Grigory Mikhailov, a Regnum editor formerly based in Kyrgyzstan, attending a conference in 2016. (Photo: Facebook account, Sergey Kozlov)
Russia’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan has in a startling break from custom declined to come out in defense of a Russian reporter expelled from the country.
Unprecedented might be putting it too strongly, but for the Russian Foreign Ministry to willingly throw a reporter for a Kremlin-supporting news outlet under the bus is a notable development.
Andrei Krutko told news website Vesti.kg on March 13 that Grigory Mikhailov, a formerly Bishkek-based editor with Regnum website, had violated migration agreements between Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
“Also, we pulled up all our documents, and we have no record of Grigory Mikhailov ever being registered with us. It turns out that we had no legal record of his presence. For all five years in which I have been in Kyrgyzstan, Mikhailov never came to a single [embassy] event,” Krutko said. “It also turned out that he was not accredited with the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry or with the government.”
Krutko said Mikhailov’s situation was entirely analogous to that of the tens of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens deported from Russia for violating similar rules and that there was no evidence of any political motives in the case.
Any perceived mistreatment of Russian government-friendly journalists overseas — immaterial of the mitigating circumstances — typically provokes fiery protests from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, but the response here has strayed from the regular script.
Regnum’s reaction to Krutko’s remarks has been indignant.
As the news agency not unfairly points out, likening Mikhailov’s expulsion and the deportation of improperly registered Kyrgyz citizens is specious, not least for the way in which it was done.
As Mikhailov explained in an interview to fergana.ru, his removal from Kyrgyzstan was engineered largely by crude subterfuge almost worthy of a Road Runner cartoon. When he was found not to have some necessary paperwork, police suggested he cross the land border into Kazakhstan and then immediately return — a common trick among foreigners seeking to avoid the tribulations of the registration process in Kyrgyzstan. But when the reporter attempted to return, he was informed that he had been blacklisted.
Regnum scoffed at Krutko’s complaints about Mikhailov failing to register with the embassy or attending events organized by the mission, describing these would-be requirements as largely pointless formalities.
But even the news agency’s explanation for this intriguing episode was not wholly satisfying and instead resorted to dwelling on an irrelevant Russian revanchist theme.
“Judging by the reaction of the Russian ambassador in Bishkek to the expulsion of a Russian citizen, this is not a political initiative from the Kyrgyz government, but it is revenge for [the deportation of] Kyrgyz migrant laborers and non-attendance at embassy events,” Regnum contributor Tatyana Poloskova wrote. “I would not want to offend anybody, but which such unprofessionalism, I would not be surprised if in Bishkek there will soon be no trace left of the Russian soul.”
One theory for the Mikhailov debacle relates to Regnum’s coverage of unsupported allegations made by jailed opposition leader Omurbek Tekebayev, who accused President Almazbek Atambayev of being the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed outside Bishkek in January, killing dozens of people. The General Prosecutor’s Office is suing two other publications for libel on Atambayev’s behalf for relaying the allegations.
The Russian Embassy is evidently seeking to avoid causing too much upset in Kyrgyzstan at the moment, following an incident in February when an SUV registered to the mission sailed through a red light in Bishkek, smashing into a van and killing its driver. The first secretary of the Russian embassy, Viktor Pukhov, was in the SUV at the time, although it is unclear if he was driving. With the details surrounding the accident still unclear, Pukhov was dispatched to Russia.