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Russian Investigators: Ignore Bad News, Bad News Kills

Tom Balmforth
Vladimir Markin from the powerful federal Investigative Committee has appealed to Russians to "ignore" bad news about their country in the media, asserting that negative headlines can have a psychosomatic effect and increase the death rate.

Vladimir Markin has been the public face of Russia’s equivalent of the FBI since 2011.

MOSCOW -- A prominent Russian official has some bad news about bad news: It can kill you.

If you’re Russian, that is, and the bad news is about Russia.

The spokesman for the powerful federal Investigative Committee has appealed to Russians to "ignore" bad news about their country in the media, asserting that negative headlines can have a psychosomatic effect and increase the death rate.

What’s more, Vladimir Markin warned that the problem is worsened by a virulent and deadly strain of "Russophobia" spawned in the West that could "infect" the Russian media and ravage the country.

"Russophobia is like AIDS, an illness that is untreatable and fatal, " Markin wrote in a striking column published in pro-Kremlin tabloid Izvestia on December 16.

"You can only buy more time with painkillers and military psychosis stimulants, but the result is always the same -- self-destruction and shameful death."

The spokesman argued that the prevalence of negative news in Russia is driving up the country’s death rate. "For example, during the summer wildfires of 2010, illness and fatality increased not only in regions that were gripped by smoke, but everywhere where this was the main news, " he wrote.

As an antidote, Markin espoused a head-in-the-ground strategy.

"We have a chance if we don’t react to Russophobia. We can only ignore these attempts to attract attention to our sores, " he wrote. "If we react in any way other than ignoring, then it is food for the virus of Russophobia. The correct therapy is to take heed of the positive and to support the smallest steps toward normalization."

Markin’s appeal comes with Russia in recession and with the low price of oil, its main export, showing little sign of recovery. Russia watchers have been eyeing the country closely for clues to whether the economic downturn is eroding support for the government. 

On December 16, a poll published by the Moscow-based Levada Center showed that Russians’ trust in TV news has fallen by almost half since 2009. Russian television networks, which were swiftly brought to heel by Vladimir Putin in his first term as president in 2000-04, are a key tool for the Kremlin to convey its version of events to the Russian people. 

’Information Infection’

Markin went on to warn Russians that an "information war" is under way. He pointed to an unnamed "neighboring country" -- hinting transparently at Ukraine, where Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists -- as a cautionary tale of what can happen when an "information infection" takes hold of a victim. 

"A few years ago it was possible to deny that these methods are a deliberate part of the information war against Russia, " Markin wrote. "Now it is enough to look at the pathetic remains of the state and economy of one of our neighboring countries, which has been hit by an information infection."

Markin’s piece is largely in keeping with the Kremlin’s portrayal of Russia as a fortress of moral conservatism surrounded by danger, extremism, and Western moral decay.

Markin has essentially been the public face of the Investigative Committee -- a Russian answer to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -- since it was made an integrated entity independent of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office in 2011.

Markin is slightly unusual in that he has actively cultivated a public image. In February, Markin performed a patriotic song called We Have One Motherland on prime-time TV, reportedly then donating the proceeds to charity. He also starred as himself in a Russian film about fighting corruption. 

Markin argued that Russophobia derives from a sense of envy at Russia’s spiritual integrity.

"Where does Russophobia come from? It all comes from there -- from envy. Only, they don’t envy our material prosperity but our spiritual qualities -- kindness, fairness, being prepared to come to help, to share the last you have, and not to waver under any circumstances."

Kremlin critics hardly see Markin as a paragon of kindness and fairness. As spokesman for the Investigative Committee, he is often the one to announce criminal accusations or charges that rights activists and opponents of Putin say are trumped up.

Markin also used his opinion piece to take a swipe at "rootless cosmopolitanism" and "anti-Semitism." He likened them to venereal diseases gonorrhea and syphilis, respectively.

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