KILLING THE MESSENGERS

A Knife in the Throat Nearly Silences a Top Independent Broadcaster in Moscow

It looks as if Echo of Moscow’s Tatiana Felgenhauer will survive her stabbing, but all independent reporters feel the threats that weigh on them after so many assassinations.

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MOSCOW—Tatiana Felgenhauer, the 32-year-old deputy chief editor of the Echo of Moscow independent radio station, was stabbed in her throat and seriously wounded on Monday right in the reception of Echo’s newsroom.

The radio station’s security captured the attacker and handed him over to police. The assailant was a middle-aged man dressed in black clothes. Fortunately, an ambulance arrived within minutes and Felgenhauer was rushed to surgery, which appears to have saved her life.

Felgenhauer is known for her hipster look, strong voice, and brilliant skills as a narrator. Several days a week Russia wakes up to her voice on the radio, but this attacker clearly intended to silence her. Felgenhauer's blood was spattered across the newsroom floor.

“Tania is the face and voice of Echo of Moscow, each of us feels stabbed this morning,” Echo’s international observer Tonia Samsonova told The Daily Beast. “Tania is the key reporter covering anti-Putin protests; it was the state that has previously inspired the hateful, aggressive public attitude against our journalists.”

In fact earlier this month the Kremlin-controlled television station Rossia-24 accused Felgenhauer of working for the U.S. State Department in a show called “Echo of Gosdep” (a Russian abbreviation for the U.S. State Department.

One prominent journalist, Sergei Parkhomenko, wondered aloud if the show provoked the stabbing. “I would like to ask Rossia-24 if they are happy to see the effect that their two-part ‘investigation’ caused,” Parkhomenko said.

The attack on Felgenhauer shook up the already very traumatized independent press. But the official reaction was even more disturbing: right after the attack pro-Kremlin media quoted some anonymous source saying that the stabbing had nothing to do with Felgenhauer’s professional activity.

Russia has seen dozens of the Kremlin’s opponents, politicians and reporters assassinated during the long years of Vladimir Putin’s rule, Russia almost never learns the names of the masterminds behind the killings.

“I do not want to hear any ritual words from the Kremlin’s mouthpieces–– they have said too many, after every murder of a politician or a reporter!” Vladimir Varfolomeyev, editor and presenter at Echo of Moscow, told The Daily Beast. “It is their actions that we are watching. Officials condemn our reporters as enemies of Russia. This policy feeds violence.”

The attacker, whose blogger name was Boris Grits, clearly had prepared for the assassination. In his blog he published a few hateful and largely insane articles about Felgenhauer in Russian, calling her “a bastard.” To get into the office building Grits sprayed gas and blinded the security downstairs; then the attacker rushed into the Echo’s newsroom on the 14th floor right as Felgenhauer came out from the morning news meeting to the reception by the front desk. In an instant, he stabbed her in the neck, then wounded one of the security guards.

About an hour after the attack, Felgenhauer’s friend and colleague Aleksei Solomin said, he saw up to 15 policemen dragging the attacker along the hall from the newsroom. The man’s arms were twisted, he was bent down almost to the floor as he walked. “The police told us that the attacker was a citizen of a foreign country,” Solomin said. He was reported to be a citizen of Israel.

Solomin noted that this was not the first attack on Echo’s reporters and that the state did not do anything to stop the violence.

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Yulia Latynina, another famous journalist at Echo of Moscow had to leave the country last month after a series of attacks. Last year a man in a helmet poured feces all over her face and dress; this year her elderly parents complained to officials about somebody spreading noxious gas outside their house. Latynina finally left after her car was set on fire and she saw no results from any of the investigations.

Two years ago Karina Orlova, another presenter at Echo of Moscow, had to leave the country after death threats.

In Moscow people say that there are only three options left: to cope with the regime as it is, to fight it, or to flee country.

The other possibility is to die fighting.

Russia’s fearless crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in her apartment block 11 years ago. Natalia Estemirova, a reporter and human rights defender, was kidnapped and killed in Chechnya seven years ago.

The Kremlin has not condemned those who ordered these assassinations––their names are still a mystery which President Vladimir Putin could have solved long ago, if only there was a political will to protect reporters. Clearly there is not.