Three top editors have left the respected Russian media group RBC, whose investigative reporting has scrutinized the dealings of the country's business and political elites, including President Vladimir Putin's friends and family.
RBC General Director Nikolai Molibog said on May 13 that Yelizaveta Osetinskaya, editor in chief of the overall media group; Maksim Solyus, editor of the RBK newspaper; and Roman Badanin, editor of its news agency "are leaving the company as of May 13 due to the absence of common viewpoints regarding the company's future."
RBC shot to national prominence thanks in large part to its investigative reporting since it was purchased by billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov in 2010.
This reporting has at times irritated the Kremlin. Text messages between Molibog and a Kremlin official that were leaked by a hacking group last year indicate that RBC's coverage of the Ukraine conflict angered senior officials responsible for overseeing the media.
In one text to Molibog, who confirmed the veracity of the communications, the official used the word "brutal" to describe an RBC report about Russian soldiers fighting Kyiv's forces alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The exit of the three editors, which comes amid widespread speculation that the Kremlin's frustration with the company's independent-minded editorial approach is mounting, triggered immediate fears that RBC's investigative reporting would be reined in.
"Independent journalism has died in Russia over the past few years, and RBC during these two years has become the most important independent publication in Russia with first-rate investigation and an unassailable reputation," the Riga-based Russian news portal Meduza wrote in a May 13 editorial.
"Today, a true miracle was destroyed right before our eyes," it added.
Osetinskaya, a former editor in chief of the respected Vedomosti daily, and Badanin wrote in May 13 Facebook posts that they were not commenting on their departures.
Osetinskaya said she was "shocked" by the outpouring of support. "That means it wasn't all in vain," she wrote.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by the Interfax news agency on May 13 as saying that the departure of the RBC editors was not linked to politics or pressure from the Kremlin.
The announcement comes amid media reports that the Moscow city police have launched investigations into alleged fraud in a company controlled by RBC, which owns a news portal, a television channel, a newspaper, and a magazine among other entities.
A spate of recent national TV reports have also been critical of Prokhorov, who has largely played by the Kremlin's rules since Putin came to power 16 years ago.
In 2012, he ran against Putin in the presidential election with a pro-business campaign that was widely seen as approved by the Kremlin in order to allow liberal voters to vent dissatisfaction with the government at the ballot box.
In January 2015, RBC became the first media outlet to write about Katerina Tikhonova, the young woman believed to be Putin's younger daughter -- despite the Kremlin's long-running refusal to confirm details about the president's family. Tikhonova is currently running a development project at Moscow State University.
RBC did not identify Tikhonova as Putin's daughter in the article -- that claim was made later by journalist Oleg Kashin and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny on social networks.
In a broadcast last month, Russian state media boss and television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov held up a copy of RBC's newspaper and accused the holding of helping the United States with its deep coverage of the Panama Papers financial-document leak, in which Putin allies figure.
With reporting by Meduza and TASS