Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 131

Igor Golembiovsky, editor-in-chief of Russia’s leading liberal newspaper, Izvestia, has lost a long-running battle to keep his job. On July 5 the board of directors effectively dismissed Golembiovsky when it voted to bar him from standing for re-election as chief editor. (RTR, Ekho Moskvy, July 5) The meeting was dominated by major corporate shareholders LUKoil and Oneksimbank.

Izvestia’s current circulation of 610,000 is a fraction of the 12.5 million subscribers it boasted in 1990, when it was the newspaper of the Soviet government. Izvestia remodeled itself after the Soviet collapse but, like other newspapers, had to turn to big business for capital to keep afloat. The present row began on April 1, when Izvestia published an article speculating about the size of the personal fortune amassed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during his time as chairman of Gazprom. Chernomyrdin was reportedly furious, believing the article to be an attempt to discredit him by his deputy, Anatoly Chubais.

The shareholders tried to curry favor with Chernomyrdin by sacking Golembiovsky, who was strongly supported by the editorial staff. After a long battle of wills, a compromise seemed to have been hammered out under which the editorial team would propose the editor and the shareholders would approve their choice. Then, on July 1, Izvestia published an article linking Chubais to irregularities in the use of an interest-free loan from Moscow’s Stolichny Bank. The article claimed that Chubais used the loan to speculate on treasury bills and that he "repaid" the loan by facilitating Stolichny’s takeover of another financial institution, Agroprombank. Chubais responded July 5 by denying that he had done anything wrong, but the attack was the last straw and the shareholders moved that same day to sack Golembiovsky, who was said personally to have authorized publication of the attack on Chubais. (RTR, Ekho Moskvy, July 5)

Izvestia is not the only Russian newspaper to have fallen foul of corporate interests with close ties to the government. Some see this as a natural feature of Russia’s transition to a market economy and point out that Izvestia is now much freer than it was when it was run by the Soviet government. But the phenomenon is nonetheless troubling and the fate of other Russian newspapers is not encouraging. The editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya pravda, Russia’s largest mass circulation daily, lost his job in the spring when Oneksimbank acquired a controlling interest and appointed their own man. Observers say that Komsomolskaya pravda has since become much milder in its criticism of the government and big business. (BBC World Service, July 5)

Russian Parliament Approves Controversial Law on Religion.