Firings at Russia's Kommersant newspaper prompt press freedom concerns

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Firings at Russia’s Kommersant newspaper prompt press freedom concerns

Deutsche Welle

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At first glance, the article that has been making waves in Moscow is relatively uninteresting. On April 17, Russia’s leading politics and business newspaper Kommersant reported that Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, was due to meet President Vladimir Putin in May for talks.

The article, citing several government sources, detailed the possibility that Matviyenko, a close Putin ally, might leave her post to head up the state pension fund. Sergei Naryshkin, the current head of the SVR foreign intelligence service and another Putin confederate, would fill her shoes. Matviyenko and other officials denied the report.

The journalists behind the article, 10-year reporting veterans Maxim Ivanov and Ivan Safronov, have since been forced to resign over their scoop. According to reports, someone from the paper’s publishing company allegedly attempted to find out more about the sources behind the article. After Safronov and Ivanov refused to reveal the information to protect their contacts, they were forced to leave the paper.

Speaking with DW, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Vladimir Zhelonkin, expressed doubt over the existence of the article’s sources. “I myself didn’t want to know the identity of the sources, but I wanted to be sure that they existed,” he said.

Read more: Lithuania set to ban fake news from Russia

A wave of solidarity

On Monday evening, 13 additional journalists — the entire politics desk — said they were quitting in solidarity with the two men. The reaction was swift, with the publisher barring access to their computers and the Kommersant offices.

Lacking reliable information, many in Moscow have speculated as to why the article made such an impact. Some have said that Matviyenko and Naryshkin feared any potential damage to their political careers, and may have decided to pressure the publisher.

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