For a number of moments, Ovsyannikova’s protest was beamed into houses round Moscow and central Russia. Then, the digital camera minimize away. Ovsyannikova was detained, taken to a big police station throughout the state tv studio advanced often called Ostankino, earlier than being moved half a mile to the key police division inside Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of Nationwide Economic system, a big park with exhibition halls identified by its acronym VDNKh, the place she was held for the following 14 hours.

It was after what appeared like limitless questioning, within the wee hours of the morning, that her interrogator stated: “Let’s drink a cup of tea. Let’s eat some blini. Everybody’s hungry,” Ovsyannikova recounted.

As any foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin would have warned Ovsyannikova, were they still alive to do so: When a Russian safety officer presents you an Earl Gray and a snack, don’t say sure. However Ovsyannikova was new to the dissident sport and unprepared for what lay forward of her.

She drank the tea.

Saved by Macron

Most guests to the VDNKh advanced, situated half a mile from the Ostankino tv and radio tower, are greeted by an iconic 78-foot-high statue of the “Worker and Kolkhoz Woman” and different Soviet-era relics.

However Ovsyannikova bought to admire VDNKh’s true Stalinist legacy, buried deep inside its partitions.

“All of the journalists have been searching for me, all of the legal professionals. They have been searching for me in Ostankino, the place there’s a big police division. However the truth that there’s a police division on the exhibition middle — no journalists knew about that. It’s a secret division, a small police station, and that’s the place they took me.”

“It wasn’t the dungeons of Lubyanka,” she stated, referring to the dreaded headquarters of the Federal Safety Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation, the successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. “There weren’t any handcuffs, they didn’t torture me.”

Nonetheless, her interrogators weren’t messing round.

“They didn’t go away me alone for a second. If somebody needed to go away the room, a special particular person got here in and was with me the entire time. I didn’t know, I’ve by no means been interrogated, so I requested, ‘Why are you following me even to the bathroom?’”

Ovsyannikova was primarily interrogated by two males, she advised me in our dialog — one taking the lead, the opposite serving to out. Each have been of their mid-30s, neither significantly imposing, and she or he had the sensation they have been lackeys finishing up another person’s bidding.

“This was not some type of skillful interrogator from Lubyanka who’s tremendous clever, who’s immersed within the political world,” she stated. The primary inquisitor was “such an peculiar common Joe.”

As the lads questioned her, their telephones saved ringing. Ovsyannikov might hear them discuss with their higher-ups, who advised them how the world was responding to Ovsyannikova’s protest and subsequent disappearance as they debated what sort of expenses to deliver towards her.

“The scenario was consistently altering. … The interrogator was saying, ‘Oh, will this be administrative expenses? No, it’s prison, we’ll put you in jail,’” Ovsyannikova stated. “They have been looking ahead to my response, and for the reactions from the worldwide neighborhood.”

The primary massive second got here when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Ovsyannikova for her protest in his nightly address simply after 2 a.m. — saying he was grateful “particularly to the woman who entered the studio of Channel One with a poster towards the conflict.”

However the actual breakthrough got here later that morning, when French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern over Ovsyannikova’s whereabouts, telling reporters: “We’re clearly taking steps geared toward providing your colleague our safety on the embassy or an asylum safety.”

As quickly as Macron made these feedback, the interrogator’s cellphone rang with directions to impose administrative expenses, carrying a most sentence of solely 10 days, slightly than prison ones, which might have seen her imprisoned for as much as 15 years.

“I might hear a part of the dialog,” Ovsyannikova advised me. “I understood they have been getting calls from greater administration, and so they got some extra questions. Clearly, they have been advised what to ask me. After which the investigator was joking, ‘Oh, now Macron is asking you, one thing goes to vary.’”

“It’s attainable that Macron along with his very quick response and provide of political asylum — it’s attainable that saved me from prison expenses,” she stated.

However escaping prison expenses turned out to be a special type of punishment.

Dissident or Stooge?

To many Russians and Russia-watchers, all of it appears so unlikely.

The incongruities within the story of Marina O. are mind-boggling: A veteran propagandist straight out of central casting out of the blue grows a conscience and blows up her comfy life by talking out towards a regime she spent 20 years propping up. The very fact she was capable of burst onto the set of Vremya, Russia’s showcase night information program, and made it to air with out being dragged off by guards or dumped by a censor. The choice by authorities to offer her solely an administrative punishment regarding an anti-war video she posted on social media, slightly than pursue prison expenses for the TV protest itself. Her lenient fantastic of 30,000 rubles (at the moment, round $280), slightly than the threatened 15-year jail sentence. The very fact she was subsequently freed and free to talk with Western media.

After which, a month later, she had a brand new job as a contributing author at Germany’s Die Welt newspaper (which is owned by POLITICO’s mother or father firm, Axel Springer); Die Welt editors provided me an interview together with her on the situation that I not disclose her whereabouts, sure information about her household scenario or her plans for the long run. I’m allowed to say that once we spoke, she was not in Russia.

What I needed to find out about her was the identical query everybody who’d seen her protest gave the impression to be asking: Is Ovsyannikova a dissident — or a Kremlin stooge?

After Die Welt introduced it had employed Ovsyannikova, a Ukrainian youth group known as Vitsche Berlin protested outdoors the newspaper’s workplace. In a statement, the activists stated they have been against Ovsyannikova’s appointment as a result of, “It’s inconceivable to examine whether or not Marina Ovsyannikova has stopped cooperating with Russia.”

“She paid a paltry $250 fantastic as punishment and was capable of go away Russian territory unhindered. The Russian regime has already convicted a number of folks of as much as 10 years in jail for comparable anti-war actions.”

“There isn’t a such factor as ex-propaganda and no such factor as ex-propagandists,” the assertion stated. (Vitsche Berlin didn’t reply to a request for an interview.)

Ovsyannikova advised me she understands the skeptics and needs to set the file straight.

On the query of why she obtained such a lightweight punishment, Ovsyannikova stated it was a “genius” transfer by the Kremlin that concurrently took her out of the headlines and undermined her credibility.

“I’m able to do a polygraph, to reply any query,” she advised me. “The Kremlin is fairly good. They’ve thought it by way of, and so they have an excellent technique: They’re attempting in each attainable solution to devalue my motion, to humiliate me, to denigrate me, to cowl me with grime.”

“In Russia, they name me a British spy or a traitor,” Ovsyannikova continued. “To get Ukrainians to doubt me, they throw into the combo that I’m an agent of the FSB. … So I’m hated on one aspect and on the opposite — and for the Kremlin, that’s very helpful. I believe they’re in all probability rubbing their arms in glee proper now, eager about how nice a job they’ve accomplished resolving this downside.”

After all, one of many results of propaganda and cynical false flag operations, which Russia regularly conducts and accuses others of conducting, is that it turns into very troublesome to imagine something is real. The purpose of Putin’s propaganda machine — which Ovsyannikova herself helped construct — is the paradox and the concern. And the result’s she will be able to get on the air waving an anti-war placard, and there shall be many individuals who imagine she had sinister motives, was a pawn in somebody’s sport, on somebody’s payroll, or a part of a Kremlin operation to display leniency to anti-war protesters at a time when hundreds had been jailed for much much less seen anti-war statements.

Given the questions swirling about Ovsyannikova’s bona fides, why did Die Welt determine to offer her a job?

“She’s a logo of a Russian dwelling in cognitive dissonance — realizing the Western world however dwelling in a system which has to break down so as to create the liberty to dwell within the Western system,” says Ulf Poschardt, Die Welt’s editor-in-chief. “So I believe we ought to be open to individuals who determine to not be part of the system any extra.”

Many Russian journalists who’ve risked their lives to report about corruption and different Kremlin misdeeds, in some circumstances for many years, bristle on the consideration given to Ovsyannikova. They don’t see why she ought to be praised for one act of protest after they’ve been laboring for many years at risk and obscurity — and now, in lots of circumstances, in exile.

Die Welt editors argue that if Russia goes to have any likelihood at evolving in a democratic route, it’s going to require many Marinas nonetheless working inside its energy buildings to make the same psychological and political break.

“And you recognize the German historical past and the historical past within the twentieth century additionally. We have now colleagues who spent their lives being journalists within the GDR [Communist East Germany] and who turned excellent journalists right here,” Poschardt added.

Contained in the Data Struggle

For anybody confounded by Ovsyannikova’s sudden conversion from Kremlin propagandist to truth-teller, it’s essential to grasp what she did at Channel One.

Since 2003, Ovsyannikova’s job was to look at Western information streams and press conferences, searching for tidbits that made the West look unhealthy and Russia look good. As such, she was one of many few folks in Russia with unfettered entry to Reuters, the BBC, the Related Press, The New York Occasions and POLITICO.

“On this seek for data, the evaluation of it, I used to be trying on the footage, watching all of the press conferences, you recognize, the [U.S.] State Division, the European Fee, all our officers, the U.N. Safety Council,” she advised me.

Over time, Ovsyannikova stated, the hole between what these Western sources have been reporting, and what Russian media like her personal Channel One advised their audiences, saved rising. It nagged at her. Earlier in her life, she voted for Putin. She turned a journalist throughout what she known as the “golden age” of Russian journalism, impressed by Zhanna Agalakova (who would later grow to be Ovsyannikova’s Channel One colleague earlier than additionally quitting the station herself over its stance on Putin’s conflict on Ukraine), Svetlana Sorokina (who now hosts a weekly talk show on under-attack impartial channel TV Rain), and Alexander Nevzorov (who’s facing a criminal case for reporting on Russia’s shelling of the Mariupol maternity hospital in Ukraine). However now her values have been clashing an increasing number of straight with what she was doing at work.

“I labored on the overseas desk, I noticed the response of the opposite aspect, I noticed what folks stated. I learn the reviews, for example about [the downing of MH17]. I noticed how our authorities is mendacity, and this turned a logo of the Kremlin — lies and fixed cynicism. It was apparent. I used to be brewing on this setting, on this political, worldwide setting, I used to be watching all of this. And for me, this revulsion grew over time. And during the last years, it had grown a lot that I turned sick over it.”

The start of the top for her, Ovsyannikova says, was not the assassinations of Kremlin critics, the shuttering of independent media, or the elimination of direct gubernatorial elections. It was Putin’s move, in December 2012, to ban People from adopting Russian youngsters — a call introduced in retaliation towards U.S. sanctions — which prevented hundreds of orphans from escaping dire situations in Russian orphanages and discovering loving households.

“We spoke about it with such cynicism on Channel Every one different authorities channels,” stated Ovsyannikova, who was by then a mom of two young children herself. “We have been so merciless. … These poor youngsters who have been already en path to the U.S. and bought caught.”

She acknowledges her function in supporting Putin’s propaganda machine: “Now I’ve gotten to the purpose the place I perceive, with horror, the injustices which have occurred in our nation, the way it all grew, and why we saved working for state channels and continued mendacity.”

Then, on February 24 this yr, Putin declared conflict on Ukraine. Ovsyannikova — who’s half Ukrainian and was born within the southern Ukrainian port metropolis of Odesa however spent a lot of her childhood in Grozny, the capital of the breakaway Russian area of Chechnya — says one thing broke inside her. Chechnya was the goal of two Russian wars, and so they turned her into an inner refugee.

“From the age of seven to round 13 years previous I lived in Grozny. When the conflict was beginning in Grozny, we heard gunshots, explosions outdoors our home windows.” She says her mom, who was elevating Ovsyannikova on her personal after the dying of her father when she was 5 months previous, was compelled to go away all the pieces behind to flee to security.

Putin’s declaration of conflict on Ukraine “was a double set off for me,” she stated. “It’s not solely that my roots are Ukrainian, my father was Ukrainian, however along with this in my childhood I had lived by way of what Ukrainian refugees live by way of.”

At Channel One, as with the opposite Russian state-run TV channels (together with RT, the place according to Meduza, Ovsyannikova’s ex-husband now heads up the Spanish service), editorial route got here straight from the highest.

“All of the directions descended from the Kremlin,” Ovsyannikova advised me. “The decision comes from the Kremlin to the highest man, Kirill Kleimyonov, the director of the [Channel One] information service. … Then there are these every day morning, afternoon and night briefings, at which they talk about what we’re going to indicate and in what manner we’re going to current it.”

After February 24, these directions included directives to not name Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a conflict. “As quickly because the conflict began we stopped exhibiting any footage from worldwide information businesses, we solely took footage from the protection ministry or from our correspondents on the entrance traces from Donetsk and Luhansk — no different clips. We didn’t present the extent of the humanitarian disaster, the refugees in Poland. Although I might see it on my display, we clearly didn’t present it.”

Ovsyannikova’s first intuition was to go to the streets to protest. However as she’s advised a number of information organizations, her teenage son stopped her, hiding her car keys.

“The concept of the protest through the dwell broadcast was pretty spontaneous,” she advised me, and got here collectively the day earlier than she went by way of with it. She made the poster and necklace and recorded a brief video on Sunday, March 13. “It was such a powerful emotional impulse that I knew it needed to be accomplished on Monday, as a result of if I didn’t do it on Monday, then on Tuesday I might simply resign.”

She smuggled her poster into the TV studio rolled up within the sleeve of her jacket. When she bought into work for her shift at 2 p.m., Ovsyannikova stated she used her safety go to enter the newsroom, then sat searching for a chance.

Vremya’s host, Yekaterina Andreyeva, was separated from the remainder of the newsroom by glass and guarded by safety. However, Ovsyannikova says, the guard was “buried in her cellphone, so I noticed that was my likelihood.”

She added: “I used to be 90 p.c certain that it wouldn’t work. I honestly simply didn’t suppose that it might occur so powerfully and strongly. So I didn’t actually suppose by way of the implications. Loads of my mates now are blaming me for not deleting their numbers [from my phone] as a result of they’re having issues, they’re getting calls.”

Lots of Ovsyannikova’s detractors have expressed doubts that Russian information is actually broadcast dwell. Don’t they’ve a delay of no less than a number of seconds or minutes like many Western channels do? Ovsyannikova insists that there have been so many alternative information broadcasts at Channel One at totally different instances of day throughout the nation’s 11 time zones {that a} delay was simply impractical. Since her protest, nonetheless — the primary time something of the type has occurred in Vremya’s 54-year historical past — Channel One has now carried out a one-minute delay. (Quite a few former colleagues and fact-checking experts have backed up Ovsyannikova’s account.)

“On each channel, all of the information was transmitted dwell, proper up till my protest,” she stated. “Now on Channel One, there’s a one-minute delay, from what I do know.”

She added: “Individuals ask me why a few of my signal was in English. It was actually meant for a overseas viewers, to indicate that not all Russians are idiots. … There are lots of people who find themselves towards the conflict.”

Mom Russia

In our dialog, Ovsyannikova volunteered one thing that she’s additionally advised different information organizations, that she has no plans to emigrate to the West.

“Life has modified very a lot, in fact. However I’m not inclined to to migrate. … There’s no prison investigation into me proper now, so I’m a free particular person, I’m a citizen of Russia.”

I requested whether or not Ovsyannikova is worried in regards to the hazard she might face by returning to Moscow. In any case, she hasn’t been prosecuted but for her precise protest, and Russian authorities might determine to do this at any second.

“They’re watching me, they’re watching each step I take,” she acknowledged. “At any second they might deliver a prison case towards me. My legal professionals say, ‘You’re stress-free too quickly, they might jail anybody at any second.’”

I can’t assist however keep in mind that some journalists and Kremlin critics have confronted fates worse than jail. I ask Ovsyannikova if she remembers Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who survived poison administered through a cup of tea earlier than being shot dead in October 2006 within the elevator of her Moscow residence constructing. Because it occurs, I interviewed Politkovskaya simply 5 months earlier than she was killed, when she advised me, “In Russia, you may grow to be too well-known for assassination.” She’d been incorrect. Ovsyannikova clearly believes fame shall be a security web for her, nonetheless.

“I’m not afraid for one easy motive,” Ovsyannikova advised me. “A choice was made to hush up this case as shortly as attainable, so folks neglect as quickly as attainable and nobody talks to me. … Why am I doing these interviews? I’m doing these interviews so I’ve safety of some form.”

Towards the top of our interview, I requested Ovsyannikova whether or not she regrets her protest.

“I wouldn’t change something,” she insisted. “Perhaps I woke Russians up just a little bit, made them suppose just a little bit about what they’re advised on TV.”

“I believe in lots of [Russians] it raised doubts,” she continued. “As a result of it’s one factor if you happen to’re sitting in your kitchen and discussing with your loved ones how the Kremlin is terrible as a result of they began this horrible conflict, and you are feeling alone and afraid. However whenever you see you’re not alone, when somebody like me reveals you there are folks on TV, within the coronary heart of the knowledge wars, who suppose the identical manner … that’s psychologically highly effective.”