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‘This is a stab in Putin's back’ How Russian national TV networks are covering the aftermath of a deadly fire in Kemerovo

Meduza
Vladimir Solovyov
Vladimir Solovyov
Rossiya 1

The deadly fire at a shopping center in Kemerovo on Sunday has dominated Russia’s national TV networks since Monday, becoming the focus of both news programs and daytime and evening talk shows. On Tuesday, however, the conversation shifted suddenly to talk of Vladimir Putin’s role in addressing problems in Kemerovo, following his visit to the city and meetings with local officials. Here’s how the networks covered the president’s handling of the tragedy that claimed 64 lives.

Pervyi Kanal, “Vremya Pokazhet” (Time Will Tell)

The show’s host, Artem Sheinin, began the broadcast by noting that “some people” are trying to “warm their hands” on the events in Kemerovo. He then observed that Vladimir Putin is “really shocked” and is ready to sort out the problems surrounding the fire. Much of the show was dedicated to debunking the “planted stories” exaggerating the tragedy’s death toll. Guests also mentioned the “vulturishness” of the Western countries that, just hours after the fire in Kemerovo, announced the expulsions of Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skirpals in Salisbury.

Rossiya 1, “60 Minutes”

This daytime talk show was devoted almost entirely to the regulation of shopping centers in Russia. The show pointed out that the “Winter Cherry” mall in Kemerovo, despite being enormous, was registered as a small business, which granted it tax breaks and lighter regulations. Guests called for new laws and regulations on Russia’s shopping centers. The show’s co-host, Evgeny Popov, did part of the show in Kemerovo, showing the inside of the incinerated shopping mall. The last 10 minutes of the program were about the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries.

NTV, “Mesto Vstrechi” (Meeting Point)

Like other shows, “Mesto Vstrechi” started by pointing out that the situation in Kemerovo was now “under the president’s personal control.” Guests said everyone responsible for the fire should be punished “one by one.” The disaster itself was referred to as a “terrorist attack.” NTV’s show was Russian television’s only program where someone said that President Putin is part of the “chain” that led to the fire, because he created the system that made it possible.

Nikolai Starikov, writer

We should hardly be surprised that any tragedy in our country will be used against us. That, of course, is why Meduza [🙀], funded by the West, starts publishing certain definitive information. Maybe provocateurs came specially to Kemerovo to participate in this.

Olga Belova, host

Well just look at what’s happening. Foreign enemies are at war with us, and our children are dying from enemies at home.

The second half of the broadcast was dedicated to the expulsions of Russian diplomats throughout the West.

Rossiya 1, “Evening With Vladimir Solovyov”

Vladimir Solovyov and his guests also discussed safety violations in the construction and operation the “Winter Cherry” shopping center in Kemerovo, calling the deadly fire a “premeditated mass murder.” The show didn’t fail, however, to note Vladimir Putin’s heroic role in the investigation into the disaster, or attempts by “the opposition” to exploit the tragedy for its own purposes. Here are just a few excerpts:

Elena Mizulina, member of the Federation Council

I would like to express my condolences and offer my support to our leader, Mr. Vladimir Putin. [...] For him, this is a stab in the back. It’s really a terrible shock! He went there [to Kemerovo, on March 27] for good reason. Because he’s doing incredible things today for Russia, defending Russia on the foreign stage, and carrying out incredibly powerful reforms at home. [...] And suddenly — such bungling! It’s a stab in the back! He doesn’t have time to be looking over his shoulder constantly to see how people are fulfilling his breakthrough decisions. [...] He is our spiritual warrior. He is strong. But he also needs our support!

Vladimir Solovyov, host

Politicization is very dangerous. It leads to something else entirely. When a crowd is hooting and hollering, you need to realize that this is a crowd you can’t talk to anymore. When citizens want to talk, when they come up with demands — that’s their right. When a crowd demands blood and doesn’t give a damn about the facts or about anything else, and just says “hand somebody over,” then we’re no longer talking about civics. At that point, it’s just an effort to stage another Maidan [revolution]! This cannot be allowed.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t resist today at Pushkin Square [at Tuesday’s grassroots memorial event in Moscow]. People funded by [former oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, plus that multiple-felon nowhere non-candidate [Alexey Navalny] and his associates, of course, started chanting political slogans. These people are even trying to turn the public’s grief into one of these political protests! In other words, there’s nothing sacred to these people!

Story by Mikhail Zelensky, translation by Kevin Rothrock