The Kremlin’s man at ‘Vedomosti’? Sources say the controversial new chief editor at a top business newspaper was handpicked by the Putin administration
The sale of Vedomosti, a highly respected business publication in Russia, is apparently in jeopardy. On April 22, one of the newspaper’s supposed new buyers, “Arbat Capital” founder Alexey Golubovich, informed Vedomosti’s publisher, Gleb Prozorov, that he might withdraw from the deal. The stumbling block appears to be the newspaper’s new acting editor-in-chief, Andrey Shmarov, whose abrasive personality and censorship of certain political coverage have surrounded Vedomosti in controversy. At the same time, no one involved in the newspaper’s potential sale has taken any responsibility for the new chief editor’s questionable leadership. Multiple sources told Meduza that Andrey Shmarov is in fact “the Putin administration’s candidate.”
Yesterday, on April 22, Alexey Golubovich notified Vedomosti publisher Gleb Prozorov that he might back out of an agreement to buy the newspaper. The website The Bell obtained a copy of Golubovich’s letter.
Demyan Kudryatsev announced on March 17 that he and his business partners are selling Vedomosti to Alexey Golubovich and Konstantin Zyatkov, who would each acquire 50-percent stakes in the newspaper. Kudryatsev said the deal wouldn't close formally for another couple of months, but the transfer of assets under the new owners’ management would start the very next day, on March 18. A source later told Forbes that it would take at least another four months to complete the sale, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Kudryatsev says he will be forced to close down the newspaper if he’s unable to sell it, explaining that financing Vedomosti has cost him “big money” that’s now run out.
Technically speaking, Kudryatsev hasn’t owned Vedomosti for more than a year and a half, since the publication was re-registered in the name of a family member of Vladimir Voronov, Kudryatsev’s close friend.
Golubovich says he now considers himself free from obligations “to do anything further on this project under the previous plan.” He cites several obstacles to completing the original agreement, including the difficulties of finding investments amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the bad publicity and “politicization” of conflicts inside Vedomosti’s newsroom. At the end of his letter, Golubovich offers to help the newspaper find new investors and restructure its debt.
It is currently unknown if Vedomosti’s other potential buyer, “Versiya” publishing house director Konstantin Zyatkov, is also reconsidering his purchase.
A source close to one of the parties in the sale told Meduza that Golubovich’s willingness to return to the negotiating table is largely contingent on a resolution to the conflict caused by acting editor-in-chief Andrey Shmarov, whose understanding of journalism has clashed with Vedomosti’s long-standing values from the very start. Tensions culminated in an editorial on April 23, in which senior staff described Shmarov’s transgressions over the past month (altering a headline, deleting an op-ed, and prohibiting certain content) and warned that his actions are undermining trust in the newspaper and damaging its reputation.
Shmarov was appointed on March 24. A Vedomosti employee told Meduza how it happened: editor-in-chief Igor Bulavinov made him his deputy editor, and then — acting on a decision by the newspaper’s sole shareholder (a company called “Arkan Investment”) — Gleb Prozorov (the general director of Vedomosti’s publishing house, “Business News Media”) offered Shmarov a contract to work as acting editor-in-chief. The roundabout hire was necessary because Business News Media’s charter prohibits appointing an editor-in-chief without the approval of the board of directors, which was dissolved on March 17, when Demyan Kudryatsev announced Vedomosti’s sale.
Technically, Vedomosti’s potential new buyers played no role in this procedure. Bulavinov told Meduza that he can neither confirm nor deny our source’s information.
Konstantin Zyatkov said previously that Golubovich tapped Shmarov because the two have a long history. A source close to one of the parties in the sale, however, told Meduza that Shmarov’s appointment was actually an initiative by Demyan Kudryatsev, who simply didn’t want to draw attention to the decision.
Kudryatsev told Meduza that he’s had no role in managing Vedomosti during its current transition period. He says Arkan Investment director Alexander Karpov signed off on requests from the newspaper’s potential buyers, which were submitted to Vedomosti’s management before the sale was announced on March 17.
“Unfortunately, this was the only possible option,” Kudryatsev says.
“The agreement’s terms were this: you buy the business and handle the business, but your editor-in-chief will come from the presidential administration,” says a source close to Vedomosti’s senior management. “They picked Shmarov as a compromise figure,” says a source close to the newspaper’s sale.
On April 22, when explaining his decision to abandon Vedomosti’s partnership with the independent Levada Center and prohibit the newspaper from even mentioning the organization or its polling data, Shmarov openly discussed the Kremlin’s preferences. “He said the people in the presidential administration don’t want to see Levada’s polls in Vedomosti, and that the newsroom basically needs to listen to the administration’s wishes if it wants to survive,” Vedomosti editor Ksenia Boletskaya wrote on her Telegram channel.
“They can’t remove Shmarov because the presidential administration agreed to his candidacy and you’d need their consent to appoint another chief editor, but Golubovich and Zyatkov don’t want to go [to the Kremlin] after the scandal with Levada,” another source with knowledge of Vedomosti’s sale told Meduza.
Asked about the situation at Vedomosti, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pesov told Meduza: “We cannot in any way comment on editorial policy, and we don’t want to do this — to get involved in the editorial policies of any particular media outlet.”
Andrey Shmarov’s contract with Vedomosti doesn’t expire for another six months. Both Shmarov and Alexander Golubovich declined to speak to Meduza for this story. Konstantin Zyatkov did not respond to phone calls.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock