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Russian dissident journalist warns no country — not even the US — is safe from fascism after Ukraine war

Erin Snodgrass   

Russian dissident journalist warns no country — not even the US — is safe from fascism after Ukraine war
  • A Russian dissident journalist who suffered a suspected poison attack last year says no country is safe from fascism.
  • Elena Kostyuchenko said she never believed Russia would descend into full-on war.

A Russian opposition journalist who was forced to abandon her reporting in Ukraine soon after Russia invaded due to an assassination threat against her is warning other global citizens to be wary of the warning signs of fascism within their own countries before those warning signs turn to war.

"I honestly believe no country is immune from fascism," Elena Kostyuchenko told Insider.

The dissident journalist and gay rights advocate made a name for herself as the youngest ever staff member at Novaya Gazeta, the famed Russian independent newspaper known for its defiant investigative journalism amid an increasingly hostile Russian media landscape.

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Novaya was shuttered and Kostyuchenko was forced to flee Ukraine amid credible threats that a Chechen subdivision of Russia's internal military force had orders to capture and kill her near Mariupol.

More than a year later, Kostyuchenko is still seeking answers as to how her country descended into full-on war.

While promoting her new book "I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country" last month, Kostyuchenko spoke to Insider about her journalism career; the suspected poisoning attack she suffered in Germany last fall, and the rise of fascism in Russia and beyond.

Her book, she told Insider, was an effort to track how the seeds of fascism in Russia flourished into a brutal war.

"Russia didn't become a fascist country on the 24th of February 2022," Kostyuchenko said. "It was going on long before that."

The country has a long and varied authoritarian history and President Vladimir Putin's two-decade regime has been marred by a litany of human rights abuses. But much of the world, including many Russian and Ukrainian citizens were still taken by surprise when Russian tanks rolled into Kyiv in February 2022.

Even as someone who professionally investigated Russia's numerous and noted injustices, Kostyuchenko said she never expected her country would start a war.

"I was so sure that we are immune because for Christ's sake, we fought the fascists. My grandfather did," Kostyuchenko said. "We have whole movies telling us how fascism works, why it's so dangerous, and how it goes from a nice narrative to mass murders. I was totally sure we were immune."

She suggested a creeping nostalgia for the old Soviet days has bred fertile ground for a new wave of Russian fascism — not so dissimilar from American political slogans that harken back to the "good 'ol days."

The US was listed as a "backsliding democracy" for the first time in a 2021 report on the state of global democracy from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. The annual report, which looked at the year 2020, found America had fallen victim to "authoritarian tendencies."

"With what's happening in the world, with this turn toward global authoritarianism and the tendencies you also have in your country, it's not safe," Kostyuchenko said, referencing the US.

She said her book is a handy guide not only for people looking to understand modern-day Russia and the war, but for anyone curious about how easy it is to "lose your country."

"If I could send a letter in the past to myself, I would say: "Be alarmed. Be alarmed. Don't be afraid to be hysterical. Be hysterical if you see your country is going into the darkness," Kostyuchenko told Insider.

Russia's defeat in Ukraine is vital, not only for Ukraine's survival, but for the state of the world, she said.

"If Russia, God forbid, wins in Ukraine — without even accounting for how many people would be killed — it would mean that fascism grew stronger and that a next war will follow," Kostyuchenko said.

"Fascism is an expansive ideology," she added. "You build fascism not just inside your country. No, it's expansive. And it means that a next war will follow and a next war will follow and it will be a nightmare"