Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 60

The newspaper “Kommersant daily,” which led its March 24 edition with an article headlined, “Russia Has Lost US$15 Billion Thanks to Primakov”–which criticized the prime minister for aborting his flight to Washington for talks–continued its attack today. In a statement published on the front page, the newspaper’s “editorial collegium” insisted that by turning his plane around, Primakov had “turned Russia to the side of war.” It also expressed fears that comments made by Primakov yesterday, calling for a “mobilization” of Russia’s “domestic resources,” was the first step toward “a new turn in the arms race, enforced political and financial self-isolation of the country, the strengthening of the state’s regulatory functions, limiting freedom of speech, and a cooling of relations with the civilized world.” The paper’s editors expressed fears that Russia could end up in the company of such nations as Iran, Iraq and Libya. They also announced that they plan to sue St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, who publicly charged that the paper’s article on March 24 had been “ordered” by Primakov’s political enemies (Kommersant daily, March 26).

What makes today’s demarche in “Kommersant daily” particularly interesting is that its editor, Raf Shakirov, was reportedly fired for the March 24 article, despite having reportedly apologized to Primakov following its publication. Shakirov’s firing, which was reported on Russian Public Television, has not been confirmed either by sources at Kommersant daily or elsewhere, and today’s front-page statement would suggest that the paper has by no means backtracked. On the other hand, the reports of Shakirov’s firing have a certain amount of credibility, given that Primakov has been very thin-skinned about press criticism–publicly attacking his opponents in the media, and, critics charge, cordoning his cabinet off from press scrutiny. If Primakov or any other government official had fired Shakirov or even tried to do so, it would be an ominous signal.

Some observers contend that the NATO airstrikes are strengthening anti-democratic tendencies in Russia’s politics. Otto Latsis, a commentator for the newspaper “Novae izvestia,” wrote today that KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov has received a “regal gift” from U.S. President Bill Clinton. “The party of retrogrades, not having found the strength to develop a convincing strategy after their defeat in the 1996 elections, now no longer need any new strategy, inasmuch as the NATO alliance, with its own hands, has given [credibility] to all the slogans of anti-American propaganda,” Latsis wrote (Novae izvestia, March 26).