- By Vitaly Shevchenko
- BBC Monitoring
Vladlen Tatarsky, who died in an explosion in St. Petersburg on Sunday, was one of Russia’s “war correspondents.” But who are these bloggers – and why are they so popular?
The book is a diverse collection of people supporting and reporting on the war in Ukraine, often from the front lines. They hold extremist anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western views.
Journalists—known as “voyenkory” in Russian—usually claim to have specialized military knowledge and access to Russian forces.
Some are built in – and some seem to be fighting on their side.
The degree of their attachment to the government varies. Some work for Kremlin-controlled outlets, but others blog on social media — apparently unrelated to any outlet.
One of the main reasons they are so popular with Russian readers is that they often provide more information than official reports – and they also offer a different, more critical perspective, without questioning the need for a “special military operation”.
Their appearance, after the initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, marked a new chapter in Russia’s war coverage.
For many, support for the war does not necessarily mean support for the authorities in Moscow — or, especially, the military leaders who led the invasion (although President Putin generally escapes criticism).
War correspondent Semyon Pegov, better known as War Gonzo, has more than 1.2 million subscribers on Telegram – one of the few major social media platforms not banned in Russia.
After Ukraine attacked Makeyevka, he accused Moscow’s Defense Ministry of “trying to lay blame publicly”.
Another pro-war blogger, Boris Rosen, who writes on his blog under Colonel Kasad’s name — with 800,000 Telegram subscribers — accused Russian leaders of “incompetence and a failure to understand the consequences of war.”
Social media accounts linked to the private military company Wagner have been particularly critical of senior Russian officers.
It is this criticism of the military authorities that distinguishes War Correspondents from the global, Kremlin-controlled propaganda that regularly adorns the Department of the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.
Some commentators have argued that Russian military leaders feel threatened by bloggers critical of the war, and there have been attempts to silence them.
Well-known war correspondents employed by the pro-Kremlin mainstream media tend to be more tolerant of the official line.
Notable among them is Alexander Kots, who works for the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
In response to the murder of Vladlen Tatarsky, Coats pointed the finger directly at Ukraine, just as Russian officials had.
“The ground must be burned under the feet of any Kiev official,” he wrote. No inhuman war waged on Russia should feel safe. »
These journalists play a key role in building the Kremlin narratives in the media.
For example, it was Yevgeny Poddubny, a war correspondent for the most popular state TV channel Russia 1, who broke the official silence about the involvement of Wagner’s mercenaries in Ukraine.
In a report on the ruins of a power station in Donbass in July 2022, he unexpectedly said that the site had been “edited” by Wagner.
This marked the beginning of reporting on Wagner in the general media, which had previously ignored and even denied the group’s existence.
Coats and Poddubny are under Western sanctions for their role in pro-Kremlin propaganda against Ukraine.
Many of the popular Russian social media accounts supporting the war with Ukraine are operated anonymously, and the material they post is often highly graphic.
One of the most notorious examples is the gray area, Wagner’s Telegram channel, which posted footage of a “traitor” being killed with a hammer in November 2022.
Russian war correspondents often call for the destruction of Ukraine as an independent state. For example, Yuri Kotenok called for the elimination of Ukrainian identity itself.
“Even cancer can be cured, but a Ukrainian – never! He once said on Telegram. “It’s a kind of Satanism that can only be destroyed by one thing – fire! The fire that devours everything and cleanses this filth. »
Kotenok has more than 400,000 Telegram subscribers.