Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 19

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya, warned today that Radio Liberty, which today began broadcasting in several North Caucasian languages, including Chechen, could lose its Russian broadcasting license. In an interview with the GaZeTa web newspaper, Yastrzhembsky accused the radio station, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, of having a “prejudiced” and “tendentious” position on the Chechen issue. “The line of [Radio] Liberty in the years 1999-2000 was, in our view, one-sided in covering Chechen events, biased and far from neutral: The radio station justified the actions of the separatists,” Yastrzhembsky said. By way of evidence, he cited the content and tone of Radio Liberty’s programs and the frequent appearance on the air of “people who are on the list of those wanted by Interpol and suspected of having committed crimes in Russia”–an apparent reference to Chechen rebel field commanders.

Noting that Radio Liberty has a license from the Russian Press Ministry to broadcast in Russia, Yastrzhembsky said it was possible that “in the event of violations of the law, measures envisaged by the law might be taken against the radio station’s representative office in Russia.” He noted that according to the law, after two warnings about violations, the radio station’s license could be revoked and its bureau closed down. Yastrzhembsky was apparently referring to Russia’s antiterrorism law, according to which a court can order the withdrawal of a broadcasting outlet’s license if it has received more than two warnings for interviewing or quoting “terrorists.” These would apparently include Aslan Maskhadov and other Chechen rebel leaders, who have frequently appeared on Radio Liberty. Yastrzhembsky said that the Russian government planned to avoid any complications in its foreign relations over Radio Liberty, but that the United States and the West were far from having a “full understanding” of the “special situation in Chechnya and Russia’s position” vis-à-vis the breakaway republic (GZT.ru, January 28).

Last May, Britain’s Sunday Times reported that the Russian authorities had threatened to close down Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau if the station went ahead with Chechen-language broadcasts. Yastrzhembsky then denied that either the Kremlin or the Russian government had any plans to take “repressive measures” against Radio Liberty, while Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that Russia’s special services would react “calmly” to Chechen-language broadcasts by the station. Likewise, officials for Radio Liberty said at the time that they had received no warnings from the Russian authorities concerning the planned broadcasts (see the Monitor, May 14-15, 2001).