Steshyn is well-known in Russia with a large following through his work that has included extensive coverage of the Chechen Wars in the 1990s and the Arab Spring. His paper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a right-leaning daily, is considered controversial for occasionally extreme views expressed in editorials and political columns. Its political columnist, for instance, once expressed regret that Nazi Germany didn’t kill the ancestors of Russian opposition activists.
In May, Steshyn was among 300 journalists who received ‘The Order of Merit’ medal from Russian president Putin following the Crimea annexation coverage. The ceremony was closed to the public and no list of receptors was published, because this information ‘is not for everyone’, a Kremlin spokesperson told the BBC. The list was posted online by a group called the Anonymous International, famous for a number of whistleblower campaigns against the Russian government.
I reached out to Steshyn on the phone to ask about the social media posts on Ronzheimer’s reporting. In a tense conversation, he said he stands by his calls for Ronzheimer’s arrest and that the German’s reporting didn’t qualify as journalism.
“What if I paid a homeless drunk to vote several times in German elections? They’d arrest or deport me!” Steshyn says. (Ronzheimer says he didn’t pay the Ukraine voter.) Steshyn adds that he will continue helping expose Western journalists involved in what he calls “propaganda’ reporting on the Eastern Ukraine conflict.
That has gotten more difficult lately. On May 30, the Kiev government formally banned Steshyn from entering the country. Ukraine’s security service, in a public statement, accused him of being a “press pool journalist for Eastern Ukraine terrorists.” Nevertheless, Steshyn continues to report from the region, he told me. He didn’t say how he was able to enter the country, but Ukraine’s eastern border is notoriously porous.
Following a similar ban by the Kiev government, a Komsomolskaya Pravda colleague, Alexander Kots, reported in a recent dispatch that he managed to get back to the East by bribing Ukrainian border guards.