Novaya Gazeta Struggles to Stay Alive in Russia

The Wall Street Journal is running an interesting article today about Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s few remaining independent newspapers and the former employer of the slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Some excerpts:

As opposition voices are slain, exiled or intimidated into silence, Novaya is one of the last outposts of free speech left in Russia — a status that has earned it influential friends in the West. On a trip to Moscow in October, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointedly invited the paper’s editors to her hotel. “I want to stress that you are not alone in your struggle,” she told them. Novaya Gazeta’s past isn’t free of taint. Like the vast majority of Russian newspapers, it has printed articles paid for by influential politicians and businessmen, former Novaya journalists say. Today, one of its biggest fears, in an overwhelmingly pro-Putin nation, is irrelevance. The paper’s strident antigovernment line puts it out of touch with the masses and the wealthy alike, leaving it to drift increasingly to the margins of Russian life. … More alarming, the paper’s journalists were coming under physical attack. In May 2000, Igor Domnikov, whose articles alleged corruption in the southern region of Lipetsk, was beaten with a hammer in the entrance of his apartment block. Two months later he died of his injuries. His accused killers are currently on trial in central Russia, but authorities haven’t said who ordered the killing. Later that year, Ms. Politkovskaya, whose reports from Chechnya exposing atrocities committed by Russian troops led to a slew of criminal investigations, had to be placed under armed guard after receiving death threats. She was then sent into hiding abroad. In 2003, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Novaya’s deputy editor, fell ill with a mysterious ailment. A liberal lawmaker, Mr. Shchekochikhin had been investigating tax-evasion allegations against two Moscow furniture stores with links to senior figures in Russia’s security services. In June, he was admitted to the hospital with an “extreme allergic syndrome.” Ten days later he was dead. To this day, authorities have refused to divulge details of the autopsy, designating them a “medical secret.” Family and friends insist Mr. Shchekochikhin was poisoned. Strange incidents continued to dog Novaya’s staff, especially Ms. Politkovskaya. No longer just a reporter, she was emerging as a human-rights advocate, often volunteering to help ordinary Chechens whose relatives had gone missing. That earned her enemies in Russia’s security apparatus, according to colleagues. In the fall of 2004, she became violently ill and had to be hospitalized after drinking tea on a plane to southern Russia, where she was traveling to cover the Beslan hostage crisis. She claimed she had been poisoned. Then in October this year, Ms. Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building. Before her death, she had been investigating cases of torture allegedly committed by the pro-Kremlin authorities in Chechnya. The death reverberated around the world. Ms. Politkovskaya, 48, was the 13th reporter to be slain in a contract-style killing since Mr. Putin came to power in 2000, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. At this time, the last remnants of Russia’s free press were being scooped up by Kremlin-friendly business groups. Gazprom bought Izvestia and later Komsomolskaya Pravda. A steel magnate loyal to Mr. Putin acquired Kommersant, one of Russia’s last big independent newspapers.