“It’s the disappearance of the last independent publication that hadn’t been blocked yet,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center and former editor of the newspaper, calling it “a huge loss for the audience Internet giant and a disaster for the newspaper’s fans who read it on paper.
The invasion edition – published in Russian and Ukrainian – sold out within hours on February 25. Two weeks later, its cover depicted the “Swan Dance” from “Swan Lake” standing out against a fiery cloud of mushrooms, with the title “A problem of “Novaya”, created in accordance with all the rules of the amended penal code of Russia.”
The title spoke eloquently of the difficulties of reporting on the war under Russia’s tough new censorship laws; even the words “war”, “invasion” and “attack” are prohibited, and the publication of information discrediting the army is criminalized. Analysts warn there is no guarantee the restrictions – introduced as tough warfare measures amid what the Kremlin calls “unprecedented information warfare” against Russia – will ever be lifted.
Kolesnikov said the only reason the paper managed to continue publishing for so long was Muratov’s authority.
“It’s hard to say how long the suspension will last, because even if the ‘special operation’ ends, the authoritarian regime that crushed all independent media in Russia will not go away,” he said. “The Kremlin and the Lubyanka can take advantage of the complete vacuum of an alternative – that is, professional, not propaganda – information space,” he said, referring to the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the FSB, successor to the KGB.
Since the invasion, Russian authorities have blocked dozens of independent Russian media, including Dozhd TV, whose journalists have left Russia, and Echo Moscow Radio, dissolved by its board of directors, controlled by the gas company Gazprom public.
Hundreds of journalists have fled the country, although independent media are still broadcasting reports on YouTube and Telegram.
Novaya Gazeta’s continuous reporting on the war so far, including dispatches from Ukraine on civilian casualties, has carefully bent the legal red line. But the coverage apparently proved too much for the Russian authorities, amid a blitz of state television propaganda intended to unite the nation behind the war and convince Russians that the war is a limited, just and necessary to destroy the “Nazis” and protect Russia. State and pro-Kremlin media blame Ukraine for massive damage to civilian neighborhoods in Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv.
Novaya Gazeta, with a loyal following of urban intellectuals, liberals and opposition supporters, has often clashed with Russian authorities. Six of its journalists were murdered between 2000 and 2009, including Anna Politkovskaya, who fearlessly reported Russia’s abuses in Chechnya, shot dead in the elevator of her building in 2006.
The newspaper’s announcement that it was suspending publication was contained in a brief two-paragraph statement released Monday shortly after Roskomnadzor’s warning. According to Russian law, a newspaper can be stripped of its license if it receives two warnings a year. Muratov declined to comment.
The second warning was not based on the newspaper’s wartime coverage, but on a technical offense – failing to correctly label an NGO a “foreign agent”. (Russia has pressured dozens of activists, journalists and nongovernmental organizations by designating them as foreign agents.)
Novaya Gazeta’s mission statement reads: “Our reporters are not afraid to get the truth to show it to you. In a country where authorities constantly want to ban something, including banning telling the truth, there should be publications that continue to do real journalism.
Elena Kostyuchenko risked her life reporting from Ukraine to do so. His Saturday story in Russian-occupied Kherson, Ukraine, reported civilian casualties, including children. He also covered rallies against the Russian occupation, Russia’s blocking of humanitarian aid to the city, as well as the kidnapping and beating by Russia of journalists, activists, organizers of demonstrations and Ukrainian soldiers from Kherson. The article identified a secret prison where those arrested were taken.
An earlier report harrowingly described corpses of civilians in Mykolaiv, including that of a 3-year-old girl. She also described the beautifully manicured hands of a young woman’s corpse.
Another reporter for the newspaper, Elena Milashina, said on social media on Monday that she was in the middle of a story about Chechen soldiers, Russian guards and volunteers killed during the war.
“Since it is now impossible for me to inform readers on Novaya’s pages or site, I will do so on Facebook if possible,” she said, accessible only via VPN. She had three major reporting projects underway and planned to finish them, saying, “No one but me will.”
“Right now people are dying in Ukraine because of our weapons,” she wrote. “What happens next – to my journalism, to my newspaper and to my country – we all have to find out together. It will be long and hard. Still, I hope we will have a future.
Milashina thanked her loyal readers, and even her detractors, for reading.
Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.