The rift between the liberal Russian opposition in exile and their hosts became apparent this week, when Russia’s last remaining independent TV channel, Dozhd (Rain), lost its Latvian broadcasting license following a scandal.
Last week, correspondent Alexey Korostelev said in a live segment about the challenges of Russian military mobilization for the war in Ukraine: “We hope that we can help many military personnel, including equipment or just basic facilities at the front. ”
Pro-Ukrainian observers saw Korostelev’s remark as at best a sign of sympathy for the invading Russian forces, and at worst an endorsement of Moscow’s brutal offensive, which left thousands dead in nearly 10 months of the war.
Rain promptly fired the reporter in question within hours of the incident; Korostelev apologized and tried to clarify his remarks. But the damage was done.
Latvian officials responded quickly, with Defense Minister Artis Pabriks calling for Rain’s expulsion.
The channel has been investigated by the security services.
Separately, Rain was fined 10,000 euros ($10,500) for using a map showing the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Ukraine in 2014, as Russian territory.
Latvia granted Rain a broadcasting license in June, after a Russian to manhandle on the media and harsh restrictions made their work impossible.
On Tuesday, the National Electronic Mass Media Council (NEPLP) revoked Rain’s broadcasting license citing national security and public order concerns. Rain has until Thursday to halt transmission.
Rain editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko called the decision “undoubtedly absurd and devoid of common sense”.
“I have read in books that the West upholds the right to a fair trial and that the accused party has the right to present their arguments in their defense,” Dzyadko said in a statement.
“Did TV Rain get that chance? No, it didn’t. TV Rain was not invited to the National Electronic Media Council’s 30-minute session. As a result of that 30-minute meeting, a 14-page ruling appeared. We can only envy the remarkable speed with which these respected members of this esteemed council can write.”
“What Alexey Korostelev said on the air does not reflect the position of the network. It is not true, and Alexey Korostelev was held responsible in the only possible way: his employment with the television network was terminated.
Dzyadko spoke of another alleged violation of broadcasting rules when Rain correspondents referred to the Russian armed forces as “our” army.
Although Rain was based in Latvia, authorities considered it a Latvian channel, not a Russian one.
“People can debate the marked offense in the phrase ‘our army’ when addressing a Russian audience. Our military is committing war crimes – not Alpha Centauri’s military, but ours (we, the citizens of the Russian Federation) are committing war crimes. 40,000 war crimes since February 24, according to Ukrainian officials. Where is the glorification here?”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov joined the row, saying: “It seems to some people all the time that other places are better than home, and it seems to some people all the time that other places have freedom , and there is no freedom.” At home
“This is one of the clear examples showing the fallacy of such illusions.”
Others in the pro-Moscow camp shot at their opponents.
“Humiliated, weak, in a foreign land, where they are despised both by their own country and by others,” journalist Abbas Djuma wrote on Telegram. “In an effort to earn some extra money, they pour shit on Russia, each other and even their own mother.”
Andrey Medvedev, a journalist and deputy chairman of the Moscow city parliament, questioned why Rain would choose to settle in a country that “honours SS legionnaires, or decide not to admit Russians with Schengen visas, or issue these visas to Russians at the border cancels”.
“And then our wretched opposition wonders why the people consider them an enemy,” he told his Telegram readers.
In Latvia and the other Baltic countries, support for Ukraine is deep, as is the memory of the post-World War II Soviet occupation and suspicion of their own ethnic Russian minorities.
“Latvia was occupied by Russia and thousands of Latvians were killed under the Soviet regime,” Olevs Nikers, the chairman of the Baltic Security Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “A large part of Latvia’s Russian minorities, largely as a result of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns, are still disloyal to the Latvian state.”
One of the fiercest anti-Russian voices is Latvian theater director Alvis Hermanis, who has been calling for Rain’s expulsion from the country since August, accusing the liberal Russian opposition of harboring the same mindset as the Moscow government.
“The TV Rain incident turned out to be a moment of truth for the entire Russian opposition,” Hermanis wrote on Facebook.
“Now we have to imagine in three days what the future Russia would look like without Putin if it were led by the current opposition,” he continued.
“And this also includes what their attitude would be towards Latvia, which has the same population as in one Moscow microdistrict… For now, very few Russian oppositionists understand that not only Putin’s regime, but also the imperial consciousness of The The Russian man must be changed.”
Russian liberal politician Lev Schlossberg, an outspoken critic of the war in Ukraine, called the decision to revoke Rain’s license a populist response to appease radical nationalists.
“It is a desire to rule a country based on the power of hate, and that is very dangerous,” he wrote on Facebook.
“The most unpleasant consequences will be for Latvia itself, which after 30 years of independence has not found a stable balance of peaceful coexistence between people of different nationalities.”
Dzyadko promised that Rain would continue to broadcast on YouTube, where it has more than 3.7 million subscribers.