In a new video, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained why you can’t always rely on Wikipedia when state-backed media is available.
“Of course, objective, important, in-depth information that’s been gathered properly and skillfully…this is in great demand,” Putin said, according to a translation of the video by journalist Kevin Rothrock. “And that’s why you can’t just use Wikipedia. And we know the quality of the information there. But when you have talented people who are professionals whose opinions you can trust, that is, of course, worth a lot. It’s like an encyclopedia, but living and breathing.”
The 30 second clip appeared on the social media accounts of RIA, a Kremlin-owned news organization. Putin is, presumably, upset that Russians still have a place online where they can go to learn the details of their country’s disastrous war in Ukraine.
Putin has long sought to discredit Wikipedia and has repeatedly attacked the site and threatened to block it in Russia. In March, Moscow’s censorship office sent a letter to Wikipedia promising to block the site if it didn’t delete information about Russian casualties in Ukraine. Wikipedia refused to capitulate.
In neighboring Belarus, police are arresting Wikipedia editors. After the arrest of one editor in Belarus, several of the articles they had edited were accessed and changes made. In one example, someone removed sections of an article about the personal sanctions against Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko.
In a 2019 speech, Putin outlined a plan to establish a new Wikipedia. Putin bemoaned foreign attacks on the Russian language and noted the need for an encyclopedia written, first and foremost, in Russian. “It’s better to replace it with the Great Russian Encyclopedia in electronic form,” he said. “That information will at least be reliable, presented in good modern form.”
It’s getting harder every day for Russians to get information about the world around them that doesn’t come directly from state-backed sources. Twitter and Facebook are blocked for anyone who isn’t using a Tor browser. Wikipedia remains up, but is constantly fighting with the Kremlin. Why the site remains up is a mystery. The Kremlin briefly blocked Wikipedia in 2015 after demanding the site limit access to articles about drugs.