Putin Bids Farewell to Independent News, Welcomes the Crazy

President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin always had a very sly, if transparent, way of creating the illusion that Russia has independent media -- at least until now. Walking a thin line, state-owned or state-backed news services would be allowed to report just enough on the shortcomings of the Russian political system to keep up the appearance of free speech but would never go too far in their criticisms.

But the Kremlin just couldn't take it anymore. With one swift signature the president himself ended the golden days of independent-ish Russian media.

On Monday, Putin, with no notice whatsoever, signed a decree dissolving the state-owned agency RIA Novosti and Voice of Russia radio, which had become known for providing relatively balanced reporting about the country in 14 languages. Novosti, founded in 1941 as a Soviet news agency, and Voice of Russia will be substituted by a new, consolidated agency called Russia Today. It will be separate from another state-backed news organization known as RT.

Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said that the move was an effort to control the state's budget, to spend media funds "more rationally." But even the Kremlin left no doubts as to the actual reason for the decision -- the question of who should be controlling the image of Russia abroad. "Russia is following its own policy, firmly defending national interests, this is difficult to explain to the world but one can and must do it," Ivanov said. According to the New York Times, the agency's directors will be designated by Putin's office.

In a sad, sad announcement of their own demise, RIA Novosti managed to capture their strange position in the Russia's media world. Their report was on the one hand accurate and on the other hand unwilling to call Putin's move what it is: an outright crackdown on media freedom. "The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape, which appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector."

The new agency's overlord will be the news anchor Dmitry Kiselov, who has become well-known for his anti-gay and anti-Europe remarks. Kiselov made a splash last week when he went on a rant during his evening show about the moral decline facing Ukraine should they choose to join the European Union instead of maintaining their partnership with Russia. And while Western news organizations such as the New York Times and the Financial Times dutifully noted an unforgettable moment in Kiselov's rant when he speculated that the EU-Ukraine association agreement was a Polish-Lithuanian-Swedish revenge plot for the 1709 Battle of Poltava, they managed to leave out the best part. Kiselov went on to cite a Swedish children's show that aims to teach the country's youth about their bodily functions as evidence of the decadence which marks European culture, which we at Foreign Policy wrote about last week. That show includes the characters Pee-Pee, Turd, and Nixon the Nose, and it's the evidence cited by Russia's newly crowned media tsar in his rant against the West.

Goodbye Novosti, and welcome to crazy town.



How You Like Me Now?

It's a big day today at Foreign Policy.

Not only are we launching our fifth annual Global Thinkers issue, but we're also unveiling a new website. FP has come a long way since its days as an academic journal founded in 1970, and with the redesign of the website, we take one further step toward revitalizing the magazine for the digital era. The new site is built for the social web, with sharing tools built right into article pages. (For example, try highlighting the text of this piece -- you'll see a pop-up tool that allows you instantly share on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit.) A new gallery function beautifully displays FP's photojournalism offerings. And the "My FP" customization feature (look for the thumbprint in the right sidebar, or at the bottom of the page on mobile) will take reader interests into account to deliver content tailored just for you. The new homepage puts all of FP's featured content in one gorgeous, easy-to-navigate space, with a "Breaking News" feed from FP's reporters and a "Stories We're Watching" bar that provides a snapshot of news from international papers.

The redesign also highlights an expansion in the content offered by FP. Regional offerings include channels focusing on the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East & Africa, and South Asia (the new AfPak Channel, with an added focus on India), in addition to channels covering economics, finance, and energy. Regular readers of FP will notice that our defense coverage has been consolidated into one blog, The Complex. The Cable remains the home for our coverage of the State Department, the United Nations, and America's foreign policy establishment. Passport stays as FP's staff blog and offers the day's top news and under-the-radar items from around the world. We also have a slew of new voices and columnists who have joined the FP stable: Adm. James Stavridis, Michael Weiss, Bruce Stokes, Emile Simpson, Xeni Jardin, Kalev Leetaru, Matt Bors, and Michael Peck.

Addtionally, Monday marks the launch of FP's 2013 Global Thinkers issue. During the past several months, the editors of FP have huddled and argued over the biggest stories of the year to pick the 100 individuals making a difference in the world. (Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there are in fact more than 100 thinkers as some of the slots include groups of people.) The issue surveys the world of surveillance and privacy, decision-makers, challengers, environmental activists, innovators, advocates, chroniclers, healers, artists, and moguls in effort to make sense of the chaotic, fascinating world we live in. You'll find essays by novelist William T. Vollmann on surveillance; Douglas Brinkley on Secretary of State John Kerry; E.J. Dionne Jr. on Pope Francis; and Michael Belfiore on Elon Musk. The issue, which is on newsstands now, also features a wonderful dispatch from Dharamsala, ground zero in China's cyberwar; an interview with Leon Panetta, the man who's held just about every job in Washington; and an essay by Robert D. Kaplan on what Late Antiquity says about the 21st century and the Syrian crisis.

In short, it's a magazine to delve into, revel in, and carry with you as you travel around the world, and we hope the new will become your regular, frequent source of news about that world. So go check out the new site, tweet about it, tell your friends (on Facebook and elsewhere) about it, and let us know what you think. (We'll keep an eye on the comments below for your feedback.)

The past few months at FP have been an intense labor of love as we have put together a new site and a double print issue. We hope that work shows -- and that you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it for you.