Meeting report, Vol.3, No.5, February 22, 2001

On February 22, 2001 Carnegie Endowment Senior Associate Michael McFaul hosted a lunch meeting with Matt Bivens, former editor of The Moscow Times. The presentation was the fifth session in "state of the State" monthly series, which seeks to increase understanding of the recent developments and prospects of the key institutions of the Russian state. We provide below a short summary of Bivens's remarks and the discussion that followed.

In his presentation, former editor of The Moscow Times Matt Bivens focused on the interconnectedness between the political situation and press freedom in Russia. The widespread corruption and authoritarian tendencies of the Putin government have had a corresponding effect on the freedom of the press, and civil liberties in general. Although there are still a few people in government unmarred by major scandals (such Alexei Kudrin, Viktor Khristenko, and German Gref), it is evident that the government is ridden with corruption -- Bivens listed numerous high profile investigations, which have involved Russia's ministers. The ethos of corruption and disregard for civil liberties resulted in many instances of harassment of journalists and the media.
Infamous cases of RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitsky and media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky point to the unwillingness of the Putin government to tolerate opposition and criticism. Bivens noted that press freedom usually declines as elections draw near, citing the angry stand of Central Election Commission against the "None of the Above" campaign before the March 2000 presidential elections. Also, media sources that question the official "Chechen terrorist" version of fall 1999 Moscow bombings appear more likely to have financial problems and experience journalist intimidation.

The talk and the discussion that followed were off the record.

Summary by Victoria Levin, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program.