DIMITROVGRAD, Russia -- A journalist in Russia's Ulyanovsk region has accused the mayor of the region's second-largest city of physically striking him two times after the journalist failed to stand for the playing of the national anthem.
Dimitrovgrad Mayor Aleksei Koshayev has denied striking journalist Kyaman Kichemaikin, although he admitted calling the reporter a "traitor" for not rising at the May 23 event celebrating Russia's border-guard forces.
After Kichemaikin complained to police about the alleged incident, the mayor asked his legal team to consider filing a criminal-libel complaint in response.
Kichemaikin told RFE/RL that he was busy working on his story and didn't notice that the anthem was playing. He was surprised when Koshayev stood up to address the gathering and pointed out Kichemaikin, calling him a "traitor."
Afterward, Kichemaikin said he approached Koshayev, who began berating him and cursing him. The mayor then struck him twice in the head, the journalist said.
The local edition of the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a photograph showing what appeared to be a small wound on Kichemaikin's head.
Koshayev declined to comment for this story. However, on Facebook he gave his take on what happened:
"After the national anthem, it was my turn to speak and in my presentation, I pointed to this person's unworthy behavior and called him a traitor. In my opinion, he is a traitor to our ideals, a traitor to the memory of those who died for our motherland, and a traitor to the fatherland. After the event, this journalist wanted a comment from me. But I, upset over his blatant disrespect to everyone, did not consider it necessary to speak with him. I brushed past him, got into my car, and left. What else might have happened, I did not see."
"The accusation that I struck this person is groundless and unfounded. As you know, I am an officer of the paratroops. I am in excellent physical shape. If I struck this man at even half-strength, it is unlikely he would then get up and go off somewhere to write about it. Does anyone really have any doubts about the physical preparedness of Russian paratroopers?"
He concluded that he regarded the incident as a "provocation" and that he had asked administration lawyers to look into filing a libel complaint.
The following day, Koshayev posted a video report by a local Internet television project called DimTV73 in which the head of the local nongovernmental organization of the families of servicemen, Zinaida Zubareva, said she twice asked Kichemaikin to stand during the ceremony and he responded with a look that, she said, made her want to "give him one."
The same video report quoted the head of a local veterans organization, Vitaly Krainov, as condemning such behavior, "especially for a journalist, who should be teaching people to respect their country and its flag and anthem." He added his personal opinion that Kichemaikin's behavior brought shame to the publication he works for, DimGrad 24, and that its editor should be fired.
DimGrad 24 Editor in Chief Natalya Vasileva told RFE/RL that even if Kichemaikin failed to stand for the anthem, the mayor's behavior was unacceptable.
"As I understand it, the correspondent did absolutely nothing to provoke such a response," she said. "From a legal and an ethical point of view, it is absolute nonsense and we've never had anything like it before in Dimitrovgrad. When you are working as a journalist, it would be insane to imagine that some bureaucrat is going to punch you. This is absolutely unacceptable. It isn't about the anthem, but in what happened. The law prohibits people from beating other people."
"We are a media outlet that is not under the control of the city administration," Vasileva added. "We have no contracts and no personal relations with the administration. If the mayor screws up, we say he screwed up. If he does something good, we say that too. We criticize the mayor and the governor and bureaucrats. But that is all normal. The mayor's behavior indicates there is something wrong with the way he views the world."
Koshayev, 42, is a member of the ruling United Russia party and has been mayor of Dimitrovgrad since 2016. Konstantin Dolgov, chairman of the regional party committee, told RFE/RL he had discussed the situation with the mayor and the journalist.
"Koshayev denies everything," Dolgov said. "So we have decided to wait for the results of the investigation by police. If it is established that Koshayev struck someone, regardless of whether it is seen as a criminal or an administrative violation, we will adopt the strictest possible decision from the party's point of view."