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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW6229 2006-06-08 13:35 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #6229/01 1591335
P 081335Z JUN 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 006229 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/08/2016 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reasons: 1.4 (B/D). 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev 
announced at a June 7 meeting with foreign journalists that 
he and a political ally, Duma Deputy Aleksandr Lebedev, had 
purchased a 49 percent stake in the fiercely independent 
newspaper "Novaya Gazeta."  They made the purchase from the 
newspaper's staff, which retains majority control.  Lebedev 
told the Ambassador that same day that he and Gorbachev would 
not interfere in the editorial content of the newspaper, 
which he hoped would retain its independence.  Speculating 
that Lebedev might use the newspaper to attack his chief 
political rival, Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov, some observers 
were quick to bemoan the sale.  The deal appears to give a 
much needed financial boost to what has been a fiercely 
independent newspaper, and there is some reason to hope that 
its new ownership structure will not threaten that 
independence.  END SUMMARY. 
2. (U) At the end of a June 7 speech at the World Association 
of Newspapers conference, Gorbachev announced that he and 
Lebedev had acquired a 49 percent stake in Novaya Gazeta. 
Lebedev bought 39 percent of the newspaper's shares, with 
Gorbachev buying 10 percent.  Details about the purchase 
price have not been revealed.  According to some press 
reports, the deal had been in the works for at least a few 
months, with Gorbachev and Lebedev having reportedly acquired 
the shares as private individuals rather than as 
representatives of commercial entities.  Gorbachev, who had 
invested part of his 1990 Nobel Prize money to help found the 
newspaper in 1996, stressed in his conference remarks that 
Russia needs an objective and independent press. 
3. (C) Novaya Gazeta is among the last bastions of media 
independence on the national scene.  It is fiercely 
independent, known for hard-hitting investigative journalism 
exposing high-level corruption and for Anna Politkovskaya's 
reports about government human rights abuses in the North 
Causasus.  Deputy editor Andrey Lipskiy has long been telling 
us that the editorial team sees its goal as being to provide 
reporting critical of the Kremlin, and that that role is 
becoming increasingly important in the current political 
4. (C) Both Gorbachev and Lebedev, who is a billionaire 
businessman and member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia 
party, said publicly following the announcement that they 
would not interfere in the newspaper's content.  In a meeting 
with the Ambassador shortly after Gorbachev made the 
announcement, Lebedev said the purchase had been made in the 
genuine expectation that Novaya Gazeta would retain its 
independence, and that neither he nor Gorbachev had any 
intention of interfering in what was published.  He expressed 
uncertainty whether the Kremlin would seek to pressure Novaya 
Gazeta, and said that his United Russia partymates were 
probably not happy with his commitment to the newspaper's 
independence.  A long-time political rival of Moscow Mayor 
Yuriy Luzhkov, against whom he has run for mayor, Lebedev 
would not rule out attacks on the newspaper by Luzhkov and 
his wife, prominent businesswoman Yelena Baturina. 
5. (C) Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitriy Muratov told us 
June 8 that he had received Gorbachev's personal assurances 
that the newspaper would not be used to "protect corporate 
interests."  While the newspaper's content would not 
fundamentally change, Muratov added, he hoped that the new 
ownership structure might lead some of the newspaper's star 
journalists, including Politkovskaya, to temper their 
rhetoric somewhat.  Roman Shleynov, head of the newspaper's 
Investigations Department, made the same point, also telling 
us June 8 that he expected no changes in the editorial line, 
particularly because Gorbachev had been a co-founder of the 
newspaper.  Shleynov also felt that the staff's majority 
ownership ensured independence. 
6. (U) Several commentators were less hopeful.  Journalist 
Vladimir Kara-Murza, who contributes articles to Novaya 
Gazeta, told the press that Lebedev was a loyal member of 
United Russia and might seek to bring the newspaper to bring 
its reporting more close in line with the party's.  Political 
analyst Dmitriy Orlov, noting that much of Novaya Gazeta's 
readership is in Moscow, told the press that Lebedev was 
likely to use the paper against Luzhkov. 
MOSCOW 00006229  002 OF 002 
7. (C) Novaya Gazeta has been in deep financial difficulty. 
Lipskiy has long been telling us that it was operating on a 
shoe-string, with uncertain prospects for long-term survival. 
 Despite a sizable circulation (of 523,000, according to 
press reports), the newspaper could no
t draw advertisers, 
Lipskiy said, blaming that on Kremlin instructions to 
companies not to place ads there.  Independent radio station 
chief editor Aleksey Venediktov told us a few months ago that 
Novaya Gazeta's financial survival was a mystery; he 
speculated that it must be receiving funding from Gorbachev 
and/or Yabloko head Grigoriy Yavlinskiy.  Late in 2005, 
Lipskiy told us the newspaper could barely pay salaries to 
its staff.  The newspaper's Kazan bureau chief, Boris 
Bronshteyn, told us at around the same time that the 
newspaper was paying him a minimal salary and no extra 
stipends when it published his articles. 
8. (C) From a financial standpoint, then, the deal with 
Gorbachev and Lebedev is vital.  Lipskiy told us June 8 that 
he had long hoped for such a deal; it would get the newspaper 
out of its current difficulties.  Muratov said publicly that 
it would allow Novaya Gazeta to improve its format, increase 
its size and incorporate color.  He also said it might come 
out three times a week, rather than its current twice-weekly 
publication.  Lebedev told the Ambassador he was unsure how 
often the newspaper would be published, which would be 
determined once financial issues have been sorted out. 
9. (C) The sale of the minority stake in Novaya Gazeta comes 
amidst reports that Kommersant is being sold, possibly to 
interests close to the Kremlin.  Should Kommersant fall under 
direct or indirect Kremlin control, Novaya Gazeta would be 
among the few remaining bastions of real independence in the 
national print media.  Noting that Gorbachev regularly takes 
a positive stance toward Putin and that Lebedev is a loyal 
United Russia deputy with a political ax to grind against the 
Moscow mayor, some observers worry that Novaya Gazeta's 
independence could be significantly compromised by the latest 
deal.  Whatever else happens, that deal appears to save the 
newspaper from a precarious financial situation that might 
have led to its closure.  The fact that Gorbachev seems 
hardly to be an instrument of the Kremlin and that the 
paper's staff retains a majority share gives some cause for 
hope that Novaya Gazeta's independence will be preserved. 


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