With the recent inauguration of new president Dmitry Medvedev, how have things changed in Russia? Is the authoritarian freeze of the Vladimir Putin years starting to melt into a glorious new spring of freedom? Mark Ames, founder of Russian newspaper the Exile (and Radar contributor) will provide occasional dispatches in pursuit of an answer to that question ... if the authorities don't lock him up first.
Thursday morning, Moscow time, four Russian government officials came to the office of my English-language newspaper, the Exile, and conducted an "unplanned audit" of our editorial content. They are carrying out an inspection of my paper's articles to see, in their words, if we have committed "violations." And they specifically asked to question me, since I'm officially listed as the founding editor-in-chief.
I started up the Exile 11 years ago with a Russian publisher, and it grew into a kind of cult phenomenon, with an online readership of 200,000 visitors per month, launching the careers of Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and the "War Nerd," Gary Brecher, but ensuring that anyone who sticks with the paper is condemned to a life of poverty and paranoia.
In all my years I'd never heard of an "unplanned audit" of editorial content. The insiders whom I contacted all said, "It's ... strange." That's how my Russian lawyer reacted, it's how an American official reacted, and it's even how the head of the Glasnost Defense Fund reacted, even though his NGO focuses on problems between the Russian media and the Kremlin.