US Investigation Topples Kremlin Propaganda Chief

MOSCOW — On December 19th, Gazprom Media, the Kremlin-controlled information empire, unexpectedly announced the resignation of its chairman, Mikhail Lesin, “for family reasons.” Lesin himself declined to comment.

Vladimir Putin’s former press minister, who oversaw the destruction of three independent nationwide television networks in the early 2000s, was brought back to run a key component in the Kremlin’s propaganda machine in late 2013, just before the Ukrainian revolution and Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Over the past year, media outlets under Lesin’s control—including NTV television—intensified the information war against Ukraine, the West, and against leaders and supporters of the Russian opposition, whom the pro-regime media routinely label as “traitors” and “foreign agents.” Lesin has also launched an attack on Ekho Moskvy radio, which, though majority-owned by Gazprom Media, continues to maintain an independent editorial policy and allows alternative viewpoints on the air.

Yet—as with many other senior Kremlin figures—involvement in Putin’s anti-democratic and anti-Western policies did not stop Lesin from seeking a safe haven in the very country his propaganda outlets were vilifying on a daily basis. In August, US Senator Roger Wicker (a Republican from Mississippi) requested that the Justice Department investigate the purchase by Lesin of luxury real estate in California totaling $28 million. “That a Russian public servant could have amassed the considerable funds required to acquire and maintain these assets ... raises serious questions,” Wicker wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder.

On December 3rd, US Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik responded to Wicker, confirming that Lesin’s case has been duly referred to the FBI and the Justice Department’s criminal division for investigation. Within days, the Gazprom Media chairman handed in his resignation. “Greetings to M.Y. Lesin, a patriot of California real estate,” quipped Russian anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who has publicized this case in Russia.

The story of Mikhail Lesin is just one small example of how effective Western democracies can be when they stay true to their principles and implement their own laws—and call out Kremlin operatives for the hypocrites that they are. 

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