stories

Five reasons why Russians just donated 25.4 million rubles to save an independent news magazine

Meduza
Evgeny Feldman for Meduza

On October 26, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court imposed a fine of 22.3 million rubles ($329,150) on The New Times for late paperwork (plus an additional 30,000 rubles, or $490, on chief editor Yevgenia Albats), after the magazine didn’t report its foreign funding to Russia’s media regulator on time. Editors at The New Times say the fine — the biggest in the history of Russian media regulation — is politically motivated, and lawyers for the outlet will challenge the ruling in appellate court on November 20. The magazine also announced a crowdfunding initiative to raise the money needed to pay the fine. Four days later, at 8:31 a.m. EST, Albats announced that supporters had donated 25,443,090 rubles ($376,293). Meduza recalls the stories over the years that made The New Times one of Russia’s top independent news outlets.

Russian political parties were financed with cash from the presidential administration

In December 2007, The New Times published an investigative report by Natalia Morar, titled “The Kremlin’s Slush Fund,” revealing that every political party appearing on the ballot in 2007 (including the opposition parties SPS and Yabloko) accepted cash funding either directly from the presidential administration (through safety deposit boxes or vaults at Vnesheconombank) or indirectly from Kremlin-appointed businessmen. Morar’s reporting attributed the scheme to current Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin (then serving as Putin’s chief of staff) and his deputy Vladislav Surkov (who managed the Kremlin’s domestic policy throughout the 2000s). Sources also said even these funds were embezzled: for example, SPS was supposedly promised $150 million, but it never received the full amount. It was apparently impossible to opt out of this scheme, moreover, because of strict limits on legal campaign spending.

A few days after The New Times published this story, Russia’s Federal Security Service banned Natalia Morar (a Moldovan citizen) from entering Russia. Officials didn’t lift the ban for five years.

Pro-Kremlin youth groups had combat units

On December 24, 2007, The New Times published an investigative report, titled “The Kremlin’s Combat Units,” revealing that pro-Kremlin youth movements (all the rage at the time) were outfitted with “security units” designed to face off against activists at opposition protests. Maxim Mishchenko’s “Young Russia” movement, for example, had a wing called “YoungRus Ultra.” Kremlin First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov actively encouraged these groups, saying at one meeting with pro-Kremlin activists, “Street fighting has its own rules, and it never hurts to know a thing or two.”

In 2012, Russia’s pro-Kremlin youth groups suddenly folded up, after it became apparent that they were useless in the face of mass protests against contested parliamentary elections in December 2011. Once a State Duma deputy and a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, Maxim Mishchenko was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in 2017 for fraud.

Moscow riot police protected mobsters and participated in illegal business seizures

In February 2010, The New Times published an investigative report by Ilya Barabanov and Nikita Aronov, titled “SWAT Slaves.” The magazine had been contacted by several officers in the second battalion of Moscow’s SWAT unit, complaining that they were being forced to work 15-hour days and given totally unrealistic assignments, like detaining and fining at least 40,000 people — effectively the population of a small town. Meanwhile, officers’ monthly salaries fluctuated between 15,000 and 25,000 rubles (about $660 at the time). Most importantly, commanding officers used the battalion for personal gain: for example, they ordered the battalion to break up trade markets, guard various offices (including criminal enterprises), and take part in illegal business seizures.

In 2012, Moscow SWAT police chief Vyacheslav Khaustov was promoted and put in charge of the Interior Ministry’s entire Special Purpose and Aviation Center.

The structure of payments and kickbacks inside Vladimir Putin’s inner circle

On February 26, 2012, days before Russia’s presidential election, The New Times published an investigative report by chief editor Yevgenia Albats, titled “The Made Candidate.” This was the first in-depth story about the members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The magazine even acquired audiotapes where people close to Putin (for example, Petromed Holding Company president Dmitry Gorelov and Bank Rossiya major shareholder Nikolai Shamalov) discussed “gifts,” offshore schemes, and financing large orders. In these conversations, it’s clear that the final word on these matters belonged to Vladimir Putin. Sometimes in private conversations, the businessmen referred to Putin as “Mikhail Ivanovich,” and others in this circle had their own nicknames: for example, billionaire Gennady Timchenko went by “Gangrene,” and current National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov was called “Generalissimo.”

The skinny on Vladimir Putin’s older daughter

In January 2016, The New Times became the first Russian news outlet to report on what Mariya Putina does for a living. The story, titled “First Daughter of the Nation,” revealed that she studied at Moscow State University’s Fundamental Medicine Department, and it so happens that her research adviser went on to enjoy enormous professional success, becoming the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences (while his son was appointed to represents Russia as a judge in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg). According to the magazine, Mariya Putina later married the Dutch businessman Jorrit Faassen, who worked for Gazprom for many years. Mariya Faassen later got her PhD, published several papers on endocrinology, and participated in charity projects for Alfa Group.

Responding to the story, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that his office “traditionally doesn’t comment” on any information relating to the president’s family.

Text by Andrey Kozenko, translation by Kevin Rothrock