SPIEGEL Interview with Novaya Gazeta Co-Owner Russian Media Is Like 'Brezhnev-Era Propaganda'

Alexander Lebedev, Russian businessman, member of the State Duma and co-owner of the critical Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, spoke to SPIEGEL about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and the lack of press freedom in Russia.

SPIEGEL: Shortly after Politkovskaya's murder, you advertised a reward equivalent to about €700,000 for the capture of the guilty parties. Do you now consider the case solved?

Alexander Lebedev: That will be for the courts to decide. I will be happy to pay the reward once all doubts have been set aside. Besides, I have introduced an amendment in the State Duma designed to protect witnesses.

SPIEGEL: Prosecutor General (Yuri) Chaika believes that the men behind the murder are abroad. Do you agree?

Lebedev: Just as in the Soviet days, other countries are once again being treated as a sinister threat. I haven't seen the evidence he supposedly has. Facts are important to me, not emotions. I would caution against speculation.

SPIEGEL: Chaika has pointed his finger at former oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Lebedev: It seems to be in fashion among Russian politicians to blame Berezovsky for everything. Soon they'll be holding him responsible for global warming, earthquakes and tsunamis. But perhaps the prosecutor general wasn't even referring to him.

SPIEGEL: President Vladimir Putin himself said, three days after Politkovskaya's death, that the culprits could be found abroad.

Lebedev: Politkovskaya was a known critic of the administration. For this reason, one cannot rule out the possibility that someone would want to blame the government for the murder. We could also be dealing with an act of revenge by Chechen field commanders or other people who didn't like her reports.

SPIEGEL: How can it be that a head of state is interfering in an ongoing investigation with his premature judgments?

Lebedev: Of course, our president is entitled to his opinion, just like anyone else. I just hope that it won't become a guideline for the investigators. The only things they should pay attention to are pieces of evidence and witness testimony. Fortunately this is not 1937…

SPIEGEL: … the year of the show trials under Stalin…

Lebedev: …when weak charges led to unbelievable sentences.

SPIEGEL: It's noticeable that serving officers with the intelligence service and Interior Ministry officials are among the suspects.

Lebedev: We need a radical reform of the law enforcement agencies. They are not performing their duties. The police in Moscow are upholding the rights of developers and real estate sharks against protesting residents. But criminals are given a green light.

SPIEGEL: Is there any hope left for freedom of the press in Russia?

Lebedev: We would be lost without it. But the situation is completely unacceptable. There are hardly any differences anymore between what is happening now and the propaganda of the Brezhnev era. I would like to launch a campaign against the Channel One television station…

SPIEGEL: … of which the Russian state is the majority owner…

Lebedev: … to shake up citizens so that they can no longer be duped by these types of stations. Things aren't much better for the press. Even Novaya Gazeta, with all respect, cannot achieve any fundamental change on its own.

SPIEGEL: Why do you own this critical newspaper?

Lebedev: It's my duty as a citizen. I do not want to live in a country where something like Novaya no longer exists.

SPIEGEL: Some at the Kremlin believe that you are using the paper to protect yourself from the kind of harassment other defiant businessmen have suffered.

Lebedev: There are also those who claim that I bought the paper on behalf of the Kremlin. That's ridiculous. Owning a newspaper does not confer immunity.

The interview was conducted by Matthias Schepp

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