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‘For Vanya, work is a matter of honor’ ‘Meduza’ special correspondent Andrey Pertsev recalls his time working alongside Ivan Safronov
On July 7, federal agents in Moscow arrested Ivan Safronov, a former investigative journalist for the respected Russian business newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti, who had recently started working as a communications advisor to the head of the Russian space corporation “Roscosmos.” While the Kremlin maintains that Safronov’s arrest isn’t linked to his previous journalistic activistes, many of his former colleagues from the media industry think otherwise. Meduza special correspondent Andrey Pertsev — who worked alongside Safronov at Kommersant’s politics desk from 2014 to 2019 — talks about Ivan Safronov, his work at Kommersant, and his professional principles.
Vanya [Ivan] Safronov was the soul of the old politics department at Kommersant, he was its center. For Vanya, work is a matter of honor: other publications tried to poach him many times, defense (and other) companies offered him a lot more money than he made at the newspaper. But the money was never a justification for him, because he was continuing the work of his father — Kommersant correspondent, Ivan Safronov Sr. His father was in the military, he served in the space forces and then went into journalism: his texts on defense topics were a trademark of the old Kommersant.
In 2007, Safronov Sr. died under mysterious circumstances: he allegedly jumped out of a window. Prior to this he was working on his next article — about the secret sale of Russian missiles to Iran through Belarus. “We had almost passed in the text, but Safronov Sr. suggested postponing it for a couple days — to collect comments. But the text never came out, because while Safronov Sr. was gathering comments, he suddenly fell ill. And then he fell from a window,” recalls the article’s co-author, Mikhail Zygar, who was working as a Kommersant correspondent at the time.
Vanya didn’t believe that his father committed suicide. Each of his notes (that’s what they call any article at Kommersant) were proof that Safronov Sr.’s work lives — and those who wanted to silence him accomplished nothing. Vanya was the very best in his field; no other person could understand so much about Russia’s defense industry and articulate it to readers. Usually Vanya came to work earlier than anyone else and left later than everyone else. He often saved front pages with his texts, they printed there constantly. At the same time, Vanya has no [sense of] stardom, he’s an easy going and sympathetic person. Going with the pool of agency journalists to an everyday press release event? If you must, you must. Helping a colleague from his or another department confirm information? Please, always, no matter how busy. In the department Vanya knew better than anyone when one of his co-workers had a birthday, he helped organize a party, bought gifts.
You never heard him talk about “grandiose,” “great,” or “important” texts, the way many journalists now like to talk about their work. He could talk about an amazing topic, and then laugh at a joke: “What is it, Vanya? Was the deputy director of the Gadyukin Missile Factory fired again? It’s an exclusive, right?”
Because of the personal history linked to his father, it seems like Ivan was the last person who would leave Kommersant; and I certainly couldn’t believe that the publishing house would part with one of its best journalists. But in 2019, Safronov and our other colleague from the department, Maxim Ivanov, were fired after the publication of a text about the possibility of Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko leaving her post.
I’m not excluding [the possibility] that the Kremlin simply used the publication to pressure the publisher’s leadership and remove an inconvenient journalist. Perhaps those at the top thought that Vanya wouldn’t go work for another outlet. But no, he switched to Vedomosti, and there he also wrote sharp and exclusive materials — for example, about Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov being secretly awarded the title Hero of Russia, or the failure of a [military] exercise led by Vladimir Putin. Then, however, Vedomosti’s fate was decided — Ivan was one of the first to quit after Andrey Shmarov was named acting editor-in-chief. I think he decided that working for a corporation is much more honest than [working for] a censored media outlet; and Vanya couldn’t work for a foreign publication anyway — his sources would have stopped talking to him (in this case, they themselves could be arrested).
Ivan always understood that he had a lot of ill-wishers, that the topics that he covered were too painful for the authorities — probably the most painful. For Russia’s leadership, who came from the KGB, politics, elections, activists, and the economy are far away and incomprehensible. But defense is like a red flag.
For any person who knows Vanya, the accusations of high treason are absurd and ridiculous. He is a patriot, he believes in the best for Russia, he tries to see something good, even in the worst of [the country’s] people. How many times has he tried to excuse the Russian government in conversations at the dinner table, insisting that the Kremlin wants good, they just don’t succeed. This is exactly why the case against him looks so petty and ugly. But I believe that I will hear his usual “Well, Andryush, perhaps a drink?” many more times.
Translation by Eilish Hart
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