At a glance.
- The challenges of content moderation.
- Russia's turn in the Security Council chair immediately becomes an occasion for disinformation.
- Russia blames both Ukraine and internal dissidents for the assassination of milblogger Tatarsky.
- Restoring a brigade's reputation.
- The FSB's arrest of Evan Gershkovich.
The challenges of content moderation.
Twitter continues to struggle with the difficult problems of content moderation. Its allocation or revocation of the blue check mark, intended originally as a safeguard against impersonation, has proven controversial as it becomes essentially a paid feature on the platform. The New York Times, for example, declined to pay and was divested of its blue check mark, the Washington Post reports. And Twitter also listed NPR as "state-affiliated media," a designation the AP says NPR rejects categorically, since "state-affiliated media," by Twitter's own definition, are outlets over which a government exercises editorial control. That's not the case at NPR: public funding doesn't necessarily imply editorial control. Forbes points out that this classifies NPR with such egregiously state-controlled media as RT. Even as the New York Times is being de-checked and NPR spanked as "state-affiliated," Semafor finds that Twitter has in many respects thrown up its hands over Russian and Chinese media that are objectionable in precisely these ways, no longer flagging their posts with the formerly customary "stay-informed" warning. Semafor says that its request for clarification from Twitter was met with an automated poop emoji as a reply, but as of the time they went to press, no human response.
It seems to us unlikely that this represents any kind of ideological turn on Twitter's part. Rather, it seems probable that it reflects, first, a degree of internal corporate turmoil in which balls get dropped or otherwise mishandled, and, second, the inherent difficulty of content moderation, especially content moderation at scale.
Russia's turn in the Security Council chair immediately becomes an occasion for disinformation.
It's Russia's turn to chair the United Nations Security Council, and it used its first week in that role to convene a meeting to share its own view of the widespread abduction of Ukrainian children. It featured a video presentation by the director of Russia's child protection agency, Maria Lvova-Belova, presently wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes involving the kidnapped children. Ms Lvova-Belova said she welcomed the opportunity to “dispel the fakes and show the opposite side.” She added that Russia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and claimed that Russia's custody of the children was protective, and that Moscow stands ready to help reunite the children with their families. Criticism of Russian policy, she said, amounted to lies designed to slander Russia. “We have no doubt that this is a campaign to discredit our country and attempts to conceal their irresponsible actions about children,” the New York Times quotes her as saying. Several Western members of the Council walked out on the presentation, returning once it was over to denounce Russian disinformation. It seems likely that Russia's month in the chair will be devoted to more such tendentious propaganda.
Russia blames both Ukraine and internal dissidents for the assassination of milblogger Tatarsky.
Russian authorities, the New York Times writes, now blame not only Ukrainian actors but also internal, domestic dissenters, for the bomb that killed prominent and very extreme milblogger Vladlen Tatarsky Sunday. "Russia’s Antiterrorism Committee also issued a statement claiming, without providing evidence, that the bombing had been planned by Ukrainian intelligence agencies," the Times says, "along with 'agents' connected to the movement of Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader. Investigators also said that Ms. Trepova was a supporter of Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation." The Anti-Corruption Foundation denies any involvement.
Daria Trepova, the woman accused of handing Mr. Tatarsky the figure containing the bomb that killed him, is a Russian national. Her husband, according to the Telegraph, says she's being framed, and that her apparent video confession is a put-up job.
Restoring a brigade's reputation.
"The Russian MOD is likely running a deliberate information operation to revive the reputation of a brigade which has become synonymous with recent Russian failures in Ukraine," the UK's MoD reported this morning. "Throughout March 2023, the activities of 155th Naval Infantry Brigade were highlighted via some of the most extensive Russian helmet-cam combat footage yet released, as well as a televised visit by a prominent Russian TV host, Vladimir Solovyov. There were also public announcements that the formation is in ‘high spirits [with] a strong determination to achieve the set goals’, as well as images showing the 155th being re-equipped with modified tanks. In reality, the 155th has likely been reduced to combat ineffective status at least twice in the last six months, due to being committed to tactically flawed frontal assaults near Vuhledar in Donetsk Oblast. The MOD’s effort to revive the brigade’s image likely reflects concern about the way in which its failures were being increasingly associated with Russian senior military leaders." Naval infantry units have traditionally been considered an elite among Russian forces.
The FSB's arrest of Evan Gershkovich.
The FSB's arrest of reporter Evan Gershkovich is widely regarded in Western media as official hostage-taking, and his arrest has been denounced as such by the US State Department and the White House. The AP reports that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, to demand the journalist's immediate release. (Secretary Blinken also demanded the release of Paul Whelan, an American citizen whom Russia has detained for four years on espionage charges.) Russian state television takes a different line, as commentators on a Rossiya 1 news show say that Gershkovich was never a journalist and filed no stories from Russia. That's an easy charge to debunk. Here are the eleven stories with Gershkovich's byline that the Wall Street Journal published during just March of this year:
- Russia’s Economy Is Starting to Come Undone Investment is down, labor is scarce, budget is squeezed. Oligarch: ‘There will be no money next year.’ Georgi Kantchev and Evan Gershkovich (March 28, 2023).
- Ukraine Says Front Lines Around Embattled City of Bakhmut Are Stabilizing Western officials say Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine is losing momentum as Kyiv gears up for its spring campaign. Isabel Coles in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Evan Gershkovich in Moscow (March 25, 2023).
- Vladimir Putin Criticizes West as Xi Jinping Strikes Softer Tone The leaders wrote that relations between Russia and China are approaching new heights ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow. Georgi Kantchev and Evan Gershkovich (March 19, 2023).
- Russia Makes a Habit of Harassing U.S. Planes, Pentagon Says U.S. Defense Department officials cited a pattern of aggressive and risky actions by Russian forces toward the U.S., a day after a Russian jet collided with a U.S. spy drone. Nancy A. Youssef, Evan Gershkovich and Thomas Grove (March 15, 2023).
- Russian Jet Collides With U.S. Drone Over Black Sea The collision forced the U.S. to bring the Reaper drone down in international waters, the Pentagon says. Nancy A. Youssef in Washington and Evan Gershkovich in Moscow (March 14, 2023).
- Artillery Shortage Hampers Russia’s Offensive in East Ukraine, Western Officials Say Russia’s defense minister told domestic manufacturers to double their production of precision-guided weapons, as Moscow pushes to capture Bakhmut city after months of heavy fighting. Matthew Luxmoore in Dnipro, Ukraine, and Evan Gershkovich in Moscow (March 14, 2023).
- Fight for Bakhmut Becomes Moment of Truth for Wagner Founder The battle for the eastern Ukrainian city comes amid rising tensions between the Kremlin elite and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the paramilitary force. Thomas Grove, Evan Gershkovich and Benoit Faucon (March 10, 2023).
- Georgia Pulls Russia-Style Foreign-Agents Bill The move came after thousands of Georgians took to the streets to demonstrate against the legislation, that would label groups receiving funding from abroad as foreign agents. Evan Gershkovich (March 9, 2023).
- Georgia Rocked by Protests Over Russia-Style Foreign-Agents Bill Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Georgia as discontent erupted over draft legislation labeling groups receiving funding from abroad as foreign agents. Justyna Mielnikiewicz in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Evan Gershkovich in Moscow (March 8, 2023).
- As Russia Steps Up Shelling in Kherson, Ukraine Calls on Residents to Evacuate Ukraine urged residents to leave the southern city amid an uptick in Russian attacks, while pressure grew on Kyiv to vacate Bakhmut in the east. Matthew Luxmoore in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Evan Gershkovich in Moscow (March 7, 2023).
- Putin’s War Rhetoric Rallies Russian Border Towns, but Nerves Fray Growing casualties haven’t so far shaken Pskov, an impoverished region that is home to the elite Russian paratrooper division that occupied Bucha in Ukraine. Evan Gershkovich | Photographs by Nanna Heitmann/Magnum for The Wall Street Journal (March 1, 2023).
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, also appearing on Rossiya 1, argues that Gershkovich didn't attend official press briefings, and therefore couldn't be a journalist, which affords some insight into the Russian government's understanding of journalism.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke about the detention of Mr. Gershkovich at a press briefing. "These espionage charges are ridiculous. The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest — in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists." She drew a lesson from the detention for all Americans: stay out of Russia. "I want to strongly reiterate that Americans should heed the U.S. government’s warning to not travel to Russia."
US Senator Menendez (Democrat of New York) who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reacted to the FSB's arrest of the Wall Street Journal's Evan Gershkovich. “Mr. Gershkovich's detention is outrageous,” the Senator said in an interview carried by MSNBC. “It follows the pattern of Putin arresting, detaining, taking Americans hostage. He is fearful of what a free press will do to his authoritarianism, and that’s why he often engages in labeling journalists either terrorists or foreign agents. He should be released immediately, and we will be engaged vigorously with the Administration not only in calling for his removal, but in finding ways to have Russia pay an additional consequence for this.”
Gershkovich met his lawyers for the first time Tuesday, Reuters reports. He's being held in Moscow's Lefortovo prison pending trial.