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Sensemaker: Spotlight out

Sensemaker: Spotlight out

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Zelensky said he was open to Ukrainian neutrality if approved by referendum, as face-to-face peace talks between Russia and Ukraine resumed in Turkey.
  • Police in London will issue the first fines to Downing Street staff who attended parties during lockdown.
  • Will Smith said on Instagram his assault on Chris Rock at the Oscars was unacceptable and inexcusable.

Invaded: Voicemails from Ukraine

“Many people in Kharkiv live in a very tough situation. Some of them lost their relatives and some of them have lost their homes. Many people don’t have water, heating, electricity or all of this.” Listen to Vera and others today and every day in Invaded: Voicemails from Ukraine

Spotlight out

Who cares about a newspaper? In the case of Novaya Gazeta, Putin did. Six of its journalists were murdered for reporting on atrocities committed in his name. Mikhail Gorbachev did. He donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize money to the paper so that it could buy computers. And the Nobel committee did. Last year it awarded the same prize to the paper’s editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov. 

Now Novaya Gazeta has ceased publication, at least until the end of the war. Putin’s information blockade is virtually complete.

The last straws

  • Muratov was the only journalist still based in Moscow to take part in an interview with Ukraine’s president last weekend – an interview whose broadcast was banned in Russia. 
  • Novaya Gazeta was the only Russian paper still publishing reports from the Ukrainian side of the war. 
  • Russia’s press regulator issued a second warning that the paper was in violation of a rule requiring “foreign agents” to be identified as such. Muratov told staff he’d taken the “terrible and difficult decision” to go dark but that “we must preserve each other, for each other”.

A better question than why Novaya Gazeta suspended publication is how it kept going so long, and part of the answer is its smallness relative to Russia. A peculiar aspect of Russia’s media landscape until now, with no equivalent in China, was the Kremlin’s tolerance of media dissent as long as it was confined to a Moscow-St Petersburg elite. Novaya Gazeta claimed a circulation of 90,000 in a country of 140 million and was scarcely read in time zones east of Moscow. Muratov preserved high-level Kremlin contacts by calibrating his coverage with extreme care, for instance by not referring to the Ukraine war as a war. But his paper’s reporting of Russian slaughter in Syria and especially Chechnya was fearless. 

What’s left? There are still ways for independent-minded Russians to get real news, but they have to go looking:

  • Meduza. The Russian-language online news service based in Lithuania is now banned inside Russia, and so requires the use of a VPN to access (see below).
  • Dozhd. Russia’s last independent TV news station suspended operations on 3 March but some of its content is still accessible on YouTube.
  • Shortwave radio. The BBC has revived cold war-style shortwave broadcasts to Russia after access to its news site was blocked for most Russians.
  • VPNs. Virtual private networks give sophisticated internet users access to most banned sites via the dark web, but they aren’t free.

To note: 

Accepting his Nobel prize last year, Muratov warned that the Kremlin was “actively selling the idea of war” and that “people are getting used to the thought of its permissibility”.

Novaya Gazeta’s biggest individual investor, with a reported 14 per cent stake, is Alexander Lebedev, the former KGB officer and entrepreneur whose son, Evgeny, was elevated to the House of Lords by Boris Johnson. Listen to our Slow Newscast, Lord of Siberia, for more.


Magnet London
A mass exodus of City talent forecast by some as a result of Brexit has not materialised, City AM reports. The paper is a City booster, inclined to talk up news that indicates London is hanging on to its money magnet status, but still: figures collected by EY show that financial services relocations linked to Brexit were revised down in the last quarter of last year from 7,400 to 7,000, and cumulative new hires linked to Brexit since the referendum rose from 5,000 to 5,400 in the last quarter. The direction of travel seems positive, but the net movement is still out rather than in. Genuine question: are the Brexit-linked new hires to grasp new opportunities, or deal with new red tape?


Taiwan learns
Taiwanese officials are looking at Volodymyr Zelensky, and learning. They want their own president, Tsai Ing-wen, to follow his example of constant public appearances and morale-raising speeches if China invades. That would mean revising plans to take her and her staff immediately to an underground bunker for their own safety. “That kind of arrangement is not what is needed,” an official in Taipei tells the FT in a story with one extraordinary detail: in Inner Mongolia, the People’s Liberation Army has built a full-scale model of the Taiwanese presidential residence in Taipei, to practice a “decapitation” mission that would involve capturing or killing Tsai Ing-wen. 


Musk media
Elon Musk would have us think he’s thinking seriously about building a new social media platform. Last Friday he polled his 79.4 million Twitter followers to ask if they thought Twitter “rigorously adheres” to the principle of free speech. Two million responded and 70 per cent of them said no. That leaves 77 million who don’t appear too bothered either way. Supporters of Donald Trump, Twitter’s most famous expel-ee, like to note that unelected tyrants in other countries can use the platform while he can’t. It’s not clear how Musk might differentiate a new platform from others in a crowded field, but he’s on the libertarian end of the liberal spectrum and told his followers “the consequences of this poll will be important”. To note: Musk’s big successes have come from reinventing old technologies, not new ones.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Partygate round two
The world of wine-filled suitcases and cheese platters in gardens feels like ancient history in light of the Russian invasion. Nevertheless, the Met, the UK’s largest police force, is expected “imminently” to hand out the first fines for Downing Street staff who attended parties during lockdown. Things we know: at least 20 fines will be issued first but the people who are fined won’t be named. More than 300 photographs and 500 pages have been provided on the 12 gatherings being investigated by officers. Expect apologies from staff fined but not resignations. What we don’t know: whether Johnson will be included in today’s list and how long the process of issuing the fines will take. If Downing Street was hoping for a one-day dump quickly replaced by news from Ukraine, it will be disappointed. Still, the prime minister is likely less worried about the impact of the fines than he was a month ago. Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has already removed his no-confidence vote because of the war and Volodymyr Zelensky’s praise for “helping more” will carry weight with the party – and the public. 

world by numbers

1 – percentage of the 10.7 billion doses of Covid vaccine given worldwide that have been administered in low-income countries.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Snow forecast
Snowfall across Eurasia could fall by nearly a third by the end of the century if carbon emissions go on rising at current high rates, according to the latest iteration of climate modelling used by the IPCC. Even in a moderate emissions scenario, snowfall on the world’s largest landmass would fall by 17 per cent. For snow lovers, this is sad. But – whisper it – it could be worse. A moderate emissions scenario is plausible, and a 17 per cent reduction is not as apocalyptic as other aspects of climate change to which the same modelling points, such as dryer forests, more wildfires and longer droughts. Also: from a strictly selfish point of view, snow’s most important role for humans is to accumulate in glaciers in order to store water for summer drinking and irrigation. And in Central Asia and the Tibetan Plateau these models point to more snow days and heavy snowfalls, not fewer.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Natalia Kolesnikovan/AFP via Getty Images, Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Shutterstock

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