‘Nobody defends us’: Russian journalists respond to knife attack

Reporters decry climate of hatred after Tatyana Felgenhauer is stabbed in neck at Ekho Moskvy radio station

Russian journalists have said an increasingly polarised and violent political climate in the country may have encouraged a knife attack in which a well-known radio host was stabbed in the neck.

Tatyana Felgenhauer, deputy editor of the Ekho Moskvy radio station, was attacked on Monday lunchtime by a man who broke into the station’s studios in a central Moscow tower block. The intruder sprayed pepper in the face of a ground-floor security guard, before vaulting the barrier and taking the lift up to the Ekho Moskvy studio on the 14th floor.

Alexei Venediktov, the station’s editor-in-chief, said in an interview on Monday evening that doctors had operated on Felgenhauer for more than an hour. She will be in an induced coma overnight, but doctors say there is no immediate threat to her life.

Felgenhauer was conscious after the attack and able to walk, but it soon became clear that her injuries were serious and she was taken to hospital. Police arrived to detain the assailant, who had been tackled by two security guards.

Russian authorities named the attacker as Boris Grits, a 48-year-old with dual Russian and Israeli citizenship. Venediktov said an Israeli driving licence in that name had been found on the assailant’s person. A blog apparently belonging to Grits contained several entries about Felgenhauer, in which he complained the radio host was “following” him in his mind.

Russian media also showed leaked footage, apparently from the interrogation of Grits, in which he said he had never met Felgenhauer but she had made telepathic contact with him over the past five years.

Venediktov, however, said it was too early to write the attack off as the work of an unstable person acting alone. “He knew things he shouldn’t have known. How did he know Tanya would still be here? By the time of the attack, she would normally have left. There are many questions.”

Venediktov, who has had whisky thrown in his face by nationalist activists while speaking at a panel discussion, said Russian society was becoming increasingly violent. He referenced arson attacks over an upcoming film about Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar, as well as threats and attacks on other journalists and opposition politicians. “Where are the arrests for all these things? People are either quietly ignored or actively encouraged,” he said.

Ekho Moskvy is one of few outlets for independent journalism in Russia, featuring reports and discussions sharply critical of the Kremlin despite being owned by the media arm of the energy giant Gazprom. Felgenhauer co-hosts a morning discussion show on the station.

Ekho journalists have been attacked before, and liberal journalists are frequently equated with traitors in Russia.

A news report on Russian state television this month singled out Ekho Moskvy and Felgenhauer personally as working to advance foreign interests in Russia before presidential elections next March.

The report included photographs of Felgenhauer and audio of her complaining about conditions for journalists in Russia. It said the foreign NGOs that were providing Ekho with money posed as great a threat to Russia’s stability as Islamic State terrorists.

Police officers detain a man after Tatyana Felgenhauer was stabbed at the offices of Ekho Moskvy.
Police officers detain a man, later named as 48-year-old Boris Grits, at the offices of Ekho Moskvy. Photograph: Vitaly Ruvinsky/AP

A Russian journalists’ union was sharply critical of the television report. “We think that these programmes stoke hatred towards our colleagues and could have provoked an unstable person into attacking Tanya,” a statement from the Union of Journalists and Media Workers said.

Yulia Latynina, a journalist who hosted a weekly show on Ekho Moskvy, fled Russia this year after an attempted arson attack on her car. Last year an assailant tipped a canister of faeces over her in central Moscow.

Yevgenia Albats, a magazine editor who also has a long-running show on Ekho, said she was surprised there had not been similar attacks before.

“The amount of aggression directed towards liberal journalists in this country from state media and elsewhere is overwhelming and non-stop,” she said. “Nobody is going to defend us; we’re the enemies of everyone.”


Shaun Walker in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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