The dramatis personae shifts and the wheels of power turning reveal personalities that are alternately comprehensible and incomprehensible; two Russian women named Natalia with blue, blue eyes engaged in spheres of power largely steered by men. Putin’s bombshell appointee for Attorney General of Crimea Natalia Poklonskaya, a formidable power player, has been placed in the spotlight of world attention.
Video of her response to questions concerning the death of a Ukrainian soldier went viral. Without the benefit of understanding the words, the segment reveals stunning charisma and uncanny control of voice and affect: honed as chief prosecutor in Kyiv. She is chilling just as she is seductive. Perhaps a vampire? She is a shark with doe-like eyes and a soft appealing face, and has inspired a rush of Japanese anime images in the Manga style that make her look slightly fairy-like.
At the other end of the human warmth scale, Natalia Antonova was until last Monday the editor of the Moscow News, until then the oldest English language newspaper in Moscow, now temporarily frozen. The closure is officially part of a reorganization of the state-owned media conglomerate RIA Novosti which will become Rossia Segodnya. This reorganization was decreed by Putin in December 2013 and placed Dmitri Kiselyov, a Putin crony in charge. Speaking to staff concerning the liquidation and planned reorganization, his rhetoric seems bombastic and lunatic: “The time of distilled, detached journalism is over… Objectivity is a myth that is being imposed on us. As for editorial policy, of course, I would like for it to be associated with love of Russia.” When asked directly about layoffs he replied, “People who can carry arms will be needed.”
On Monday Mar.14, Antonova wrote on the Moscow News Twitter feed a few wistful emotions before signing off for herself and Kevin O’Flynn. In a gesture of solidarity with her sympathetic readers, she channeled Edward R. Murrow and his sign-off dating back to the dark time of the Battle of London: “Good night and good luck.” It is strange to watch history unfold or unroll with the awareness of other moments of pregnant expectation. A similar statement of a colleague from the Moscow News, Anna Arutunyan, on her farewell Last Confessions of a Kremlin Stooge says ,“The party is over.”
And how can it be that viewers seems so easily taken in by Poklonskaya, the bombshell Putin has appointed to be Crimean Attorney General, without fearing such a formidable power player? On her own Twitter feed Antonova reported Saturday taking her toddler to the pool, and that everyone there was talking about Crimea. She tweeted her availability for work, citing her experience in media across four countries, and her “occasional punditry.” Sunday she reported: “Can’t get toddler to brush his teeth properly, but when it comes to taking pictures of me, he’s suddenly good.” Indeed the toddler does have the knack. This is all very human, the intimacy of mother and child.
Scraps of news from Crimea suggest strangeness. Last Monday Volodomyr Konstantinov, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers in Crimea announced that mockery of Ukrainian symbols would not be tolerated. At collection points these symbolic objects would be collected and dealt with “delicately.” What might that possibly mean in reality? After being unable to travel into Crimea earlier in the week, by Friday Ivan Šimonović Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and his team were invited in and traveled to Simferopol for meetings with Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and Konstantinov; and with civil society representatives, regional officials and representatives of NGO’s. Will there be human rights violations where no one can witness? Putin’s bombshell Attorney General appointee and formidable player seems nothing like a protector of the weak through the power of law. In Moscow out-of-work journalists spend time with their families and ponder the future. In Crimea the Ukrainian state symbols have been swept up, and a fox is in the hen house.
Commentary by Lawrence M. Shapiro