News and Views from Russia and Ukraine

 From CNN’s Reliable Sources:

Scaling Putin’s walls

Protests were documented in dozens of Russian cities on Sunday – risky actions against a war that Russians are not supposed to call a “war.”

OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group that tracks detentions in Russia, reported that at least 4,640 people were detained during protests in 147 cities. The Russian state news agency TASS, citing the Russian Interior Ministry, pegged the number of arrests at 3,500.

News accounts of the protests were limited, owing to a new Russian law that criminalizes journalism in the country. But some photos and videos were still available – and that’s the point I want to underscore here.

Vladimir Putin and his allies are building digital and legal walls to shield Russians from the truth. People in other countries are also noticing the consequences — like a sudden lack of live reports from Moscow. The clampdown that we wrote about on Fridayremained in effect through Sunday. But history tells us that information almost always finds a way out.

Now, that doesn’t always mean people will be able to access it. If you live in Russia, “you have to exert a lot of effort to find out what’s really going on in Ukraine,” Julia Ioffetold me on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” “If you just watch state TV, everything is going great, there are no refugees fleeing the ‘liberating’ Russian army, nobody is bombing civilian homes,” etcetera.

Furthermore, access to information doesn’t mean that people will act on it. Or that it will believed. Valerie Hopkins of The New York Times is out with a new story about the confounding experience of Ukrainians who are finding that relatives in Russia “don’t believe it’s a war” at all. “These relatives have essentially bought into the official Kremlin position,” Hopkins wrote. As we have been documenting, Russian propaganda is incredibly persuasive to some viewers.

But facts still get out, no matter the digital walls or wild counter-programming. Even as Putin tries to turn Russia into a “sealed room,” as Thomas Friedman said on “Reliable,” the world is still getting glimpses inside the room…

Insights from CPJ’s leader

Committee to Protect Journalists exec director Robert Mahoney said he is tracking numerous reports of local journalists being arrested while attempting to cover protests in Russia. Locals “can’t report on the war anymore, they can’t call a war a war, and many of those independent journalists have fled to neighboring countries,” he said. “One of them I spoke with today said basically ‘the Russian media is dead.’

But some are still trying. And others, those who have fled, will need help setting up “newsrooms in exile,” Mahoney said. Independent journalists in Ukraine, meanwhile, urgently need protective gear and other supplies, he added. Watch the “A block” conversation with Mahoney, Ioffe and Friedman here…

The situation in Moscow

No major US- or UK-based network aired live reports from Moscow over the weekend. On Saturday Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the US, joined other news outlets in suspending its operations in the country, and said the new law was just one of the factors. More specifically, RFE/RL said, “local tax authorities initiated bankruptcy proceedings against RFE/RL’s Russian entity on March 4 and police intensified pressure on its journalists.

“This is not a decision that RFE/RL has taken of its own accord, but one that has been forced upon us by the Putin regime’s assault on the truth,” RFE/RL CEO Jamie Flysaid in a statement. Fly added: “Despite this bleak moment, we know from our organization’s 70-year history that one day, perhaps sooner than many think, we will be able to reopen a bureau in Russia. Time is on the side of liberty, even in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

>> Also notable: BBC World News, the broadcaster’s global TV news channel, has “been taken off air in Russia…”

The view from Ukraine

Monday’s UK front pages feature wrenching photos from Irpin, outside Kyiv, showing civilians running for their lives amid Russian shelling. CNN’s live updates page highlights another angle from inside the country: “Growing defiance on display in Russian-held Ukraine.”

“The last few days have seen growing popular defiance of Russian forces,” CNN’s Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych said, especially in the south of Ukraine, where there have been multiple protests in areas where Russian troops have arrived.

Viewing the war through soda straws

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some embedded reporters observed that they were seeing the war through a soda straw, meaning one narrow slice of the story. These days, thanks to social media and cameraphones and other technologies, journalists have a whole handful of soda straws. But the point remains the same: Views of the battlefield are limited. 

“One side, Russia, is opaque,” CNN’s Jim Sciutto told me from Lviv, Ukraine on Sunday. There are no journalists with Russian forces, and the officials “deliberately lie: They hide casualties, they hide equipment losses.”

“On the Ukrainian side, we have more vision,” Sciutto said, “because they’re sharing more images, but we also have to acknowledge they’re in the midst of an information war as well. Propaganda is part of fighting a war.” So Ukrainian officials accentuate the positives on their side and downplay the negatives.

“Then we have our people, particularly CNN, spread across the country,” he said, “often at great risk to themselves and their teams, who give you multiple soda straws,” multiple data points. The result: “Making a judgment as to where this conflict stands on any given day requires that humility,” Sciutto said, “because we don’t know the whole picture.” Ramishah Maruf has a recap of the segment here…

For the record part one

— “Television and radio broadcasts have been knocked out in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, after Russian military strikes…” (CNN)

Lisa Abend reports on “what it’s like for Ukrainian journalists reporting on the war in their country…” (Time)

 — Related: I spoke with one of those journalists, Kateryna Fedotenko of Ukraine 24, on Sunday’s “Reliable…” (CNN)

— TV news anchors continue to helm shows from Ukraine. Anderson Cooper is anchoring a special Sunday night edition of “AC360” right now… (Twitter)

— NBC’s Lester Holt arrived in Ukraine on Sunday and led “Nightly News” from Lviv. He interviewed Ukrainians trying to leave the country and said the UN is “calling it the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II…” (NBC)

— CBS News said that “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil “is in Poland reporting on the refugee crisis and will be live for CBS Mornings from near the Polish/Ukrainian border on Monday and Tuesday…” (CBS)

— One of the few uplifting moments from the US TV coverage: NBC’s Ellison Barber, live on MSNBC from Ukraine’s border with Poland, was joyfully interrupted by a little girl who wanted to play soccer with her… (MSNBC)

Companies excommunicating Russia

“The commercial excommunication of Russia isn’t slowing down,” Derek Thompsonwrote Sunday. “In the last 24 hours, Visa, Mastercard, and Netflix have announced that they’re suspending service in Russia. A new iron curtain in the cloud.” American Express joined the list on Sunday, too.

A Netflix rep confirmed the suspension to me on Sunday afternoon, citing “the circumstances on the ground.” The company’s escalation is notable, as Bloomberg’sLucas Shaw wrote: “First Netflix said it wouldn’t comply with a Russian media law. Then it said it was pausing all production in Russia. Now it’s cutting off its service in the country…”

>> Jonah Goldberg‘s counterpoint: “You know what would be better? If Netflix ran a steady stream of news and updates, from an array of sources, about what’s going on in Ukraine…”

For the record part two

 — Ivan Pereira writes: “Memes become weapons in Ukraine-Russia conflict…” (ABC)

Jane Lytvynenko reports from a pro-Ukrainian protest: “In the face of Russian disinformation and attacks, telling our stories, the stories of our families and our people, telling them honestly and clearly, has become one of our best weapons…” (Guardian)

To that point: Carole Cadwalladr writes that “one of the wildest aspects of the first Great Information War is not just that you can follow Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in real time, minute by minute and step by step, but you can also join in…” (Guardian)

Tiffany Hsu writes about how advertising is acting as “another vehicle” to protest Russia’s war on Ukraine… (NYT)

— “Ukrainian ad experts have formed a volunteer group targeting ads to Russia and Belarus,” Lara O’Reilly reports… (Insider)

— “Faced with the reality of a catastrophic defeat on the information front, Putin has retreated and is now embarking on a desperate scramble to protect his grip on domestic Russian audiences,” writes Anders Aslund… (Atlantic Council)

 — Jake Tapper‘s big picture analysis: Two decades of stern warnings and misplaced optimism in US foreign policy helped pave the way for Putin to invade Ukraine… (CNN)

For the record part three

— In her Monday media column, Margaret Sullivan says Putin’s “full-scale information war got a key assist from Donald Trump and right-wing media…” (WaPo)

— Speaking of Trump: At a rally on Saturday night he mused about “a really bad — and evidently illegal — idea to bomb Russia using Chinese flags…” (WaPo)

Ruby Cramer says Trump’s Truth Social platform seems “empty” inside… (Politico)

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