Independent media doesnt last in Russia.

Independent media is slowly disappearing from Russia, says the international organization Reporters without Borders (RSF). This organization, which maps the worlds press freedom, warns of harassment against journalists. At least eighty journalists were arrested this spring while reporting on demonstrations. In the Press Freedom Index of RSF, Russia is in 150th place.

Recently, the independent news site VTimes, a platform for investigative journalism that was founded with the support of Dutch publisher Derek Sauer. Because the VTimes didnt get a registration in Russia, they moved to the Netherlands. But organizations that receive money from abroad or registered there were given the stamp foreign agent this spring. That means they need to report that on all reports and that they are monitored extra.

Formally, VTimes was allowed to persist, but the impact of such a mark is great, says Aleksandr Goebski, one of the founders of the news platform. โ€œA foreign agent was an enemy of the people in Soviet times, a spy, like under Stalin,โ€ he says. โ€œWe still have that association.โ€

Just under a year ago, Goebski started with a group of journalists VTimes. Shortly before, they all worked for Vedomosti, a leading business newspaper set up with help from the Financial Times and the Wallstreet Journal. But the newspaper was sold to a friend of Putin and it was done with independent journalism.

โ€œFree speech is a dead letter. I think were chasing Belarus,โ€ says Goebski.

Resources and Advertisers Run Away

The โ€œforeign agentโ€ predicate made the situation unworkable for vTimes as well. Goebski: โ€œMany sources are at least reluctant to contact us now. Especially since laws in Russia can apply retroactively. They might be told in a year, โ€œyou were in contact with foreign agents, so youre one of your own. You may no longer be a civil servant or professorโ€. That makes people shy of course.โ€

And Goebski says it doesnt stop, because advertisers are scared too. They run the risk of later being blamed for having funded a foreign agent. In addition, employees were at risk of being prosecuted individually. So the site went offline on June 12, a national holiday in Russia.

This month President Putin defended this policy. Foreign agents are indeed a threat to Russia, Putin believes. America is putting money into Russian media โ€œnot to strengthen Russia, but in organizations that slow down Russia.

โ€œIf youre not ahead, youre againstโ€

Publisher Derk Sauer, who previously invested in the Vedemosti magazine, sees a new trend. โ€œPutin sees it black and white. You cant be independent anymore. If youre not for him, youre against him. You have to choose a party, its demanded of you, and thats just what journalists cant do.โ€

Other media are also affected, such as the online platform Meduza, which works from Latvia. The โ€œforeign agentโ€ stamp also left the advertisers. The site is now missing two million monthly and has closed offices and fired journalists.

Finishing like a Shit Fly

Lilia Japparova is an investigative journalist at Meduza. โ€œAs bad as we have never experienced it,โ€ she says. Japparova recently received a letter from an oligarch in response to questions she had asked. Someone nicknamed โ€œThe Cook of Putin, โ€œnow boss of a mercenary army. โ€œHe wrote that I am an enemy of the people. People like me were executed in the Soviet Union. And he would finish me in court like an anti-Russian shitfly,โ€ she says.

This spring, more than eighty journalists were arrested reporting the pro-navalny demonstrations in a number of major cities in Russia. One of them is Armen Aramjan, a journalist of the Doxa student newspaper. He is now at home with an ankle strap because he and his colleagues in a video called students not to be intimidated by teachers.

โ€œIt was very scary and awful to experience this, of course,โ€ says Armen. โ€œBut as a journalist, I do know that this is common. Yesterday it was a different one, today it happens to me.โ€ He doesnt want to be intimidated, but fears the consequences. โ€œOur biggest enemy is self-censorship, fear. That gnawing feeling: Is it worth it? Is it worth getting me locked up? Youre going to think about that anyway.โ€