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Knife Attack on Russian Journalist Reignites an “Atmosphere of Hate” in the Media

Tatyana Felgengauer (left) and Viktor Shenderovich (right), a political satirist, at an opposition rally in Moscow, October 2013. Credit: Vladimir Varfolomeev, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

This article was updated on October 24, 2017, to reflect the latest developments in the story.

Midday on Monday, October 23, Tatyana Felgengauer, a radio host and deputy editor in chief at Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), was stabbed in the throat at Echo of Moscow headquarters in downtown Moscow.

Felgengauer was hospitalized and put in a medically induced coma, her condition declared to be “serious but stable.”  Her lone attacker, identified as Israeli citizen Boris Grits, was apprehended by the building’s security staff and arrested by police who charged him with attempted murder.

Russian news outlets published photographs of the crime scene, with Echo of Moscow’s staff lounge area splattered in Felgengauer’s blood:

“He knew who he was looking for:” man with knife attacks Echo of Moscow host.

Echo of Moscow’s editor in chief Alexey Venediktov broke the news:

A man has just broken into Echo’s offices and stabbed the host Tatyana Felgengauer in the neck. The man has been apprehended. Tatyana is in the hospital. She is on an IV drip.

The next day Felgengauer regained consciousness and seemed to be in good spirits, even writing a note for her colleagues and well-wishers, which a co-host from Echo of Moscow then tweeted:

Friends!! @t_felg was allowed to see her relatives and she wrote a note for us! They won't let anyone else to see Tanya for the time being, she sends her regards and thanks!

The note itself which Felgengauer scribbled on a piece of paper reads:

Все-все-все!

Спасибо за поддержку и любовь, котаны. Все со мной будет хорошо. Дышать через трубочку даже прикольно. Алсо, впервые за 16 лет работы на радио я выспалась :)

Скоро буду с вами — обнимемся!

Таня Ф.

12.40  24.10.2017

To all, all, all of you!
Thank you for support and love, my cats. I'm going to be just fine. Breathing through a tube is surprisingly fun. Also, in the 16 years than I've been working on the radio it's the first time I had a proper night's sleep :)
I'll be with you shortly — and we'll hug each other!
Tanya F.
12.40  24.10.2017

The knife assault on Felgengauer immediately sparked a wave of criticism against the state propaganda apparatus, which has recently intensified attacks on the few remaining independent media houses in Russia, specifically Echo of Moscow.

Two weeks prior to Felgengauer's attack, state news channel Rossiya 24 aired a piece where Echo of Moscow’s hosts, including Felgengauer, were branded “foreign agents” trading in “information weapons.” Felgengauer herself tweeted a link to a YouTube clip of the Rossiya 24 segment on October 12:

Finally, R[ossiya]-24 reporters found a way to cover [opposition leader Alexey] Navalny’s rallies. They had to recruit everyone in sight: from [Oleg] Kashin to [Fyodor] Krasheninnikov [prominent Russian journalists]

Additionally, Yulia Latynina, another prominent Echo of Moscow host, was forced to flee Russia after a string of personal attacks. In early September, Latynina’s car was torched and she promptly left the country, fearing for her safety.

Felgengauer’s colleagues from Russia’s independent media were quick to blame state propaganda for stoking an “atmosphere of hate,” a phrase coined after the murder of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician assassinated on the Kremlin’s doorstep in March 2015.

In another bizarre coincidence, a week earlier Russian state TV broadcast the first few episodes of a new — and already controversial — series The Sleepers where a female reporter had her throat slashed. Many were quick to point out the unfortunate timing:

Watched The Sleepers the other day, a TV series where an opposition journalist is murdered by having her throat slit. Today Tatyana Felgengauer was attacked. Let's hope there will be no more nightmarish coincidences like that…

Sergey Yolkin, an editorial cartoonist for Deutsche Welle Russia, offered his own graphic take on the “atmosphere of hate”:

The attack on the Echo of Moscow host Felgengauer can be blamed on the hatred promoted on TV screens, says @Sergey_Elkin

Others expressed incredulity over the ease with which the attacker slid through several layers of security at Echo of Moscow’s studios in downtown Moscow. Sergey Smirnov, editor in chief of Mediazona, an independent news outlet covering Russia’s penal system, wrote on his Telegram channel:

Давайте для понимания, тут многие были на Эхе. Но я для тех, кто не был напишу.

Как попасть в редакцию? Она на 14 этаже находится в здании на Новом Арбате. Внизу пост охраны, там как минимум один человек сидит, но чаще двое. Ну ок, можно просто перепрыгнуть препятствие. Или как Мэш пишет охранника залили газом.

Но дальше надо точно пойти к лифтам, если первый раз там был неочевидно. А также лифты очень нагружены обычно, вечно их ждешь минут 5.

Дальше, выход из лифта и дверь в редакцию. Неясно где именно мудак ударил Таню ножом, но там тоже есть дежурный на посту. То есть те, кто говорит, что это прямо было совсем просто – ну это не так. И требовало подготовки и разведки как минимум.

Let’s get something straight here. Many of you have been inside Echo’s newsroom. For those of you who haven’t, let me clarify. How does one get inside? Echo’s newsroom is on the 14th floor of a tower block on Novy Arbat street. There’s a guard post downstairs, it’s manned at all times by at least one security guard, sometimes two. Okay, let’s assume one can jump across the turnstile. Or, as Mash [a Telegram news channel] says, the guard was blinded with tear gas. But then you have to take the elevator, which might be quite a hurdle if you don’t know where the elevators are. Besides, these are almost always busy, so you end up waiting for an elevator for five minutes or more. Then there’s the elevator lobby and the newsroom door. It’s still unclear where exactly that nutjob attacked Tanya, but there’s another guard post with a guard always present. So those who are now saying it was a random attack must be wrong. An attack like this requires at least some experience and reconnaissance.

However, the notion that the alleged assailant Grits was inspired by state propaganda or trained to infiltrate Echo's offices holds little water. Journalist Roman Moguchy unearthed what appears to be Grits’ personal blog which paints a bleak picture of a person battling chronic unemployment and gradually succumbing to a pathological obsession with Felgengauer.

На фейк похоже, но ХЗ. «Последние пару дней она начала искать возможность воздействовать на мое сердце. С дыханием, точнее его прекращением, она уже давно экспериментирует».

Looks fake, but what the hell do I know. “In the last couple of days she has been looking for ways to manipulate my heart. She’s already been long experimenting with my breath — specifically, with ways to halt it.”

In a post dated September 14, Grits announced his intention to travel to Moscow to put an end to Felgengauer’s “telepathic sexual torture.”

Echo of Moscow’s political opponents — including prominent Russian state media hosts who have continuously blasted Echo for its alleged “anti-Russian” editorial policies — unanimously condemned the attack. Perhaps the most famous of Echo of Moscow’s detractors, Vladimir Solovyov, a TV and radio talk show host, tweeted:

There are no justifications for these kind of crimes, nor there ever can be. The guilty persons must be swiftly prosecuted.

However, this rare show of journalistic solidarity in Russia was tainted by Viktor Volkov, an editor previously employed by Interfax, one of Russia's three major news agencies. In a Facebook post, he blamed the attack on Felgengauer and her colleagues:

Гляди-ка, у либералов очередная мученица совести вырисовывается. Кто-то слегка подрезал прямо в редакции “Эха Москвы” ведущую Таню Фельгенгауэр.
По-моему, ничего удивительного. Все эти хихоньки, хаханьки, паскудные шуточки. И всё это густо замешено на лжи. Рано или поздно подобное должно было случиться.

Look what we have here, a brand new martyr of conscience for these liberals. Somebody lightly knifed Echo of Moscow’s host Tanya Felgengauer, right inside Echo’s newsroom.
I think there’s nothing surprising about that. Their giggles and snickers, filthy jokes. And the whole thing is based on lies. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Tatyana Felgengauer is just one of the latest victims of attacks on editors and reporters in Russia, which consistently ranks among the worst countries in the world to practice journalism.

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