Russian authorities have put investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov on the country’s federal wanted list and frozen his bank accounts. Soldatov is one of Russia’s leading and remaining independent journalists, having intimate knowledge of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

“My Monday: my accounts in Russian banks are under arrest, plus I’m placed on Russia’s wanted list,” wrote Soldatov on Twitter after discovering the criminal case against him.

Soldatov said that he got a series of odd messages starting on the morning of June 6 about his Moscow bank account being blocked. Upon further digging, he soon discovered that his accounts had been frozen because he was a suspect in a criminal investigation.

After consulting his lawyer, Soldatov checked Russia’s wanted list found on the Russian Interior Ministry’s website. There he saw his face along with biographical details posted as a wanted criminal. He noted that the page did not bother citing any specified article in the criminal code that he allegedly violated.

 

 

The case against him was filed by the Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s primary prosecution arm, according to Soldatov. He said that the accusation is likely linked to new Russian legislation suppressing so-called “fake news” on the invasion of Ukraine. Under the new law, which was passed days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, individuals can be penalized fines of up to $15,000 (~1.5 million rubles) with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for knowingly spreading “fake news.” In Russian terms, “fake news” is intentionally vague to allow prosecutors to define it as it suits them in a criminal charge.  It is generally understood to mean anything Putin might object to.

Since the start of the war, Soldatov and his colleague Irina Borogan have publicized multiple reports of purges and disarray inside the FSB. The duo is the leading independent expert on the Russian security agency. In fact, the SOFREP team has used the intelligence he obtained from within Russia to piece together what was happening behind the 21st-century iron curtain of sorts.

When there were rumors of Putin beginning to purge his military and intelligence agencies for intel failures in Ukraine, Andrei Soldatov was one of the first independent journalists to seek intel on the subject matter. His work resulted in the reports of several FSB high-ranking officials getting the boot from Putin as they failed to supply the Kremlin with proper and correct intel regarding Ukraine before the invasion.

Their investigations unveiled dissatisfaction within the Russian army after Vladimir Putin abandoned the strategy to capture the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv. It was also revealed that the FSB was receiving the blame for feeding Putin wrong information  leading up to the invasion of Ukraine. Since then, Moscow has tried to deny the validity of their reports and has attempted to restrict their ability to publish information.

 

Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (Andrei Soldatov). Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10160196272387189&set=pb.788672188.-2207520000..
Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (Andrei Soldatov/Facebook)

“I couldn’t predict what would happen precisely, but it was clear that for the FSB, it is important that this information about something being wrong within the FSB must simply disappear,” Soldatov said.

“The Kremlin has vehemently (and unsuccessfully) denied any purges or problems within the FSB, arguing that everything was going “according to plan.” Our website Agentura.ru was blocked, and the authorities launched a special disinformation operation to minimize our reporting,” Soldotov wrote in an article discussing his federal case.

“Now it has become clear that they are using old-fashioned measures in the hope of blocking our revelations about the FSB, all of which rely on source material from within Putin’s secret state,” he added.

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Over the past month, Soldatov has become the third Russian journalist to be included in the country’s federal wanted list as the Kremlin cracks down on independent views on Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Last May, a court in Moscow tried and ordered the arrests of journalists Michael Nacke and Conflict Intelligence Team founder Ruslan Leviev in absentia – without them being physically present in court – for supposedly spreading false information about the war.

“The probe was launched on March 17; it is presumably being investigated by the Main Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee. The case number is just several digits different from the numbers of the cases launched against [journalists] Maikl Naki [Michael Nacke] and Ruslan Leviyev,” Soldatov wrote.

The numbers on Soldatov’s wanted profile may indicate that he faces similar charges to those of Leviev and Nacke. However, he noted it remains unclear if his case includes some “unique features.”

Soldatov, like many independent Russian journalists, currently lives outside the country. He said the arrest warrant would prevent him from going to Russia or any country friendly to Moscow because of the fear of cross-border detention.

“The situation with bank accounts is also unpleasant,” Soldatov said. “When you find out that each of your accounts shows a negative balance of $80,000 […] that makes you feel a bit pressured.”

Furthermore, Soldatov said that these attempts from the Kremlin indicate that they are struggling to cut off information from the internet and maintain media censorship.

“Despite all the efforts and the threats and the legislative tools of repression now in the state’s hands, independent Russian journalists and the Russian opposition still have direct access to the Russian public, ” he wrote.

“The new Iron Curtain, designed to stop ideas and truth, is already rusting. And that is very bad news for the Kremlin.”