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Austria’s ex-foreign minister defiant. But RT reporters speak out on Ukraine

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by Edward Steen, Vienna, March 11, 2022

Kneissl and wedding guest 2018

Russia Today (now RT) was taken off air throughout Europe within 24 hours of the AEJ International denouncing it as a weapon of war, not a news medium. RT still employs the former Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl, 57, as a columnist. As recently as the end of February, she defended Russia’s action in Ukraine on RT television as a “completely normal process under international law,” and the “minimum form of escalation”. But other “Putin-understanders” in plush Russian jobs after a career in politics have quietly accepted the party’s over.

as foreign minister Kneissl dogs now in exile tooThis week, unlike several other senior Austrian ex-politicians (link in German) who took the Russian shilling, she also refused to give up her directorship of Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil giant swollen with the assets of the confiscated Yukos Oil Company in 2003.  Curiously. she claims to live with her dogs (right)  as a “political exile” near Avignon, South of France, on only the € 1,200 a month.

Non-party, but the choice of the Austrian far-right Freedom Pary (FPÖ) in the collapsed, scandal-hit Kurz government, she became notorious for the appearance of Vladimir Putin, accompanied by dancers and goats, at her wedding in 2018;  alas the marriage proved short-lived – then-fiancé is pictured right with her dogs listening to one of her speeches. Claiming she was being harassed in Austria, she has moved to a village near Avignon in southern France. claiming she is “a political refugee” who had no choice. Her friendship with Putin meant that no-one would employ her anymore in Austria, she told German RTL. She felt under constant attack, and had lost everything she had built up. To some this may sound  preferable to life in Kyiv just now.

Travelling the other way

British reporter Jonny Tickle resigned after two years working for RT in Moscow. It was a place where young reporters cut their teeth, built up their networks. 

RT tv trucks near Red Square, 2018

“The whole newsroom was shocked by the invasion of Ukraine,” he told UK Press Gazette. There was an immediate surge of resignations from the 100-strong newsroom. “It wasn’t just me who was blindsided. The whole RT newsroom was blindsided by it. People in newsrooms all over Moscow were too, even Moscow correspondents at very prestigious British or American newspapers who have been in the country for a long time.

“Everyone thought it was posturing basically. That the troops on the border were like a chess piece in a bigger chess game. It was incredibly shocking. Everyone thought ‘I can’t believe he’s actually done it’.”

He said resignations were across the board, ” not just from RT in English, people have resigned from RT in Spanish, RT in French, even some people resigned from RT in Russian. So it’s not just like naïve Englishmen or naïve Americans quitting. It’s big from all over the board.”

On the same day as the EU, Ofcom announced it had opened a total of 27 investigations into RT, since the  invasion of Ukraine began. Anna Belkina, RT’s deputy editor-in-chief, said “there is not a single grain of truth” in the idea that  RT had misled anyone:  

Belkina: fake news is Boris Johnson at al making up lies

“This collective ‘establishment’ seems to be terrified of a mere presence of any outside voice for the fear of losing their historically captive audience…It is their own echo chamber that seeds the public mistrust that they have so long lamented. They will reap what they sow.”

The Russian government has since passed a “fake news” law that threatens journalists with up to 15 years in prison for any “fake” reporting ie not from official Kremlin sources, about Ukraine.

Many independent Russian news outlets have shut down and several foreign news outlets (including Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Conde Nast and more) have either suspended coverage from the ground in Russia or anonymise journalists in any reporting.”

♦  Full UKPG interview

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