05/21/2019, 12.07
RUSSIA
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Mass resignation of 13 Kommersant journalists: against Putin

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The journalists resign in solidarity with two of their colleagues dismissed for writing an article about Senate speaker, Valentina Matvienko, labelling her "custodian of Putinism". A worrying sign for press freedom and freedom of expression.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Thirteen journalists from the Russian newspaper Kommersant, one of the most authoritative and widespread in the country, yesterday presented their resignations en mass, as an act of protest for political pressure.

The main shareholder of the newspaper, Alisher Usmanov, one of the major "oligarchs" close to President Putin, had forced two political editors to resign, Ivan Safronov and Maksim Ivanov, following an article they on the possible resignation of the president of Senate, Valentina Matvienko. The deputy editor of the magazine, Gleb Cherkasov, also joined the protest.

The group include well-known journalists: Alla Barakhova, Maria Luisa Tirmaste, Natalia Korchenkova, Sofia Samokhina, Lisa Miller, Katerina Grobman, Viktor Khamraev, Vsevolod Injutin, Anna Pushkarskaja. On Facebook, Cherkasov explained the reasons for the sensational gesture: the offending article revealed the background to an agreement between Putin and Matveenko to leave the Senate, in preparation of very significant changes in Russia's political leadership. The Matvienko spokesman would have denied this information as "rumors".

The article, released on April 17, caused controversy in public opinion, Matvienko being one of the figures of power closest to the president. Her resignation could trigger a very broad and difficult scenario. Vice-president of the Council from 1998 to 2003, then governor of St. Petersburg from 2003 to 2011, from the outset Valentina Matvienko has been one of the "guardians of Putinism", a pragmatic woman who has always been at the side of the supreme leader. Her exit from the Senate could prefigure an even more authoritarian turning point, if it were to take on more operational roles of power, or a change of guard in the field of "dolphins" and possible successors of the same president.

The resignation of Kommersant journalists is nothing new in Russian journalism, or the history of the newspaper itself. Tensions have existed for several years, and often against Usmanov, the Uzbek oligarch who represents one of the bastions of Putin's politics, in the union between great capital and the "heights of power". Usmanov has countered its criticism of Putin, often branded as a "violation of journalistic ethics".

The law against "public offenses" of institutions, which is severely sanctioned, was recently been approved by the Duma. The political and social climate in Russia is becoming increasingly restrictive in the last two years, after the explosion of protests by pensioners and students, less and less supported by the regime. Added to these are the recent protests against the Orthodox Church and its influence thanks to increasing support from the political and economic elites.

At the newspaper the resignation of some journalists, including the chief editors, occurred on several occasion between 2011 and 2018, always resolved by negotiations with the owners. But if this last protest is not resolved it represents a worrying sign for freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Russia.

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