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Russia: Business And Politics At A Liberal Weekly

  • Robert Coalson --> Yevgenii Kiselev in 2000 Yevgenii Kiselev, editor of the liberal weekly "Moskovskie novosti," confirmed on 4 July that he had stepped down following months of controversy at the paper. At the same time, it was confirmed the self-exiled Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin had sold the paper to Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich.

Embattled "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev on 4 July confirmed that he had resigned following several months of tension surrounding the liberal Russian weekly, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported.

"I very much hope that the paper will not change its general liberal-democratic orientation, will maintain its healthy opposition...and will preserve the traditions of Russian journalism," Kiselev was quoted by as saying.
"To sell a publication is the sacred right of an owner. At the same time, depending on the policies that the new owner will follow, it is the right of journalists to leave or to remain."

Kiselev, one of Russia's best-known journalists, stepped down after it was reported that the newspaper -- and its English edition, "Moscow News" and its website -- had been sold to Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich's Media International Group. Rabinovich confirmed the deal on Ukraine's Channel 5 television, adding only that the paper would be edited by "one of the best journalists in Russia."

Russian media on 4 July were speculating that the post could be taken over by former NTV journalist and satirist Viktor Shenderovich. However, Shenderovich told Interfax that the rumor is not true. "No, no," he was quoted as saying. "After all, I'm a journalist and editor in chief is something completely different."

Media International owns several broadcast outlets in Ukraine, as well as a number of Internet sites. The company plans a November launch for a European version of the New York-based, Russian-language daily "Novoe russkoe slovo," reported on 4 July.

The company purchased the weekly from former Yukos manager Leonid Nevzlin, who is wanted in Russia on tax-evasion and other charges and who now lives in Israel. on 29 June quoted Nevzlin as saying he would sell the paper to anyone who would "continue to defend freedom of speech." "I will sell it for $1 if need be," Nevzlin said. "[The price] is not important." Nevzlin announced in April that he would cease subsidizing the money-losing "Moskovskie novosti" after a dispute erupted between Kiselev and staff at the paper.

Kiselev, who led the ill-fated fight against the takeover of NTV by Gazprom in 1999-2000 when he was NTV's general director, was named editor in chief of "Moskovskie novosti" in September 2003 when the weekly was purchased by the Open Russia foundations, a charitable organization funded by the Yukos oil company. The announcement came on virtually the same day media reported that Nevzlin had left Russia for exile in Israel. At the time, quoted an unidentified staffer at the weekly as saying that Kiselev would turn the paper into a "mouthpiece" for the Yabloko party.

In January 2004, Kiselev became a founding member of an anti-Putin organization called Committee-2008, and in March 2004 he publicly urged presidential candidate Irina Khakamada to withdraw from the race against President Vladimir Putin in order to keep turnout low. (Shenderovich is also a founding member of Committee-2008.) Kiselev was also a plaintiff in an unsuccessful legal bid to have the results of the December 2003 Duma elections overturned on the grounds that the campaign was unfair.

Kiselev's reputation as a journalist had already been severely tarnished during the 1996 presidential campaign. At that time, Kiselev and NTV led an all-out effort by the oligarch-controlled national media to secure the reelection of President Boris Yeltsin.

When Kiselev took over "Moskovskie novosti," it was also announced that Open Russia would create a Supervisory Council to "guarantee the decency and incorruptibility of the newspaper and to develop its strategic line," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The high-profile board was headed by perestroika ideologue Aleksandr Yakovlev and featured such luminaries as former "Obshchaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Yegor Yakovlev, pollster Yurii Levada, and human-rights activist Lyudmila Alekseeva.

Although many media observers placed considerable hopes in this Supervisory Board, it proved powerless in March 2005, when Kiselev summarily dismissed seven leading "Moskovskie novosti" figures after they signed a letter calling on him to step down. The fired journalists included First Deputy Editor in Chief Lyudmila Telen, Deputy Editor Mikhail Shevelev, Executive Secretary Dmitrii Starovoitov, Deputy Executive Secretary Tatyana Yakhlakova, News Editor Irina Serbina, columnist Tatyana Skorobogatko, and correspondent Dmitrii Pushkar. In their letter they accused Kiselev of "authorizing the practice of publishing political and economic promotional materials under the guise of editorial articles," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. Supervisory Board Chairman Yakovlev described the dismissals as a step "on the path toward collapse, and a serious blow to the democratic press."

A standoff between Kiselev and the board ensued for several months following the dismissals, with the board appealing on 12 April to Nevzlin to transfer ownership of the weekly to the board. On 27 June, the board resigned en masse over its inability to resolve the conflict between Kiselev and the fired journalists.

"Of course, these are not the most pleasant things, but it is part of the profession, part of life," Kiselev told on 4 July. "To sell a publication is the sacred right of an owner. At the same time, depending on the policies that the new owner will follow, it is the right of journalists to leave or to stay."
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    Robert Coalson

    Robert Coalson covers Russia, the Balkans, and Eastern Europe. Send story tips to