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Kremlin dismisses accusations over journalist knife attack

October 24, 2017

The Kremlin dismissed on Tuesday any criticism over the knife attack on a liberal radio journalist as work of a “madman” amid accusations the state fomented an atmosphere of hatred towards dissenters.

Tatyana Felgenhauer, a 32-year-old presenter, was attacked on Monday at the offices of the Echo of Moscow radio station by a man who claimed to have a “telepathic” connection with her.

She underwent surgery and was on a ventilator on Monday but showed signs of improvements and was awake on Tuesday.

“The actions of a madman are the actions of a madman,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Trying to link them to anything is absolutely illogical and wrong,” he said, expressing sympathy to the journalist and the radio station.

The suspect, identified as Boris Grits, a 48-year-old seemingly mentally unstable man, broke into the radio station’s offices in central Moscow and lunged at the journalist with a knife after blinding a security guard with a spray.

Russian media, citing a relative of the suspect, said Grits appeared to suffer from delusions of persecution.

The assault comes after a string of attacks against journalists and other prominent figures, the highest profile of which was Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader gunned down on a bridge near the Kremlin in 2015.

An attack on top opposition politician Alexei Navalny this year left him nearly blind in one eye.

Prominent outspoken journalist and another Echo of Moscow presenter Yulia Latynina left Russia this year after attacks on her car and home.

– ‘Atmosphere of hatred’ –

Many commentators blamed the authorities for the attack, saying they had created an atmosphere in which such an assault became possible.

“Insanity does not appear out of thin air,” Echo of Moscow editor Alexei Venediktov said, blaming the attack on the “atmosphere of hatred, (and) instigation” against journalists.

Political editor of top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Kirill Martynov, said state propaganda effectively sanctioned a witch hunt against dissenters.

“Calls to annihilate political opponents are becoming the norm,” he said.

Felgenhauer featured in a smear documentary by the Rossiya 24 rolling news channel that claimed this month that the Echo of Moscow was in cahoots with foreign non-governmental organisations to undermine Russia.

“Tatyana has her own worldview, her opinion. Someone does not agree with her and criticises her in return too. In this case, we treat both points of view with respect,” Peskov said.

“We are not part of this discussion.”

Another top channel this month broadcast a TV series about US secret agents in which an opposition female journalist has her throat slit.

“Grits’s mental disorder amazingly dovetails with the party line,” Latynina wrote.

“Today the most important question is: was Grits simply a psycho or a psycho who has been used,” she said.

Felgenhauer’s doctors on Tuesday described her condition as grave but stable.

“The patient is awake,” Sergei Petrikov, director of the Sklifosovsky Institute, Moscow’s main emergency hospital, was quoted as saying by the radio.

A hospital representative told AFP earlier Tuesday that the journalist was in a recovery room.

– ‘Lost his mind’ –

The Echo of Moscow, citing doctors, reported that Felgenhauer’s vocal cords had not been damaged and the prognosis was “favourable”.

A Russian court on Tuesday ruled that Grits should be placed under arrest until December 23, the Interfax news agency reported.

He was also set to undergo a psychiatric examination.

The suspect’s relative told mass-circulation newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that Grits, who is a resident of Israel, arrived in Russia more than a month ago and complained that the Echo of Moscow journalist had been stalking him.

The man said Grits looked jittery three days before the attack, adding he was surprised he had hurt the journalist.

“He never fought, he always ran away from problems,” the unidentified man told the newspaper. “There is only one explanation: Boris has lost his mind.”

Police on Monday released a video clip in which the suspect is saying he had known the journalist “telepathically” for years.

“Using this telepathic contact she stole in every night and tormented me,” he said. “She had been (sexually) harassing me for two months.”

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.