Since his invasion of Ukraine, Vladmir Putin has exponentially increased the suppression of free speech in Russia, from banning Facebook to shuttering independent media outlets like Echo of Moscow. This assault on free press reverberates into Southern California, as Mike Ciriaco discusses with journalist Eugene Levin in the second part of our interview series, ‘To Ukraine With Love.’
“My paper, for many years, was forbidden to distribute in Russia because they consider it too pro-American. Even they blocked us online,” said Eugene Levin, the owner of Panorama Media Group, a Los Angeles based Russian language media outlet, speaking with a prominent Slavic accent. “First some people write us, why we couldn’t read it in Russia. Maybe it’s a technical problem, changed provider? No it was decision made by government.”
Born in communist Kyiv, Levin emigrated to Los Angeles in 1987, the same time Putin was serving with the KGB in East Germany. Two years later, the future Russian Dictator witnessed first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall, and subsequent dissolution of the USSR.
Some political pundits, such as Susan Glasser, author of Kremlin Rising, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution hypothesize that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an attempt to resuscitate a romanticized Soviet Empire.
“It was back in 2005 that Putin said that the break up of the Soviet Union was the greatest, not just a great tragedy, but the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” explained Glasser during a CNN interview in December 2021. “Never mind WW2, the gulags, never mind WWI.”
While Levin agrees that Putin’s desire to resurrect the former Soviet Union is a factor in the invasion, he also feels that Biden carries some blame for this situation by initially undermining its severity.
“Putin decided it’s the right time to invade now, because he saw how America reacted when Biden told, “if it’s a big invasion it’s one thing, if it’s small a different thing,” said Levin. He was referencing Biden’s statement during a press conference back in January.
“Its one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” said Biden, “and then we end up fighting about what we have to do and not do, et cetera.”
To put it in perspective, Eugene framed the situation in local terms.
“How to find out whats a small invasion or a big invasion. If somebody occupied Orange County or San Diego County, it’s a small invasion, according to this logic. If it would be California, that’s more like a big invasion.
But I don’t think Washington wants even San Diego County occupied by somebody. Especially, he saw what happened in Afghanistan, how we ‘evacuated,’ he saw it was the right time to do it. He’s evil but he’s a smart evil.”
Eugene touches upon a common opinion expressed across these interviews Hey SoCal conducted. Although these people may not agree with Putin, they respect his intelligence, as we’ll discuss with Daniel Tegay, a Soviet born entrepreneur, in the third installment of our interview series To Ukraine with Love.
And for more of this series, check out To Ukraine With Love part 1