Two Russian reporters appear to have posted at least 30 articles to a pro-Kremlin news site, lenta.ru, on Monday criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his government’s suppression of critics.
CNN reviewed the articles -- which were almost immediately taken down -- some pegged to the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, others criticizing the Russian leader for using Victory Day to justify his bloody onslaught into Ukraine.
Reporters Egor Polyakov and Alexandra Miroshnikova made several claims in their articles, including that Russian defense officials were “lying to relatives” about those killed in the sinking of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva and accusing 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 on lenta.ru. "Putin and his associates won’t be able to justify themselves or flee after losing this war."
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 Russian Sberbank, 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.
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 can result in a 1.5 million ruble (around $21,467) fine or up to 15 years in prison. Putin and state-owned media still refer to the full-scale ground war in Ukraine as a "special operation."
Independent Russian news site Mediazone published what it said was a statement from Polyakov and Miroshnikova after the articles appeared.
“Putin is a paranoid dictator,” they’re 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 invasion but accused 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 in the duo’s Victory Day series focused on what they described as the Russian military lying to families of sailors who died on the Moskva flagship. CNN has previously reported on anxious Russian parents scrambling for information about the fate of sailors aboard the ship that was sunk by two Ukrainian missiles sunk last month.
The article claimed the Russian navy may have re-circulated 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 on lenta.ru 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!"
Reporting critical of the government in Russian media is rare – especially since the war in Ukraine started in February. The last major journalistic show of dissent from state media was when long-time Russian TV editor Marina Ovsyannikova held up an anti-war sign during a live broadcast on Russia’s Channel 1 in March. She was arrested and fined 30,000 rubles.
Ovsyannikova is now reporting for a German-owned news outlet from Russia and Ukraine.