Kommersant vs. the Kremlin


Russian prosecutors believe journalist Ivan Safronov threw himself from a fifth story window to his death. Apparently we’re to believe that Safronov, who was about to publish a story detailing his investigation into Russian arms deals with Iran and Syria, suddenly decided to give up on life. Raise your hand if you buy that?
News is now breaking that Russian justice officials told Safronov before his death that he would be prosecuted for disclosing classified information if he were to go ahead with the story. The most damaging aspect of his story apparently proves that Russia is sending Iskenders to Syria, which can be used to fire missiles into Israel.
Safronov’s employer, the Russian business daily Kommersant, has an independent, preliminary report on the events leading up to his death. The English version is here. It is chilling, and well worth a read.
This is going to have major shockwaves in Russia. Kommersant is mad. The publishers have launched their own independent investigation into Safronov’s death and seem willing to go head to head with the Kremlin. Few papers in Russia still have the guts – or independence – to take on Putin over mere policy differences, let alone breaking scandals or abuses of power.
Kommersant has proven remarkably resilient to the Kremlin’s efforts to co-opt it. That leaves Putin with a simple choice: expand intimidation tactics or back down. The former option probably involves more tragedy and will have a further chilling effect, but will provoke a stern international reaction and destroy any claim the Kremlin might have to innocence; the latter will probably involve scapegoating a mid-level official and ending letting the media climate thaw somewhat.
You can guess which I’m pulling for. Either way, Kommersant and the Kremlin are on a serious collision course.
— Scott Paul


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