A backlash erupted Thursday at a U.S. government-funded news service after management announced the onboarding of a journalist who previously defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In the 2014 Russian magazine article, “How Russia can save Crimea after Putin,” Ilya Klishin, the now controversial new hire at Current Time, laid out his vision of how to keep “Crimea in the new Russia and how to achieve its recognition as part of our country by the West and Ukraine.”
In internal emails sent yesterday, employees of Current Time – a production of RFE/RL – expressed concern that the broadcaster, which is described on its website as being a “24-hour Russian-language television and digital news network aimed at audiences in Russia, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and around the world,” was running substantial risks by hiring a journalist who had openly written about how best to deprive Ukraine of its territorial sovereignty.
A Current Time employee expressed that those in the Kyiv Bureau are “very afraid that the appointment to a leadership position, any position, of a person who consciously and publicly supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014, may have a very negative impact on our work in Ukraine, as society as a whole, and our target speakers especially, very sensitive to such issues.”
UPDATE: RFE/RL has since released a statement outlining their position.
Recalling the incident that led to liberal Russian channel Rain (called Dozhd in Russian) being pulled off the air in Ukraine, by government authorities, for having publicized that Crimea was part of Russia, one of the Current Time journalists said that, “If the story of the appointment [of Kishlin] goes public, the work of the Kyiv bureau will be under real threat. We’ll just be shut down like Rain.”
Another employee countered that “I think that the story [of Klishin’s hiring] will not ‘if’ – but will definitely – go public as we had before (everyone remembers the recent case with VOA),” referring to Voice of America.
Last month, Kyiv Post reported that 15 employees of Voice of America (VoA) had sent an open letter to the U.S. Congress, questioning the government-financed news agency’s decision to hire two Russian journalists who had earlier worked for pro-Kremlin news outlets.
After Kyiv Post’s story broke, the two Russian Voice of America (VoA) journalists were put on leave.
Conversations with multiple people close to the situation at Current Time revealed concern that the recent hiring incident was indicative of a laxity on the part of management with regard to holding a firm line on supporting Ukraine.
Shahida Tulaganova, a former employee of Current Time, said that the scandal unfolding today was “not an isolated incident, but the symptom of something that has been going on for years,” which she attributed to being the ongoing “problem in the management of RFE/RL and Current Time and this is a consequence of it."
“Those who are in management have been there for 20-25 years," she added, and "those at the very top do not get involved” in confronting problems that the news service is facing; rather, they want “yes-people who just agree with them.”
A document given to Kyiv Post by someone close to the situation stated that many Current Time employees “have questioned how a taxpayer funded organization can operate apparently with so little oversight, especially in the context of a war in which the U.S. Congress has taken a clear position against Russia."
"They have also criticized a lack of transparency inside the organization even as they, as journalists, are tasked with reporting on the lack of transparency in the governments and organizations they cover,” it added.
One person close to the situation described it as “insane that the U.S. is doing so much to support Ukraine, but on the other hand they are allowing taxes to hire people who have been publicly in favor of Crimea’s annexation and those who have worked for pro-Kremlin TV channels.”
The reference was to two current employees of the news broadcaster who formerly worked at the pro-Kremlin Moscow 24 and another employee who worked at the Kremlin-financed Russia Today.
Multiple members of the Russian democratic opposition to President Vladimir Putin stated that they were unfamiliar with the scandal at Current Time, however they were not surprised by the situation.
Describing their own encounters with U.S. Government financing of programs to support democratic alternatives to the Putin Regime, the source, who insisted on anonymity, told Kyiv Post: “It is bad that Washington spends tons of money on the same people [in the Russian opposition], year-after-year; but it is worse that it does not achieve any results. It is just a waste of money.”
U.S. government support for Russia’s democratic opposition is often done via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Kyiv Post has requested – by email and through the Freedom of Information Act – records to see if either organization finances the activities of any Russian civil society or political organizations that support the illegal annexation of Crimea.
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