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State-funded network's news anchor: 'What Russia did is wrong'

By Greg Botelho, CNN
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 2313 GMT (0713 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: RT didn't reprimand Martin; she says it's "sad" media only reported on this critique
  • Washington-based Abby Martin is an anchor of a Russia Today program, "Breaking the Set"
  • Russia Today, or RT, is funded by and oft seen as in lockstep with Russia's government
  • Martin slams "Russia's military occupation of Crimea," refuses to defend "military aggression"

(CNN) -- Russia Today, RT for short, is funded by its namesake government, even promoted as a top media source on the foreign ministry's website.

Its own site contains story after story defending and explaining Moscow's take on world crises -- chief among them now, what's unfolding in Ukraine. The Columbia Journalism Review notes it is best "known as an extension of former President Vladimir Putin's confrontational foreign policy."

In other words, it's about the last place you'd expect to hear these words: "What Russia did is wrong."

Yet that is exactly what one of RT's anchors, Abby Martin, said Monday night at the end of her "Breaking the Set" program. Moscow was not her lone target -- she also expressed disappointment over coverage and "disinformation" emanating "from all sides of the media spectrum" -- but it was clearly the most noticeable.

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Apparently, her bosses took notice.

The Telegraph reported -- and Martin herself acknowledged -- that the network told her to go to Crimea, the peninsula on the Black Sea where Russian troops reportedly played a part in besieging Ukrainian military bases in the days after that country's Russian-leaning president was ousted.

"But I am not going to Crimea despite the statement RT has made," Martin tweeted.

Martin is still working for the network, even taking the air again Tuesday night. As RT noted in a statement, Martin called it "kind of a sad commentary that" -- while she's regularly spoken out against military intervention -- "my only criticism of Russia's actions was picked up" by the media.

The network said that Martin "has not been reprimanded" for voicing her opinion, something it said that all "RT journalists and hosts are free to express."

The whole saga has offered an interesting glimpse into the volatile situation in Ukraine, Russian state media and RT, in particular.

The Ukrainian crisis has been brewing since last November, when protesters were angry about then-President Viktor Yanukovych's move away from a European Union trade pact and toward an apparently closer relationship with Moscow.

Other issues -- including how much control a president should have and his government's treatment of dissenters -- also came into play. Finally, after a few days of violent confrontations between demonstrators and security forces, Yanukovych fled to Russia, and a new pro-Western government took over.

That's when Russia reportedly stepped in.

Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine's U.N. ambassador, claimed Russia used planes, boats and helicopters to flood the peninsula with 16,000 troops. And Ukrainian officials say disguised Russian troops have laid siege to military installations around the Crimean peninsula.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied sending any more of his country's troops into the country, or that any of the up to 25,000 troops who are stationed there have played any part in the standoff, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Many don't believe him, including various Western officials and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

And, apparently, Martin -- who touts her art on her website and has surmised the U.S. government was complicit in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- is among them.

In her end-of-show commentary, Martin said she wanted "to say something from my heart about the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and Russia's military occupation of Crimea."

"I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs. What Russia did is wrong.

"I admittedly don't know as much as I should about Ukraine's history or the cultural dynamics of the region," she added. "But what I do know is that military intervention is never the answer. And I will not sit here and apologize (for) and defend military aggression."

Martin -- a native Californian and San Diego State University graduate, according to the citizen journalism initiative Media Roots she founded -- prefaced her remarks by saying that, "just because I work here for RT doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence."

That claim may have been belied by the network reportedly ordering Martin to go to Crimea to "better her knowledge," according to the Telegraph report.

RT did retweet multiple messages about Martin's rant from Glenn Greenwald -- the former Guardian reporter known most recently for his work revealing the U.S. National Security Agency's spy policies through former government contractor Edward Snowden, who has since been granted asylum in Russia. Among them: "Who was the @AbbyMartin of @RT in the US television media for Iraq? Do we have one for today's wars?"

And video of her statement was still up on RT's website -- alongside stories about the swelling "self-defense forces" in Crimea and Putin saying Russia reserves the "right" to use military force -- well after she gave it.

That includes her last words: "Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game. They are the real losers here.

"All we can do know is hope for a peaceful outcome to a terrible situation and prevent another full-blown Cold War between multiple superpowers. Until then, I'll keep telling the truth as I see it."

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