehow a symbol of what remains of Russian society. Because two types of institutions have survived: the independent media in exile and the organizations defending human rights, both in exile and in Russia.

Perhaps, if we can imagine that this is a zero level of public activities and simultaneous with the high point of the new Russian dictatorship, we can start from this point to rebuild this society. At least we will try.

Dmitri Muratov
Russian Nobel Peace Prize Dmitri Muratov poses with the Nobel Peace Prize diploma and medal during the ceremony in Oslo in 2021 (Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (ODD ANDERSEN /)

Do you think Putin will be tried as a war criminal?

I hope so, but I’m not sure. There are no precedents. Of the major countries with nuclear weapons, no dictator has so far been brought before an international courtBut if the Putin regime faces a huge political crisis at home, it may still be possible. So let’s see, at least we try to work to make it happen. Ten years ago the idea behind independent journalism was to stop the war, basically stop the annexation of Crimea, stop the war in eastern Ukraine. We did several investigations that helped, because at that time the Russian authorities were trying to hide what they were doing there, in eastern Ukraine… A year ago, at the beginning of this stage of the war, we wanted to do the same, we brought our best reporters to Ukraine and after that, the Russian public and the authorities said “Okay, that was too much, we’re probably going to find some ceasefire.” But it lasted very little, it was an illusion for many.

but after that it’s hard to come up with an ideal of why we keep doing this job if we can’t stop the war. And I know that the idea is that we have to describe all the war crimes of any army, but basically of the army of aggression in the territories of Ukraine. So we have to describe and investigate the crimes, and get these stories down on paper, in case there is a trial.

Do you think that a military defeat could trigger a regime change in Russia?

—It could, but the most realistic option is that we have some kind of ceasefire and an isolated country for many years from now and Putin uses Russian state propaganda to declare that it was a victory for him. Unfortunately, this is the most realistic scenario.

Keep reading:

15 years after the crime, the question remains unanswered: Did Putin order the journalist Anna Politkovskaya to be killed?

Alexander Etkind: “Russia as we know it will not survive this war”