In my career as a journalist, I have been fortunate enough to report from Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, India, China, and North Korea. I have never been to Russia, though. If a Russian blogger gets his way, I may never get the chance.
As of Thursday, I am an official enemy of Sergey Selyunin, the proprietor of a website devoted to listing what he considers official enemies of Russia. You know, like Madonna, Vanessa Redgrave, Hillary Clinton, and Eli Lake. Our photos, along with other politicians, activists, artists, and journalists from around the world, are on the site’s infinite scroll, each of us stamped with “pathological russophobe” in giant red lettering, in both English and Russian. Selyunin recommends that we all be barred from entering Mother Russia.
I found out about the list after Noah Shachtman, editor of Wired’s Danger Room, tweeted Tuesday how he was on the list along with my editor, Tina Brown, and New Yorker editor, David Remnick.
Shachtman is the author of the definitive piece on Russian cyber-wizard, Eugene Kaspersky In that story, Shachtman discloses Kaspersky’s ties to the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. Remnick’s book, “Lenin’s Tomb,” is a vivid and often negative portrait of the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m not entirely sure what Tina Brown has done personally to offend the Russians, though her reporters have covered the show trials against Russian protest punk band, Pussy Riot, and the anti-Putin sentiments of dissident Garry Kasparov.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Selyunin wants to keep us all out of Russia (though his site is actually hosted in France), but the postings happen to coincide with the start of a trial of Sergei Magnitsky, the tax lawyer for American-born financier, Bill Browder. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after accusing a group of Russian interior ministry officials of stealing $230 million in taxes paid by Browder. He died in 2009 after being beaten and denied medical treatment in a variety of Russian prisons. Browder has used his time and resources since then to push for laws that would bar Russian officials implicated in the murder of Magnitsky from traveling to Europe and the U.S. Obama signed the Magnitsky legislation this fall. Russia responded by barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
The list also includes John Kerry, the new secretary of state. How is he a “pathological russophobe?”
Selyunin’s list includes Browder as well as Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland who wrote the Magnitsky bill. But there are also politicians on the list who worked to make common cause with Moscow. Hillary Clinton, for example, in a 2009 visit to Russia wore a button that said “reset,” part of a campaign to kick off the new Obama policy to mend ties between the two countries. (Never mind that the State Department flubbed the Russian word on the button, which translated to “over-loaded.”) The list also includes John Kerry, the new secretary of state. How is he a “pathological russophobe?” When he was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he declined for months to schedule a vote for the Magnitsky bill.
With Russophobes like these, I was surprised not to find my own name on Selyunin’s list. I mean, I was denounced by Russia’s deputy foreign minister in 2011 for writing about how a Russian intelligence officer was implicated by the Georgian government in an attempted bombing of the U.S. embassy in Tblisi. When Salon.com accused me of being bribed with martinis and appetizers by the Georgian lobby, Russia’s official English-language television station picked up the report in a feature called, “Money Makes the War Go Round”. (I did not take bribes, if you’re wondering.) I was also one of the first reporters to write about Browder’s campaign.
So I obviously had no choice but to demand inclusion in Selyunin’s gallery of rogues. I took to Twitter.
Dear lunatic Russian nationalists, How do you make a list of "pathological russophobes" and not include Eli Lake? bit.ly/W3gOoM— Eli Lake (@EliLake) March 5, 2013
It took a couple of days, but Selyunin corrected his error, tweeting back:
Okay, progress. But my curiosity still unsatisfied, I asked Selyunin for an interview.
@sergey_s_rusCan I reach you for an interview?— Eli Lake (@EliLake) March 7, 2013
@elilake I don't give interviews for russophobes ...— Sergey_S_Rus (@Sergey_S_Rus) March 7, 2013
It turns out Selyunin only lists pathological russophobes, but he doesn’t talk to them.