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The Naked Pravda

Meduza’s first English-language podcast, The Naked Pravda highlights how our top reporting intersects with the wider research and expertise that exists about Russia. The broader context of Meduza’s in-depth, original journalism isn’t always clear, which is where this show comes in. Here you’ll hear from the world’s community of Russia experts, activists, and reporters about the issues at the heart of Meduza’s stories.

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Spies, student journalists, and life behind bars: A blowup in Moscow’s relations with Prague, the felony case against ‘Doxa,’ and conditions in Russian prisons

A lot has happened this month. On the world stage, Russia’s relations with the Czech Republic started unraveling on April 17, when officials in Prague accused Russian military intelligence agents of destroying ammunition depots seven years ago in explosions that killed two people. Three days before that bombshell dropped, police officers in Moscow raided the newsroom of the student journal Doxa, as well as the homes of four editors, who are now under house arrest, pending felony charges that could land them in prison for three years. Meanwhile, one of the biggest domestic news stories of the last week was Alexey Navalny’s hunger strike and his health status in prison. This week’s episode of “The Naked Pravda” takes on all three of these stories, turning to a different guest for each subject. Bellingcat Research and Training Director Aric Toler explains what we know, so far, about the Russian spies’ activities in the Czech Republic; Doxa editor Mstislav Grivachov describes what his student journal does and why the Moscow police have come for its staff; and Ksenia Runova, a junior researcher at the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University at St. Petersburg, illustrates what it’s like to end up incarcerated in Russia. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

36mins

24 Apr 2021

Rank #1

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‘Sweeping new authority’: What it means to sanction Russia’s sovereign debt

This week, the Biden administration rolled out the latest round of U.S. sanctions against Russia, slapping Moscow (yet again) with a series of targeted measures to punish the Kremlin for alleged election meddling, hacking, and military aggression. The U.S. Treasury Department identified a few dozen persons and entities, freezing any of their assets in the United States and banning Americans from doing business with them. Russia soon followed suit with its own set of countersanctions, while simultaneously launching an effort to liquidate Alexey Navalny’s nationwide anti-corruption apparatus. Acknowledging the diplomatic significance of these decisions, arguably the most important aspect of these new measures is the expansion of U.S. restrictions on the market for Russian sovereign debt. To find out exactly how American sanctions can affect Russia’s macroeconomic financial flows, “The Naked Pravda” turned to Maximilian Hess, a political risk expert and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Dr. Maria Shagina, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Eastern European Studies at the University of Zurich and a member of the Geneva International Sanctions Network at the Graduate Institute. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

24mins

17 Apr 2021

Rank #2

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The quiet game: How scientists in Siberia tried to conceal pollution research

Last month, the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences decided to withhold public access to new research on atmospheric and soil pollution in cities throughout the region. The discussion about burying the “alarmist” report was streamed on YouTube, however, and the academy’s effort to purge the footage from the Internet only drew the public’s attention. To try to understand why a group of prestigious scientists would question open-source data about pollution levels in Siberia, Meduza turned to science writer Elia Kabanov and physicist and environmentalist Yaroslav Nikitenko. (Please note that Nikitenko refers to the Russian Academy of Sciences at one point in the show as a federal agency. In fact, the academy is now a federal budget organization. Meduza apologizes for the confusion.) “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

21mins

10 Apr 2021

Rank #3

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Transnational Repression 101: How Russia goes after its citizens abroad

When it comes to carrying out repressions, the Russian government’s reach isn’t limited by its own borders. The Kremlin is known for going after perceived enemies abroad — especially former “insiders” and members of the political opposition. In recent years, high-profile assassinations linked to Russian agents have made headlines around the world, and Moscow has developed a reputation for abusing the Interpol notice system. At the same time, those who flee Russia’s Chechen Republic are particularly at risk. Under regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, this sub-national regime has carried out a unique and concerted campaign to control the Chechen diaspora. Moreover, asylum seekers from the Russian North Caucasus who seek refuge in European countries are now faced with rising xenophobia, as well as tightening migration policies that threaten to send them back to Russia. To find out more about how the Russian — and Chechen — authorities carry out repressive activities beyond Russia’s borders, “The Naked Pravda” spoke to Nate Schenkkan, director for research strategy at Freedom House, and Kateryna Sergatskova, the editor-in-chief of Zaborona Media. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

34mins

27 Mar 2021

Rank #4

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Putin the Killer: What Joe Biden’s pronouncement means in U.S.-Russian diplomatic history

In an interview published on March 17, U.S. President Joe Biden said he considers Vladimir Putin to be a “killer,” prompting the Russian president to respond a day later with a schoolyard retort that translates loosely to the phrase: “Look who’s talking!” In what sounded more like a threat than a salutation, Putin also wished his American counterpart good health. Pretty strong language for the leaders of the two greatest nuclear powers on Earth! But how does this rhetoric compare to recent and Cold War history? Is this the worst thing an American president has ever said publicly about a Russian leader? If so, does that mean the relationship between Moscow and Washington has never been worse? How does it compare to the days when the United States and the Soviet Union used to point thousands of nukes at each other?  For answers, Meduza turned to Sergey Radchenko, a professor of international relations at Cardiff University and an expert in Soviet and Chinese foreign policies, atomic diplomacy, and the history of Cold War crises. Dr. Radchenko argues that things have certainly been worse between Russians and Americans, but politicians on both sides seem to have lost something that sustained smoother relations in those more troubled times. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

22mins

20 Mar 2021

Rank #5

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Russia’s failed Twitter throttle

Russia and Twitter haven’t really gotten along for years now. In fact, since 2017, federal censors at Roskomnadzor (RKN) have filed more than 28,000 takedown requests with the social network, and the agency complains that Twitter still grants Russian users access to 3,168 of these materials containing supposedly illegal information. In retaliation against this insubordination, RKN started throttling local Twitter traffic on March 10, 2021, leveraging the country’s growing arsenal of deep-packet-inspection systems to reduce the bandwidth available to Twitter in Russia. The policy has failed to disrupt the service for many Russian users, however, adding to RKN’s list of unsuccessful censorship efforts against major foreign companies. For a better grasp of what happened and what went wrong, Meduza turned to Tanya Lokot, an associate professor in digital media and society at Dublin City University’s School of Communications, and Mariëlle Wijermars, an assistant professor in cyber-security and politics at Maastricht University and a visiting researcher at the University of Helsinki’s Aleksanteri Institute.

25mins

13 Mar 2021

Rank #6

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Xenophobes and xenomorphs: A look back at Cold War science fiction

In a time when intergalactic superheroes dominate global box offices and capture the imaginations of millions of people around the world, what do we see when we look back at the science fiction of the Cold War? What is gained and what is obscured by comparing the films and literature created by the two superpowers of the early Space Age? And what did it feel like to watch those movies and read those books back then? What’s the legacy of these remarkable creations? To explore this subject and attempt some answers, “The Naked Pravda” turned to Anindita Banerjee, an associate professor of comparative literature at Cornell University, where she chairs the humanities concentration in the Environment and Sustainability Program and wears several other academic and administrative hats. Dr. Banerjee explained the pitfalls of Americans’ Hollywood obsession and described her own introduction to Alexander Belayev’s 1928 science fiction adventure novel, “Amphibian Man,” which Soviet filmmaker Vladimir Chebotaryov later adapted into the 1962 Soviet blockbuster motion picture. Journalist Slava Malamud, who’s entertained and educated mass audiences on Twitter with long threads about Soviet themes in cinema, also returns to the podcast to recall his experiences as a viewer of domestic and Hollywood sci-fi movies in the USSR in the 1980s. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

34mins

5 Mar 2021

Rank #7

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Under pressure: The evolving Belarusian opposition movement versus Lukashenko’s embattled regime

Belarus has seen ongoing protests since August 2020, when election officials declared that Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka) had won his sixth consecutive presidential term. The mass demonstrations were met with a violent police crackdown, and several members of the opposition were thrown in prison. Pressure and threats from the authorities drove other opposition figures to flee the country, including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svyatlana Tsikhanousakaya), who emerged as Lukashenko’s main political rival during the 2020 campaign season. Tikhanovskaya is now living in exile and leading the unified opposition from Lithuania, and her role both Belarusian and international politics has changed significantly in the last six months.  Back in Belarus, the authorities have been carrying out widespread repressions, targeting independent media and civil society organizations. At the same time, police brutality and the onset of winter has led opposition protesters to adopt new tactics for expressing their discontent. And although some analysts maintain that the opposition movement has stalled, others are predicting the return of large-scale demonstrations in the spring. To find out more about how the opposition movement in Belarus has evolved and how Lukashenko’s regime has managed to withstand six months of protests, “The Naked Pravda” talked to Belarusian journalist Hanna Liubakova, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, and Maryia Rohava, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oslo, whose research focuses on symbolic politics and identity in post-Soviet autocracies. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

42mins

26 Feb 2021

Rank #8

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Arms control treaties aren’t for friends: The difficult diplomacy of today’s U.S.-Russian negotiations

Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden recently had their first presidential phone call — a conversation that paved the way for a renewal of the New START Treaty (the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty reached in April 2010 between presidents Obama and Medvedev). But most other arms control agreements between Moscow and Washington have expired or collapsed in years past, so what’s the future of these diplomatic efforts going forward? For answers, “The Naked Pravda” turns to two experts in this field: Olga Oliker, the Director of the International Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program, and Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst based in Geneva, where he runs his research project, “Russian Nuclear Forces,” and works as a senior research fellow at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research and as a researcher with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

27mins

13 Feb 2021

Rank #9

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Fighting the ‘crooks and thieves’: Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption politics

For the last six months, Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny has been making headlines both in Russia and abroad. His near-fatal poisoning in August 2020 provoked international outcry and his immediate arrest upon returning to Russia after spending months recovering in Germany sparked a wave of protests that brought people to the streets countrywide.  With Navalny in jail, his supporters and associates sprang into action. The day after his arrest, his Anti-Corruption Foundation published an investigation about a billion-ruble palace allegedly built for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, his “Team Navalny” offices in cities across Russia worked to organize the demonstrations calling for his release. Nevertheless, on February 2, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to nearly three years in prison — as Meduza recorded this show, law enforcement in Moscow and St. Petersburg were detaining protesters opposing his sentence en masse. To assess the broader impact of Navalny’s anti-corruption work and his influence on politics in Russia, “The Naked Pravda” spoke to Ilya Lozovsky, a senior editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and Yana Gorokhovskaia, an independent researcher focusing on politics and civil society in Russia. “The Naked Pravda” comes out on Saturdays (or sometimes Fridays). Catch every new episode by subscribing at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or other platforms. If you have a question or comment about the show, please write to Kevin Rothrock at kevin@meduza.io with the subject line: “The Naked Pravda.”

40mins

6 Feb 2021

Rank #10