(MOSCOW) — A well-known journalist from a leading Russian liberal radio station is in intensive care after being stabbed in the throat allegedly by a man who broke into the station’s offices in Moscow, the latest in a number of attacks against media and opposition figures in the country.
Tatyana Felgengauer is a deputy editor-in-chief at the radio station Echo of Moscow, one of Russia’s only independent radio stations known for its regular criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. On Monday morning, an attacker stabbed her with a knife in a guest area of the station’s studios after pepper-spraying a guard to gain entry, according to the station’s editor-in-chief, Aleksey Venediktov.
Speaking in an on-air interview, Venediktov said that Felgengauer was taken to a nearby hospital after the attack, where she was operated on and is now in a medically induced coma. He said her condition was serious but that doctors do not believe her life is in immediate danger.
The attacker is in police custody after the radio station’s security guards wrestled him to the ground, Venediktov said, with one of the guards suffering a minor injury. Photos published on social media after the attack showed a dark-haired middle-aged man sitting with a bloodied nose, and blood spattered across the floor.
“The attacker didn’t scream anything,” the Russian news website Meduza quoted Venediktov as saying. “Everything was quiet and he was silent. He walked up, grabbed her, and delivered the blow.”
Police named the attacker as Boris Gritz, telling Russian state news agencies that he was a dual Russian-Israeli citizen who had recently returned to Moscow after moving to Israel in 2003. Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles high-profile crimes, said it was opening a criminal case against Gritz for attempted murder.
Police said they were still investigating the attack’s motive. In a leaked video of his police interrogation broadcast on Russian television, Gritz said he had stabbed Felgengauer because she had been persecuting him “telepathically.” He said he had not previously met her. Echo of Moscow posted a link on its Twitter account to what it said appeared to be an online diary written by Gritz, where the author wrote he believed Felgengauer was manipulating him psychically.
In liberal circles of Russian society, however, many also blamed what they said was the demonization of Echo of Moscow and Felgengauer in state media, which has portrayed the radio station and other organizations critical of the Kremlin as part of Western efforts to weaken Russia.
Two weeks ago, a state news channel, Rossiya 24, ran a piece in which it accused Echo of Moscow and Felgengauer of operating as agents of the U.S. State Department, acting with Western NGOs to destabilize society. Felgengauer featured prominently in the report.
Oleg Kashin, a blogger who was beaten with iron bars in 2010, told the liberal channel TV Rain that Felgenhauer’s “blood was on the hands of Rossiya 24.”
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin responded to the stabbing, writing on Twitter that he was “shocked” and promising to do everything to help see Felgengauer restored to health.
Echo of Moscow has previously suffered threats and harassment. Aleksander Plushev, Felgengauer’s co-presenter on her popular morning show, told Meduza that the station’s journalists regularly receive death threats. In September, another Echo of Moscow journalist, Yulia Latynina, left Russia with her parents after a gas was sprayed into her house and her car was set ablaze.
There has been a string of violent incidents against other Putin critics recently as well. In May, opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was almost blinded after an assailant threw green disinfectant into his eye; last month, a top aide from Navalny’s organization in Moscow was beaten over the head with a steel pipe by an unknown attacker. Most of those attacked believe the Kremlin is not directly involved, but blame it for stoking up an atmosphere of violence against its critics and of potentially encouraging mentally unstable people to harm them.
“It’s not that Putin or the Kremlin are directly instigating these kinds of attacks,” Latynina wrote in an op-ed in the Moscow Times after the attacks on her. “They are winking at those who want to organize them. They’re empowering ‘local talent,’ and those people are given a free pass. Some of them are crazy. Some are in search of some power or want to curry favor.”
Such fears rose sharply in 2015 with the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader gunned down yards from the Kremlin. Vendediktov, Echo of Moscow’s editor-in-chief, temporarily left Russia then, after his name appeared on a so-called “kill list” of opposition and liberal figures circulating on the internet. He still often travels with a bodyguard, he has told The Washington Post.
On Monday night, Echo of Moscow reported some journalists were holding pickets outside the station’s headquarters protesting the stabbing. One placard read, “Propaganda attacks,” according to a post on its site.
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