The BBC has lodged a formal protest with the Russian authorities after one of its news crews was attacked while looking into reports Russian soldiers had been killed near Ukraine’s border.
Unidentified men assaulted BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg, a producer and a cameraman, and destroyed their camera in southern Russia on Tuesday, the broadcaster said.
The attack happened after Mr Rosenberg and his team had interviewed the sister of a Russian soldier who was told he had been killed in military exercises “on the border with Ukraine”.
The camerman, who was not named, is being treated for concussion. The BBC said: “We deplore this act of violence against our journalists and call on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and to condemn the assault.”
It added: “After filming in the city of Astrakhan, our team was assaulted by unidentified men in a co-ordinated attack. Our staff were badly beaten, their camera destroyed and then taken.
“After alerting the emergency services, the team was taken to a police station for four hours of questioning after which they discovered that recording equipment – which was in their vehicle, at the police station – had been electronically wiped.
“The attack on our staff, and the destruction of their equipment and recordings, were clearly part of a co-ordinated attempt to stop accredited news journalists reporting a legitimate story.” According to Mr Rosenberg, the team had their identities checked and the boot of their vehicle examined while investigating “persistent reports of Russian servicemen being sent to fight in Ukraine”.
After the interview with the dead soldier’s sister, they went to a cafe in Astrakhan, a city in southern Russia close to the Caspian Sea. Mr Rosenberg, who filed a report on the attack for Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday morning, said: “When we left the cafe and approached our vehicle, we were confronted and attacked by at least three aggressive individuals.
“Our cameraman was knocked to the ground and beaten. The attackers grabbed the BBC camera, smashed it on the road and took it away in their getaway car.”
He added: “On the way to the airport, we discovered that, while we had been at the police station, some of the recording equipment in the car had been tampered with.
“Fortunately, we had uploaded the interview to London earlier in the day. But why would anyone set out to destroy our material and to silence the sister of a Russian soldier?”
Pyotr Rusanov, an Astrakhan police spokesman, said officers arrived shortly after the attack and were still searching for the culprits. “At the moment, the attackers have not been detained, but an investigation is being carried out,” he said.
On Tuesday, a Nato military officer said Russia still had about 1,000 soldiers along with hundreds of combat vehicles and artillery pieces inside Ukraine.
Russia has denied sending troops into eastern Ukraine to prop up a rebellion by pro-Moscow separatists, despite what Washington and other western powers say is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.