(CNN Business) – Two Russian reporters appeared to post at least 30 articles on Monday that criticized President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
CNN reviewed the articles, which were taken down almost immediately after they were published on a pro-Kremlin news site. Some were pegged to the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, while others criticized Putin for using Russia’s Victory Day to justify his violent onslaught in Ukraine.
Reporters Egor Polyakov and Alexandra Miroshnikova made several claims in their articles, including that Russian defense officials were “lying to relatives” of those killed on the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship. They directly accused Putin of launching one of the “bloodiest wars of the 21st century.”
“Putin and his circle are doomed to face a tribunal after the end of the war,” Polyakov and Miroshnikova published to the news site Lenta.ru. “Putin and his associates won’t be able to justify themselves or flee after losing this war.”
Reporting critical of the government in Russian media is extremely rare — especially since the war in Ukraine started in February.
The Russian parliament passed a law in early March criminalizing what it considers to be falsehoods about Russia’s war in Ukraine. Breaking that law could result in a 1.5 million ruble (around $21,500) fine or up to 15 years in prison. Putin and state media still refer to the full-scale ground war in Ukraine only as a “special operation.”
In March, a long-time Russian TV editor, Marina Ovsyannikova, made headlines for disrupting a live broadcast while holding up an anti-war sign on Russia’s Channel 1. She was arrested and fined 30,000 rubles (about $280 at the time.) Ovsyannikova is now reporting for a German-owned news outlet from Russia and Ukraine.
‘Putin must go’
Polyakov and Miroshnikova are both business editors at Lenta.ru, a major pro-Kremlin Russian news site. The outlet’s parent company was recently bought by Russia’s Sberbank (SBRCY), which is subject to US sanctions for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
CNN reached out to the two reporters and lenta.ru for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
Independent Russian news site Mediazone published what it said was a statement from Polyakov and Miroshnikova after the articles made their appearance.
“Putin is a paranoid dictator,” they were quoted as saying. “Putin must go. He started a senseless war and is leading Russia into a ditch.”
Polyakov and Miroshnikova not only publicly rejected the government line on the Russia’s invasion but went as far as to accuse Putin of lying about his intentions in Ukraine from the outset.
“Putin repeatedly lied about his plans for Russia in Ukraine, naming one goal at first then a completely different one.”
They pointed to Putin’s call for a “liberation of Donbass,” “de-Nazification,” and the “demilitarization of Ukraine,” as examples of what they describe as hastily put together justifications for a needless war.
One of the articles focused on what Polyakov and Miroshnikova described as the Russian military lying to families of
Russian sailors who died on the Moskva flag ship that sank in the Black Sea last month.
The article claimed the Russian navy may have recirculated old images of the Moskva’s crew to suggest more sailors made it off the ship unharmed than really did. “The video of the Black Sea fleet leadership and crew members that the Defense Ministry circulated after the tragedy could’ve been archival since a relative of a missing crew member actually recognized him in the video itself.”
CNN could not independently confirm these claims.
Each article the pair posted to the site started with the same urgent plea under the headline.
“Disclaimer: This material is not approved by the state, therefore the Presidential administration will delete it… In other words: TAKE A SCREENSHOT URGENTLY before it’s deleted.”
The duo also appeared to sign off from Lenta.ru saying, “We’re looking for work, lawyers and probably, political asylum!”
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be quiet,” they continued in an apparent call to action. “Resist! You are not one, you are many!
The future is yours!… Peace to Ukraine!”