‘I’m For Russians. I Don’t Want Russians to Be Kicked Around,
I Don’t Want Russians to Die’
October 18, 2023
  • Oleg Kashin

    Journalist and writer, runs channels on YouTube and Telegram (here and here)

  • Xenia Loutchenko


In an interview, Oleg Kashin discusses what problems Russian "journalism in exile" is facing, how journalists who have left the country are also spreading propaganda and why he calls himself a Russian nationalist.
The original interview was published in Russian on Colta. A shortened version is republished here with their permission and Oleg Kashin’s authorization. Kashin is a regular contributor to Russia.Post (see here and here).

Oleg, let’s be honest: it was your idea that we talk.

Yes, it was mine. In your cycle, I think there is a very simplified picture of the current media community, and it is very complimentary to that part of it that is usually called anti-war, anti-Putin, including the émigré media.

For journalism, the main outcome of this year and a half of war has been that loyalty [to the Putin regime] was finally designated as evil. But from this it does not follow that people who oppose it are good. They themselves have gotten involved in other propaganda and also betrayed the profession of journalism in many respects.

The current situation is rather tragic: there is evil, but it is unclear who is on the side of good. Naturally, I also consider myself to be one of those people whom it is hard to nail down.

Do you see yourself as a journalist? Who is Kashin today?

Back in my best years, when I was writing for more or less respectable media, I regularly encountered the stereotype that there is real journalism, which boils down to working in the field, while everything else is second-rate. That includes writing columns, which I have consistently done for more than 10 years and continue to do, as the space for my work has narrowed to my platforms on social networks.

Besides columns, I have conversations. For example, I published an interview with Denis Kapustin, who became famous as the head of the Russian Volunteer Corps; his first interview was on my channel. Or recently I had a girl who left the Prigozhin holding and was ready to tell about what she did there. Sixty thousand subscribers have chosen me as their morning media. And my YouTube stream is the nightly news program for 40,000 people. This devaluation [of my work], however, is a little painful.

I understand that in a healthy situation these issues would appear in larger media.
“But Russian censorship, combined with, let’s say it, emigrant doublethink, allows me to occupy a more or less unique niche that would not exist if everything was healthier.
When some people tell me “you are not a journalist,” I’m not sure that this is the authority that can judge that. This is also a reflection of one of the problems that seems important to me – the herd mentality (tusovochnost’) and dividing people into “friend/foe.”

So you think that you have become a “foe?” How do you explain that to yourself?

What you, new emigrants will have to experience I went through a little earlier. Geographical separation, with all its advantages – say, the ability not to look over your shoulder for Roskomnadzor – is the impossibility of maintaining real human contact with your environment. When you cannot explain yourself to a person over a mug of beer, any conflict situation results in a complete break. And when you are not only not keeping company with people, but not even seeing them, then naturally the question arises: were you even there to begin with?

It seems to me that the problem is that you deliberately created an image that confused everyone. You are a trickster, it is unclear what your views are, it is unclear what to expect from you. And it seems that no one except you could combine Sputnik i Pogrom with Republic and

Sure, what you are talking about is trickster-y. But I would presumptuously not consider it my main quality. At any rate, having views is a tricky concept in our situation. Putin himself is sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes a communist, sometimes a nationalist. And since our system is Putin-centric, traditional party markers are hardly appropriate.

But if you are interested in my views, then it is obvious how I feel about state violence and Russian authoritarianism. About the current war I have no doubts. If you put me through a survey, I fit well into both the liberal and the nationalist boxes.
But when the regime is suppressing everyone equally, I do not see a fundamental difference between party camps.
But you supported the annexation of Crimea?

Since today this kind of thing requires the utmost delicacy, what does it mean to support the annexation of Crimea? To say that a referendum was held in Crimea in which the residents of Crimea expressed support for joining Russia? No, I always insisted that the referendum was a fiction. To say that the Crimean people took up arms and drove out the Ukrainians? No, I wrote before everyone else that it was the Russian army. And then clarified that, of course, Crimea was occupied during this period between the formal incorporation and the appearance of “little green men” by the Russian government.

But since I belong to the first post-Soviet generation, for whom this is a truly important issue, indeed, I considered an injustice the fact that Crimea had not been part of Russia. And considered what Putin did a restoration of historical justice – of course, by illegal, immoral means. But it is a more complex plot than the classic “who does Crimea belong to – us or you?” So, even at the peak of the “Crimean consensus,” to call myself a Putinist – sorry, no, under no circumstances.

Which model, in your opinion, is suitable for journalism in an environment of censorship?

It is probably more appropriate today than five years ago, than 10 years ago, to compare the situation with the Soviet one, where people, not wanting to be accomplices of the regime, found space for themselves under the radar, ranging from, say, apolitical, academic institutions and journals to furnace rooms, where rock musicians like Viktor Tsoi worked.
Andrei Kolesnikov co-authored a book of interviews with Vladimir Putin in 2000 and has now covered Putin for Kommersant for over two decades. Source: Wiki Commons
Can you give positive examples of coexistence with censorship in Russia?

I can. Since we mentioned Kommersant, there is, for example, the star of the newspaper Andrei Kolesnikov, who, frankly speaking, dropped off a long time ago and turned into someone with unfunny jokes and a default enthusiastic tone when talking about Putin. But in the last year and a half we have witnessed his renaissance. In each of Kolesnikov’s texts, which, nevertheless, few people take note of, he speaks firmly and uncompromisingly about the war and about Putin in this war, and his chronicle looks much more respectable than that of many members of the émigré anti-Putin press.

And such figures can be found both at RBC and in the regional press. Imagining Russian journalism as a scorched field is pleasant; it is music to the ears of those who work in that collective... holding, which includes Holod, Meduza, Dozhd,Verstka and so on.
Even in very unfavorable conditions, it is possible to work, and many journalists in Russia are doing just that.
Galina Timchenko launched Meduza in Riga (Latvia) in 2014 after she was fired from by the owner in a mass personnel shakeup. She is now executive editor and owner of Meduza.
Source: Wiki Commons
You do not like the émigré press, or, as they often say, “journalism in exile…” You see doublethink. But what exactly does that look like?

Russians, understanding the injustice inherent in the many European measures applied to Russian citizens – the most odious story now is the ban on cars with Russian license plates from entering Europe – cannot talk about this publicly precisely because it might cause problems for them, even though I know people who were personally affected by this.

Or take the story with spying on Galina Timchenko, her iPhone being monitored presumably by the secret services of either Germany or Latvia, and the reluctance of the authorities to somehow address this. Again, this shows the boundaries, the confines into which a journalist who fled Putin’s censorship finds himself driven. These boundaries are also narrow and can also be dangerous for him.

Or there is the experience of Dozhd, because it became public and ended in its being kicked out of Latvia. This allows us to confidently state that people in the “gravitational pull” of the authorities in at least certain countries are in a very vulnerable position, comparable with that of a Moscow journalist.

It is precisely the rigidity of the formats, this “two-party system,” that allows me to count on the attention of an audience that, like me, sees the shortcomings of both systems... I am not equating them, since the scale is incomparable, but there are people who are not satisfied with, say, the discourse about repentance, and there are a lot of them. And it’s good that there are a lot of them.

And who is your reader? Do you sense what your audience wants from you?

My reader just wants the truth. One part of my audience is people who consider loyalty to Putinism unacceptable but are disappointed with the way they are treated by the “collective Meduza,” the whole set of these new media with strange one-word names. You take a day’s worth of news from Dozhd, Mediazona, Meduza, Holod and you see the links to one another and the reveling in Ukrainian military successes.
When creating my Telegram channel Kashin Plus, I identified the problem of existential loneliness. What brings the audience to me is the motivation to overcome that loneliness.
I’m not the only one, there are a lot of us. We have already realized that the journalism that we had talked about as aspiring to oppose evil does not consider us people, nor does it consider itself our voice.

In addition, I believe that the ongoing conversation that I have been having for more than 15 years is my unique “capital,” there is nothing else like it. And I convey this conversation, this intonation, this disappointment to the audience who comes for it.

So, you are against everyone?

Why do you say that? I’m for Russians. I do not want Russians to be kicked around, I do not want Russians to die. And if this sounds demagogic – others do not have it at all.

In a situation where Russians in Ukraine are doing what they are doing, when Russians are reconsidering their attitudes toward themselves, do you as an emigrant not feel uncomfortable uttering the phrase “I am for Russians?” If you ended up in an Eastern European or Baltic country, that could lead to serious problems.

Europe is different, and I’m really glad that the war did not find me in the Baltic countries. But in our day and age anything can be imagined, including filtration camps for ethnic Russians.

Here is one of my most important discoveries. Over this year, I have acquired a certain number of new Ukrainian acquaintances, some of whom even became friends, precisely because a Ukrainian is accustomed to seeing in front of him a mimicking “good Russian” trying to gain his trust by feigning concern for dying Ukrainian children and abandoning his Russianness, which no one is demanding from him. A regular Ukrainian, again of the type and circle that I have encountered, already realized that a “good Russian” should be despised from the very beginning, he deserves nothing more. But when a Ukrainian sees a Russian who says that he is Russian, that he worries about the Russian people, it makes an amazing impression for him. It turns out that there are such Russians.

You position yourself as a Russian nationalist, right? What does that concept mean to you now?

The most obvious thing – since nationalism itself is the drive to put the interests of one’s people above those of other peoples – is that today it is in the interests of Russians to end the war so that Russian people do not die at the front. And it is in the interests of the Russian people to get rid of the dictatorship. And over the past year and a half, many of my interlocutors and I have seen the need to remind people who consider themselves Russian nationalists but have chosen Putinism that they are betraying their own values.
It seems both paradoxical and important to me that a sane Russian nationalist must be against the war today.
Naturally, most journalists say that they are afraid of losing touch with the country. Is this a risk for you?

YouTube statistics show that during the war my Russian audience decreased by 20%, but still the majority remains in Russia. But, of course, this fear is always with me, especially since I observed my colleagues who left before me and how they fell away from the Russian context before our eyes. I understand that in my case this risk increases over time; however, I see ways to minimize it that are not universal, but still possible.
The Ukrainian army attacked the headquarters of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol on September 22, 2023.
You say that all media are citing each other, that they are all one group. But where can you get information about what is happening in Russia? Only from Western media, from CNN?

Let me ask you. Did you see the attacks on Sevastopol last night (on September 22 the Ukrainian army hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – RP)?

I saw on Telegram, yes.

That’s right, you saw it on Telegram. The attack occurred at 23:55, and at 23:56 you see a video of it. Back to the question: where to get information? It comes on its own. Nowadays it has become more “democratized.”

You never know what is put out in Telegram: maybe it was not Sevastopol at all. Someone needs to verify it.

So, a minute after you and I saw a video of the attack on a dubious channel, a link appears in my chat to an internal channel, from Sevastopol, with city news, verified, with a gigantic audience, where the video is the same, but from a different angle. And in another five minutes the whole news will at least be on the Baza channel, which, of course, is far from ideal, but you can trust it with such things. Thus, within 10 minutes, without any institutional intermediaries, using a “viral filter,” you receive verified and conclusively confirmed news.
And the more Telegram channels you are subscribed to, the less dependent you as a consumer are on a certain media outlet.
You say that evil is being opposed not by good, but by who knows what. Theoretically, what might this good look like and where could these forces of good be recruited from?

In a situation where there is the nightmarish, fascist, totalitarian DPRK of the Kim dynasty and next to it there is a state populated by the same people that adheres to different values, there is a choice after all. I could dream, of course, that besides the Russian Federation there would be another Russian state, even in Antarctica, but, unfortunately, there is none.

And, unfortunately, those Russian people who are trying to get a foothold, having realized that the Russian Federation cannot be their fatherland, in most cases literally find themselves in the tragic situation of Soviet and Russian collaborators during World War II, when, hating the Bolsheviks, they suddenly find themselves in the SS Galicia Division, like that Canadian grandpa, for example. It is sad.

Still, it is not the Galicia Division for us, fortunately.

Of course not, but, frankly speaking, Putin’s Russia even today is not Stalin’s Soviet Union.

And let’s not forget that there are social networks, YouTube and Telegram channels that basically everyone can use. So, there is a real shot to not depend either on Roskomnadzor or Westerners with their own interests, like, say, the Latvian regulator that crushed Dozhd. Russia in this sense, I think, is seeing a paradoxical situation in which outcasts who sit on WordPress and blogs, due to their experience, skills and values, are actually more savvy than the mainstream.

You were simultaneously named a “foreign agent” in Russia and put on Ukraine’s sanctions list. What upset you more?

Any sanctions list creates difficulties, albeit minor ones against the backdrop of the ongoing tragedy. When bailiffs come to my parents’ home, to the place of my Russian registration, to collect another fine for not using a foreign agent warning, it’s unpleasant on a human level. So, I do not share the popular pathos of “it [being a foreign agent] is an honorary title.” It is bad, it is disgusting.

When communicating with Ukrainian officials, I say: “c’mon, there is a set of the nastiest Russians, am I one of the worst?” They say: “you were in Crimea, you covered the referendum...” I did not cover the referendum! I flew in and flew out according to Ukrainian law through Kyiv when there had not been a referendum yet. What is the issue? I said that my generation dreamed of Crimea – for this thoughtcrime?

Are you not afraid that Great Britain will also start making lists? Do you have a plan B?

First of all, I believe in Great Britain. It is a great country. There have already been episodes when some activists went to the British authorities, reporting that this evil Putinist Kashin lives here. But, thank God, there is a tradition here that denunciations by Russians against Russians are not accepted. Secondly, one of the partners for my regular YouTubebroadcasts, the famous politician Mikhail Svetov, lives in Brazil, and looking at him, I know that there is somewhere to go.
Share this article
Read More
You consent to processing your personal data and accept our privacy policy