The Story of 'Russia Journal', a Forerunner of 'Russia Insider' From the Wild 90's

"The business model created by Derk Sauer, (the publisher of the Moscow Times) the first proprietor of the paper, was to have a poisoned well gushing propaganda and fake news on behalf of western sponsors."

"The oligarchs and their mouthpiece, The Moscow Times ... adopted Watergate-style “rat-(expletive deleted)” tactics, deluging Russia Journal with frivolous lawsuits. My journalists started getting roughed up."

Wed, Oct 11, 2017
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I am glad to call Ajay Goyal a friend, and am grateful for the intelligent and thoughtful conversations we have had over the years. He is a very eloquent and insightful observer of Russia for over two decades now. I knew he published The Russia Journal in the past, but never really heard the story, so when he submitted this piece, I found it fascinating - I had no idea ...

He says some very kind things about RI at the end, but that is not why I am running it. It is a remarkable story, and needs to be heard, especially in our fraught times.  - Charles Bausman, Editor, Russia Insider.

Some more quotes:

"An American hedge fund manager (you know his name as a crusader of freedom) personally roughed up my business editor, then had him physically thrown out of his office by burly security guards. The reason – the reporter was asking him questions he did not want to be asked, let alone couldn't answer."

"Legal threats followed, and three days later my editor’s car was torched in one of the quietest and safest neighborhoods in Moscow. My home was broken into three times."


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On the day I stopped publishing The Russia Journal, I ceased being a consumer of news.

I have not had a TV since, and I rarely buy a newspaper. I subscribe to a number of online newsletters and blogs, often by writers whose worldview I vehemently disagree with but know to be honourable men and women, journalists with that rare virtue called integrity.

Even in the life of a Zen monk of my own order, I get provoked by lies of mainstream western media that trickle through to my screen on news engines. I see these lies for what they are – fuel for war with Russia and my antipathy to evil and war mongering is undiminished.

At The Russia Journal, I was proud to employ journalists alongside columnists whose views and ideology were the diametrical opposite of mine. I never fired anyone for a disagreement on principle or ideas - only for lying or being in the pay of an oligarch or foreign government.

Publishing Russia Journal from 1999 to 2005 was an act of mad courage. When much of the western press corps operating from its ghettos in Moscow ventured out for the money or the honey traps set by the press agencies of the oligarchs and embassies,  I started a new English publication from scratch.

It became a major commercial success within two years after the 1998 default of the state treasury and the big banks. That was followed by the collapse of the economy which sucked the cash out of business, but not the good stories.

By the second year of publication, there were more advertisements in my newspaper than the 100-year old Izvestia and the decade-old Moscow Times.

The Moscow Times, now approaching its 25th anniversary, is no longer published on paper, but it continues online, handsomely rewarded by its Russia-hating sponsors. The business model created by Derk Sauer, the first proprietor of the paper, was to have a poisoned well-gushing propaganda and fake news on behalf of western sponsors.

There’s a library of evidence to read on how oligarchs and western think-tanks operated their war for hearts and minds and regime change in Russia through The Moscow Times.

Now, with a new cold war in full swing, I will not be surprised if Sauer comes out of the Low Countries again,  to sell his Russia-hating agenda, trying to influence young Russian learners of English with a romantic vision of The West as a shining hill of laws, morals, and ethics.

Running dogs like Sauer can continue to bark, but their teeth have proved too rotten to bite. The money which pulled Sauer’s teeth started with Mikhail Khodorkovsky (below); after he went to prison, Vladimir Potanin; then Mikhail Prokhorov (below, Forbes cover), until he decamped to New York.

I had started doing business in Russia in 1989. Violence, intimidation, arson, and threats were the norm. I was used to sleeping with a gun next to my bed, Hollywood style, and another in the kitchen.

When I started Russia Journal, I thought I had seen it all - kidnappings, ransoms, and goons calling me from a European city, describing the daily walking schedule of my wife with our first-born.

Ownership of The Russia Journal brought a whole new dimension of risks and threats.

My habit was to never pay a bribe, never give in to a threat, meet every threat head-on - never leaving an issue to take care of itself.

Some situations were comic. When a group of men, with official IDs and in long leather coats showed up asking that I explain criticism by several of my liberal columnists Andrei Piontkovsky, Elena Rykovtskaya and Alexander Goltz; I let them sit for an hour, waiting under my super-enlarged photograph with President Putin.

I then entered the room to tell them to fuck off. They did.

At The Exile, the recklessness and courage of Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi were legendary.

When these gonzo journalists ambushed me, and in typical style challenged the size of my newly-wed Harvard-educated American journalist’s penis, storming into their office and tearing some papers off the wall, I asked Taibbi to write a column for my newspaper.

He wrote one ripping into my columns and editorials - and I published it verbatim, without any edits. Taibbi then became a regular columnist for The Russia Journal. No matter how much I disagreed with him, I kept my word and his columns were published unmolested.

I remain an admirer and follower of Taibbi and Ames, whom I consider to be among the foremost political journalists in United States today.

There are many tales to tell of my reporters being lured away with lucrative pay packets as much as ten times their salaries at The Russia Journal.

The money came from consulting companies and auditors with multi-million dollar deals with Russian corporations to rig their balance-sheets. Some fell for it.

Instead of reporting on how these auditing firms were helping defraud western investors and banks, some started polishing the ratings and reports, abetting the crimes. But my core group of reporters and editors, led by American-Armenian Mark Najarian, always kept the faith.

Some of my leading columnists and reporters from back then have earned well-deserved kudos, success, and status.

Jon Hellevig, who had to be courted and cajoled to be a regular columnist back then is today the foremost expert and analyst on the Russian economy, policy, and all that matters.

I got to see dignity, integrity, and courage in men and women who wrote what they knew to be truthful and were grateful to have a publisher at their back.

None of my columnists brought in greater grief and trouble than John Helmer. When he started writing for The Russia Journal, Helmer was already a venerated reporter.

His knowledge of Russian diamond, metal, shipping and insurance sectors was the equivalent of a dozen investment bank analysts and rating agency bureaus.

He was the only real investigative reporter in Russia exposing the shenanigans of the oligarchs who started by first robbing the Russian state, then robbing foreign investors.

Helmer was writing about the only news that mattered – tales of the men who brought Russia to ruin, destroyed its economy and siphoned trillions of dollars of its wealth offshore.

Every one of his columns was followed by legal notices, threats and injunctions from one or another of his favorite oligarchs. When that did not work, the oligarchs impressed upon their American auditors and consultants, busy fixing their books and feeding the Financial Times and Wall street journal, to withdraw their advertisements from my newspaper.

Some board members of American Chamber of Commerce even held an informal meeting in Moscow to discuss ways to stop the expose of their clients’ misdeeds. En bloc, they stopped advertising with my paper.

The die was cast - I would have to submit to demands of oligarchs and stop publishing Helmer, or they would suck out all the advertising from my publications.

My paper responded with evidence of fake accounting and money laundering of profits by the best known western owned newspaper and media company in Moscow.

I asked my American and Russian editors, all with pedigree backgrounds in journals of record, if Helmer’s columns stood the integrity and truth tests. They did.

The Russia Journal lost nearly all advertisement but by then our publication LifeStyle, which focused on Moscow’s bustling nightlife and leisure, became a major money-earner.

I promptly launched six new websites and publications which became leaders in online and print readership and the business marched on.

The oligarchs and their mouthpiece Moscow Times were not done. They adopted Watergate-style “rat-fucking” tactics, deluging Russia Journal with frivolous lawsuits. My journalists started getting roughed up. 

An American hedge fund manager (you know his name as a crusader of freedom) personally roughed up my business editor, then had him physically thrown out of his office by burly security guards. The reason – the reporter was asking him questions he did not want to be asked, let alone couldn't answer.

Legal threats followed, and three days later my editor’s car was torched in one of the quietest and safest neighborhoods in Moscow. My home was broken into three times.

Ominous threats and messages were left - nothing except computer drives was taken. I linked a lot of this misfortune to writings by John Helmer. He continued to be a columnist until the last edition of The Russia Journal.

I took some satisfaction in the emergence of Russia Insider a decade later and saw Helmer, Hellevig and many of my favorite columnists back in publication.

While Moscow Times marks 25th year of its skullduggery Helmer’s hard-hitting no-holds-barred column marks its 2000th edition this week. I take huge pleasure in the fact that my former colleagues, reporters, and columnists are as irrepressible as ever. They have a voice --  it is heard,  and they make a difference.

Russia Insider, a crowd-funded initiative, is waging a solitary battle against the onslaught of lies from western war-mongers, the old hedge-fund arsonist among them.

I’m glad to see the readership of Russia Insider grow to the hundreds of thousands. It is challenging every falsehood and fake narrative coming from western war rooms against Russia. Those war rooms are also on the offensive against every truthful endeavour that dares to challenge their schemes.

I don’t intend to get a television, nor do I plan to start reading papers. I skip much of the online news and comment as well.

But for you, in a world where lies spread with the speed of photons, you need journalists of courage and integrity to keep investigating, to slow the lie machine down long enough for the truth to be recognized for what it is.

Truthful journalism about Russia is all that is standing between peace and war.

That is a good enough reason for a monk to come out of the woodwork and support the crowdfunding of Russia Insider, it should be a compelling reason for everyone with a life.

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