Senior Editors Leave Russia’s Top Independent Media Company Amid Crackdown

Three top editors left RBC after coming under pressure for running investigations into money and politics in Russia.

rbc
rbc

The Russian media landscape has not been easy for independent outlets. A government crackdown over the last 10 years has eliminated many media companies’ editorial autonomy, leaving most outlets to toe the Kremlin’s official line. RBC, a financial news outlet and one of Russia’s largest media holding companies, was an exception, and set itself apart by tracking down and publishing tough stories that irked the Kremlin.

But that era of editorial independence appears to have ended on Friday, with the Russian media company announcing that its three top editors, who oversaw many investigations into money and politics in Russia, left their jobs.

In a statement Friday, RBC said Elizaveta Osetinskaya, the editor-in-chief of the entire media group, Maxim Solyus, the editor of the RBC newspaper, and Roman Badanin, the editor of the RBC news agency, had resigned effective immediately, adding that management and the editors "failed to agree on a number of crucial issues."

The Russian media landscape has not been easy for independent outlets. A government crackdown over the last 10 years has eliminated many media companies’ editorial autonomy, leaving most outlets to toe the Kremlin’s official line. RBC, a financial news outlet and one of Russia’s largest media holding companies, was an exception, and set itself apart by tracking down and publishing tough stories that irked the Kremlin.

But that era of editorial independence appears to have ended on Friday, with the Russian media company announcing that its three top editors, who oversaw many investigations into money and politics in Russia, left their jobs.

In a statement Friday, RBC said Elizaveta Osetinskaya, the editor-in-chief of the entire media group, Maxim Solyus, the editor of the RBC newspaper, and Roman Badanin, the editor of the RBC news agency, had resigned effective immediately, adding that management and the editors “failed to agree on a number of crucial issues.”

Despite management’s insistence that the editors’ departure is due to creative differences, reports have already circulated that the decision was due to RBC’s investigative reporting, which put the media company in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

Badanin, the head of RBC news agency, told The Associated Press that pressure from the authorities on RBC management sparked the resignations. Similarly, an anonymous source at RBC told Reuters that the outlet’s reporting had “provoked the Kremlin’s ire” on the company’s shareholders, which in turn decided to rein in the top editors. According to Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, the company’s shareholders called for Solyus’ resignation, which led Osetinskaya and Badanin to quit in protest.

RBC launched Russia’s only business television network in 2003, reaching over 90 million viewers all around the world. The company also runs a daily, a magazine, and a website, which have featured many prominent reports that are believed to have irritated the Kremlin. RBC’s website was the most-visited news site in Russia in 2015, a success partly credited to the company’s billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov — who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — for recruiting top reporters and editors.

RBC’s newspaper was one of the few Russian outlets to report on the Panama Papers in April, which leaked information about offshore banks accounts belonging to billionaire cellist Sergei Roldugin — a longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shortly after RBC published a profile of Rodulgin and his connections to Putin, FSB officers raided Prokhorov’s offices. In late April, the Russian Interior Ministry opened a fraud probe into the media company.

In January 2015, RBC broke the story about Katerina Tikhonova — a woman believed to be Putin’s daughter — and the business dealings of a man reported to be her husband. RBC had several follow-up reports about financial connections that led back to Putin’s inner-circle and their original scoop spawned a series of investigations by other outlets.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied exerting any influence over the RBC holding company or its owner, Prokhorov.

“As a matter of fact, no pressures are being exerted,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, told reporters on Thursday. “Whenever some investigative action is taken in relation to some companies, the question should be addressed to the ministries and agencies concerned.”

After the exodus of top editorial staff, RBC will look to restructure and rebuild. But much of the company’s talent has already begun to jump ship. Slon.ru, a popular Russian news website, reported that 13 other RBC employees have also resigned.

Photo credit: EPA

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.