Alisher Usmanov, a metal tycoon and owner of Russia’s leading Kommersant publishing house, fired Kommersant Vlast magazine editor-in-chief Maxim Kovalsky and Kommersant-Holdingexecutive director Andrey Galiev.
The reason for the dismissals, according to Usmanov, was the magazine’s latest issue which talked about alleged mass fraud in parliamentary elections in Russia, particularly expatriates voting in London and witnessing election law violations. The publication included photos of graffiti and a bullet with foul against Russian prime-minister and United Russia leader Vladimir Putin.
The photos bordered on petty hooliganism, Usmanov told journalists, claiming he had never interfered in editorial policy before. But according to Kommersant Vlast deputy editor Veronika Kutsillo, he had expressed displeasure over previous publications of Kommersant Vlast. Kutsillo is resigning in protest over the firing of her colleagues.
Kommersant publishing house chief executive Demyan Kudryavtsev also tried to resign, but not in protest. He favoured Usmanov’s decision, claiming it had nothing to do with censorship, and saying he was sorry he hadn’t stopped the publication of the photos as they violated journalistic standards, Russian law and Kommersant internal rules. He kept his post, and his statements didn’t surprise fellow journalists.
Demyan Kudryavtsev supported the removal of Russia’s leading independent monitor GOLOS special project The Map of Election Violations from Gazeta.ru website. Kovalsky denied accusations, explaining it was essential to publish the bulletin photo as it was evidence of election law violation — the bulletin was marked with a vote for Yabloko opposition party, but was considered spoiled because of the obscene words against Putin.
Kommersant journalists appealed to the public with an open letter protesting against Kovalsky’s dismissal and considering it “an attempt to intimidate them in order to prevent any critics of Vladimir Putin”. They highlighted that the justification for the dismissal from Kommersant (“violation of journalistic standards”) is “a forgery, just like the one that insulted people on elections”.
Russian Journalists’ Union head Vsevolod Bogdanov accused Kommersant superiors of censorship, predicting dramatic changes in Kommersant human resources policy.
Meanwhile another oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who has announced he will run in the presidential election campaign, said he wants to buy the Kommersant publishing house. Usmanov regarded Prokhorov’s offer as a joke, but Kommersant journalists say official negotiations may still be held.
Usmanov’s actions are seen as examples of two processes in Russia. The first shows how media are controlled by oligarchs who stay loyal to Putin, in exchange for his permission to operate superprofits and stay in Forbes’ list of Russia’s richest men. The price oligarchs pay in this deal is abusing the core principle of media independence by intruding the editorial policy or using antiextremism legislation to silence free speech.
The second process includes the government’s and pro-Kremlin oligarchs concerns on staying at or close to power, which is threatened by more people getting to know that the parliamentary elections were allegedly marked with mass fraud.