Misreporting Russia

Update: In this story published on 17 April I was expressing disappointment over the quality of Russia reporting in some of the Western media, but it was lacking an example sharp enough to make the point, to showcase the potential consequences. Well, three CNN employees resigning over a retracted Russia story and the backlash aimed at the media in general would do.

‘As a foreign correspondent, Russia is probably the most important place to be right now,’ an editor told my friend, a foreign journalist currently working in Moscow. Indeed: ties to Russia in Trump’s cabinet, Syrian war, conflict in Eastern Ukraine, a new wave of protests, upcoming presidential election. Except, maybe, not the most pleasant one, it snowing in Moscow in mid-April. Anyway, despite it seemingly being so important, the quality of reporting is, well, far from ideal. See for yourself.

The Atlantic

‘Since the economic crisis began in 2013, Russia’s GDP per capita has plummeted — from $15,500 to $9,000 — and it is now approaching that of China’s. In 2013, it had been double China’s.’

A 40% drop in just three years would truly be an economic catastrophe. However, such a drop in GDP as described by the Atlantic is due to the currency devaluation that happened in 2014. In constant 2010 prices, Russia’s per capita GDP declined from $11,500 to $11,000 over the same period, or a drop of 4%, and Russia’s GDP per capita at PPP (current prices) — which would be better suited to compare the output of countries with volatile currencies — is still 1,7 times higher than China’s.

El País

‘The February 1917 revolution (which was kicked off by the protests of the residents of Petrograd against the bread deficit and the economic and social conditions of the World War II) is also a point of reference.’

World War I (1914–1918)
World War II (1939–1945)

The Washington Post

‘Police responded [to March, 26 protests] with barricades, tear gas and mass arrests in cities across Russia.’

There are no credible reports about police having used tear gas. It probably refers to the incident in Moscow where tear gas was sprayed. The police denied having done it, and started an investigation.


‘[People flooded the streets of Moscow] despite a 2014 law banning non-permitted protests.’

2014 amendments only increased penalties for repeated offenses. The ones from 2012 did toughen up on protests, but they still have to be ‘negotiated’ as before. Those protests that failed to be negotiated were illegal since 2004.

The day after I tweeted at them they took the sentence out, and later deleted the tweet containing the old video.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

‘Just days after this week’s tragic bombing in the St. Petersburg Metro, Putin’s Kremlin is at [consolidating power and suppressing dissent] again. Yury Shvytkin, the deputy chair of the State Duma’s Defense Committee has proposed a moratorium on public demonstrations in response to the attack.’

The MP’s actual quote was just the opposite of what Brian Whitmore said: ‘I think we should not introduce prohibitive measures, but rather do propaganda work instead.’ He was talking about trying to convince the organisers of oppositional protests to postpone those until the situation stabilises.

Moreover, the day before the RFE/RL video he denied he had said it: ‘ Yury Shvytkin said that he has not called to introduce a moratorium on protests.’

Brian Whitmore went further to say: ‘And State Duma Deputy Vitaly Milonov is introducing legislation banning online calls for unsanctioned demonstrations and requiring all social-network users to register with their passport details.’ Needless to say, equating a draft introduced by one of the most extreme members with the actions of the Kremlin is sensationalist and unprofessional — especially taken that Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov already called the initiative ‘barely realistic’, and the ruling United Russia party is not supporting it either.