Russian policy document warns of foreign subversion

MOSCOW - In language reminiscent of Soviet times, a policy document signed by President Vladimir Putin warns of ''information weapons'' allegedly used against Russia by foreign powers and calls for tighter controls over media.

The document, called the Information Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation, immediately came under criticism from journalists and media rights advocates.

''Putin is being driven by his KGB instincts,'' Ruslan Gorevoi, an activist with the Glasnost Defense Foundation, said in reference to Putin's 16-year career in the Soviet secret police. ''Now he wants to apply his KGB colonel's skills to the president's job.''

The document, signed by Putin on Monday and posted on the government's Web site, outlines a long list of threats to the government and public in the sphere of media and information. Subversive activity by foreigners ranks high.

It accuses unidentified foreign powers of plotting to ''infringe on Russia's interests in the global information space'' and even working out concepts of ''information wars'' with the aim of ''hampering the normal operation of the information and telecommunication systems.''

The document claims that foreign media organizations are trying to squeeze Russians out of the news market and suggests that their activities in Russia be checked more carefully.

The document was vaguely worded and doesn't have legal force, but was regarded by press freedom advocates as a disturbing sign of the thinking prevalent in the government and its bureaucracies, whose actions can be more important than legislation.

Gorevoi and others voiced fear that the document may signal the start of a broad attack on media freedom, involving tighter licensing and tax rules for the independent media.

''Putin wants to feed people with good news to make them feel happy - a new edition of the Soviet information cocoon, which isolated the nation from the rest of the world,'' Gorevoi said.

But one of the authors of the doctrine, Anatoly Streltsov, told the Obshchaya Gazeta weekly that the document ''aims at increasing the efficiency of the state-controlled media and doesn't try to force the government's will on independent media.''

''As for the non-government media, we may only offer them information and wait for their interpretation,'' he was quoted as saying.

Two high-profile cases this year have raised concerns about media freedom in Russia. Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky was detained in what was widely seen as retribution for critical reporting on Chechnya, while media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky was jailed for several days on corruption charges. Gusinsky's media empire has criticized the Kremlin.

Putin has said that the information doctrine would help protect journalists' rights and tackle computer crimes. He has denied accusations that his government is leading a crackdown on the media.

But in several public outbursts last month, he accused media tycoons, who often use their news organizations as weapons in Russia's political struggles, of trying to discredit and smear the government.


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