Russia Direct has stopped updating its website following the failure of negotiations between an independent party to take over Russia Direct from its owner, Russian newspaper Rossisykaya Gazeta.

The cover of Russia Direct's report "Brexit: Is Europe Unraveling?". Photo: Russia Direct 

Last weekend, unsanctioned opposition protests brought throngs of people into the streets in both Russia and Belarus, resulting in the arrest of dozens — or even hundreds of protestors (according to different estimates, about 1,000 people were detained in Moscow on Mar. 26).

In Belarus, protesters demanded the repeal of a controversial law that imposes taxes on the unemployed, while in Russia, crowds called for the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who was accused of corruption by opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Mar. 2. Navalny (who was also taken into custody) backed the protests in Russia, which took place in cities across the country.

Almost 800 people were detained in Moscow as a result of the March 26 protest. Photo: Russia Direct

Under usual circumstances, Russia Direct would have closely followed these events and provided its readers both well-balanced analysis and a diverse range of opinions on them. As of March 23, however, Russia Direct is no longer able to offer such coverage. Russia Direct has stopped updating its website following the failure of negotiations between an independent party to take over Russia Direct from its owner, Russian newspaper Rossisykaya Gazeta.

In January 2017, Rossiyskaya Gazeta ended its financial support of Russia Direct, and it suspended its monthly reports, but we have struggled to maintain the website while searching for sponsors and other means of funding. Since March 1, the website has been maintained on a purely volunteer basis.

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Among options we considered for maintaining the site were crowdfunding and applying for grants. We also hoped to move to a new paid content model that would include a paywall. Such options would have required the publication be moved to independent ownership, however, and after a number of letters and conversations with Rossiyskaya Gazeta management, the parent company refused to hand over the rights to the publication to an independent third party.

When asked why Rossiyskaya Gazeta could not hand over the media outlet to a third party, a representative of the newspaper made it clear that the fact that Russia Direct was financially supported by Rossiyskaya Gazeta in 2013-2016 prevents any independent individual or organization from taking it over.

At the same time, the newspaper regrets that it could no longer maintain and financially support the publication. However, the good news is that the audience will still have access to Russia Direct’s articles as well as its archive, which comprises the analytical reports (they are available only to paid subscribers who didn’t request a full refund for their paid annual subscription). A representative of Rossiyskaya Gazetа claims that it has been trying to resume the funding of the project, albeit unsuccessfully.

The rise and fall of Russia Direct

Russia Direct began almost four years ago, when U.S.-Russia relations had not yet reached their current state, although there were signs of discord, including the case of whistleblower Edward Snowden and differences over the civil war in Syria. These differences erupted into full-blown hostility in the winter of 2013-2014, when protests in Ukraine led to the conflict in the Donbass and the annexation of Crimea.

How Russia Direct got started in 2013. Video by Pavel Inzhelevsky and Chris McMorrow.

Despite these inauspicious times, the young journalists and experts who joined together Russia Direct believed there was a place for an analytical publication that could build bridges between Russian and American expert communities, a place that could convert these two monologues into one dialogue.

It is clear that this ambitious goal remains relevant today, especially as Russia plays an ever-larger role in the U.S. media narrative due to ongoing investigations of what role the Kremlin might have played in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Throughout its short history, Russia Direct always sought to produce well-balanced content from a diverse array of experts, analysts and newsmakers from Russia and abroad on the most relevant topics.

One of our guiding principles was to showcase contrasting opinions — sometimes, extremely divergent ones — so that our readers would have the information they needed to reach their own conclusions. We have avoided imposing any agenda of our own, and have never cherry-picked perspectives that favored one side or another.

Russia Direct never shied away from covering the most controversial and pressing problems relevant to our audience. We published articles, debates, interviews and opinions on the downing of flight MH17, the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and the murky relations between the Kremlin and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Mostly recently, Russia Direct run several articles on Navalny’s investigation into Medvedev’s corruption schemes — a topic that was taboo for some Russian media outlets.

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Nevertheless, despite our independent editorial policy, guidelines, goals, and audience, we have been persistently accused of being both the Kremlin’s mouthpiece and “a bunch of CIA agents” or a “fifth column.” Of course, neither was true.

As The Washington Post wrote in December 2016, Russia Direct “has nothing like the Moscow-centric slant of the outlets usually associated with Kremlin propaganda, such as the DuranSputnik or RT. And every Russia Direct story comes with a box directing the reader to another story that presents an alternative — if not always opposing — point of view.”

Indeed, creating an honest dialogue was top priority for Russia Direct. We have not been the Kremlin’s propaganda and never received funding from CIA. We simply tried to find a balance between these two extremes while maintaining our journalistic integrity. Perhaps being accused of propaganda by both sides is the best evidence that we achieved our goal.

The website will no longer be updated, but our web-only content as well as the archive of our analytical reports will remain accessible online for the time being.

Dear readers, thank you for your interest, support and loyalty to our project. It has always been our privilege to serve you, and have you as part of our Russia Direct community! And, of course, thanks to Rossiyskaya Gazeta that helped to launch this project.