- Russian censors demanded the removal of articles describing claims that Putin has a secret palace.
- At least 10 outlets were told to remove dozens of stories Tuesday or face being blocked in Russia.
- The reports stem from anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned last year.
Russia’s media regulator demanded the deletion of dozens of news articles reporting on allegations of corruption by President Vladimir Putin, including the claim that he has a secret, lavish palace.
The regulator, Roskomnadzor, told at least 10 major news outlets on Tuesday that their sites would be blocked if they did not remove the material, which amounts to at least 79 reports, according to The Moscow Times.
The crackdown hones in on allegations made by opposition figure Alexei Navalny about the lavish properties of Putin and his inner circle, and the allegedly corrupt schemes that fund them.
This includes details from Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Organization (FKB), which said that Putin funded a billion-dollar palace through bribery. It also includes reporting on real estate owned by top Putin loyalists, according to The Moscow Times.
In January, FBK released a cache of images that it said showed Putin’s palace, including photos of a four-poster bathtub, a pole-dancing room and an ice rink. The building, it said, cost around $1.4 billion.
Multiple other outlets have published their own investigations pointing to the existence of the palace near Gelendzhik, Krasnodar Krai, on the Black Sea.
After the release of the FKB report, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “These are all absolutely unfounded statements. This is pure nonsense and a compilation, and there is nothing else there.”
In August 2021 the Kremlin formally designated FKB as an extremist organization, as Russian newspaper Kommersant reported.
The outlets told to remove material on Tuesday include broadcaster TV Rain; investigative news site Meduza; The Moscow Times’ Russian-language service; news agency Svobodnye Novosti; and multiple regional sites, TV Rain reported.
All the outlets complied in order to avoid being blocked, according to The Moscow Times.
Svobodnye Novosti said Roskomnadzor had told it to remove nine reports under the auspices of an anti-extremist law. The material could incite “mass riots” and that it had come from an organization “whose activities are recognized as undesirable,” the outlet said it was told.
The instruction came just over a year since the FKB unveiled its “Putin’s Palace” report. Navalny was arrested and imprisoned two days before the report’s release. He was entering Russia for the first time since his near-fatal poisoning, which he accuses Putin of ordering.
It is one of several sweeping steps to muffle Russian public access to reporting on Putin-related intrigue.
In December last year, outlets were ordered to delete article relating to his rumored extramarital daughter, as The Moscow Times reported.
Several publications have been designated as “foreign agents” and display a disclaimer banner on the top of their sites, as can be seen on TV Rain’s site here.
Media freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 150 out of 179 on its World Press Freedom Index.
“The harassment [of journalists] has risen to a new level since Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and immediate arrest on arrival,” the group wrote.