For a few hours this morning, Russian pro-Kremlin news website Lenta was filled with anti-war articles accusing President Vladimir Putin of lying about the conflict in Ukraine and calling the leader a “pathetic, paranoid dictator.”
The rare show of dissent was the act of two journalists writing for the news agency, who chose today – the day Russia is celebrating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany – to take over the platform with articles critical of Putin’s regime.
The two journalists – who were identified by Meduza, a Russian independent news website based in Latvia, as Egor Polyako and Alexandra Miroshnikova – told the Guardian that their action was “the only right thing” they could do under the current circumstances.
“This is not what Victory Day is about,” 30-year-old business reporter Polyakov told the Guardian. “Ordinary people are dying, peaceful women and children are dying in Ukraine. Given the rhetoric that we have seen, this isn’t going to stop. We couldn’t accept this any longer. This was the only right thing we could do.”
Some of the titles published by the two journalists include:
- Russian authorities banned journalists from talking about the negative
- Russia completely destroyed Mariupol
- Record spending on the army did not help Russia defeat Ukraine
- Vladimir Putin lied about Russia’s plans in Ukraine
- Russia leaves the corpses of its soldiers in Ukraine
- The Russian army turned out to be an army of thieves and marauders.
Other articles accused the Russian Ministry of Defense of lying to relatives of those killed on the Moskva, the Russian flagship destroyed in the Black Sea, and said Putin has unleashed “one of the bloodiest wars of the 21st century.”
In one article, the two journalists provocatively said that “Zelensky turned out to be cooler than Putin,” while in another they say that the war makes it easier to cover up the failures of the Russian economy.
“Putin has to go. He unleashed a senseless war and is leading Russia into the abyss,” one article reads.
All these articles, a total of 20, have since been taken down and replaced with the pre-approved articles meant for publication, but they can still be accessed via web archives. They were meant to counteract the months of propaganda the news website has published to support the Kremlin since the war began on February 24.
All articles contained a disclaimer saying they were “not approved by the leadership” and were likely to be soon replaced. “In other words: TAKE A SCREENSHOT NOW before they delete it,” the disclaimer said, according to Meduza, who first reported the news as an exclusive.
Lenta used to be an independent news agency and it was once led by editor-in-chief Galina Timchenko, now executive editor of Meduza.
Timchenko was fired in 2014 and replaced with pro-Kremlin journalist Alexey Goreslavksy. Half of Lenta’s staff then walked out in protest, and many went to join Meduza.
In 2020, Lenta’s owner Rambler was bought by state-owned Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. The news website has a massive presence in Russia, with more than 200 million monthly users, according to the Guardian.
Polyakov and Miroshnikova are currently out of the country, according to Meduza. Polyakov confirmed that his access to the news website’s content management system has already been revoked.
Newsweek has reached out to the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation for comment.