MOSCOW — The editor-in-chief of Russia's most prominent opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, said that he will arm his staff with rubber-bullet “traumatic” pistols and other self-defense measures after a spate of attacks against journalists in Russia.
Days after the stabbing of a senior editor at Moscow's Echo of Moscow radio station, Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, told the same radio station on Wednesday: “I am going to arm the newsroom. I have no other means [for protection]. We have lived through many assassination attempts.” Muratov was referring to a string of attacks against Novaya Gazeta reporters stretching back to the 2006 killing of political reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
The statement made waves in local media, and in an attempt to latch onto the interest that followed, the Kalashnikov Concern, the armsmaker that bears the same name as the inventor of the AK-47, said it would offer a 10 percent discount on its traumatic pistols to journalists with valid accreditation. The company promoted its “trusty and powerful” MP-80 model, which fires rubber .45 caliber rounds. The weapon is ideal for “carrying in a special holster under clothing,” the gunmaker's website says.
Nadezhda Prusenkova, a Novaya Gazeta spokeswoman, said in an interview on Thursday that the paper would only provide means for self-defense to reporters who requested it and ruled out reporters carrying traditional firearms. But traumatic weapons, guns that carry rubber bullets and are legal to purchase in Russia, were a possibility, she said.
“A traumatic gun is a means of self-defense,” she said when asked specifically about the rubber-bullet weapons, but she declined to say whether any had been supplied to Novaya Gazeta staff.
She called Muratov's statement “more an attempt to draw attention to the complexity of the situation than a declaration that Novaya Gazeta journalists will carry weapons from now on.”
Nonetheless, she said, the decision to provide journalists the right to self-defense “has been brewing for a long time.”
“I can not deny Muratov’s words. He will do what he said he would,” she said. “The question is how and with what devices. But the fact that we're even having this conversation now about defending journalists is revealing.”
Muratov's remarks came the same week that a reporter at the Echo of Moscow radio station was stabbed in the neck during a break-in by a man who later claimed in an interrogation that she had used telepathy to sexually harass him.
Despite the man's apparent mental illness, the careful planning and brutality of the attack has put journalists on edge and led some, both in public and private, to wonder whether the attacker had help. The reporter, Tatiana Felgengauer, underwent surgery for wounds to her neck and arms and is recovering.
The attack has also raised alarms about the growing demonization of independent reporters in the country on state-run television. Felgengauer, along with several other reporters from the news station, were targeted recently in a news report on state-run television that suggested the radio station was spreading Western propaganda.
“I have no other options left,” Muratov said in the radio interview. “I am going to send some employees for [weapons] training. We will officially sign an agreement with the Russian Interior Ministry. We will buy traumatic weapons and train [our staff] to use them. And we will also equip our journalists with other means of self-defense that I won't speak about.”
Prusenkova declined to answer questions about whether the newspaper had provided staff with other self-defense weapons, such as tasers or mace sprays.
“In many ways it is a psychological thing: those who might consider attacking a journalist of Novaya Gazeta as a possibility will think twice when they know that a journalist can respond using means of self-defense,” she said.
A veteran reporter for the paper who has covered Russian neo-Nazi and far right movements, Prusenkova said that she has carried a can of mace spray in the past to defend herself, though never a firearm. Journalists generally do not carry weapons because it would allow them to be noted as “combatants,” Prusenkova said.
Asked about Muratov's statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, appeared to offer support, saying that journalists had the right to protection just like everyone else. “Anyone can be subject to the attack of a crazy person, unfortunately no one is protected against this,” he said. “So I don't think it is justified to single out journalists.”
Prusenkova, noting a poll on the newspaper's website, said that many readers agreed.
“We did a poll among our readers on our website, and practically 80 percent said that we should not rely on law enforcement agencies and think ourselves about protection,” she said. “So in a way we are meeting the requests of our readers.”