The Newspaper Loved in the West, Hated at Home

Shleinov has also sharply criticized the machinations of energy giant Gazprom, and he has even described the kidnappings and blackmail of business leaders by officers of the FSB, the Russian domestic intelligence agency. The revelations were remarkable, but the reactions? Practically nonexistent.

"We could print a photo that shows Putin accepting a suitcase of cash. No one would be interested," he says. Shleinov is a Sisyphus of investigative journalism -- a Sisyphus under pressure.

Gaining access to the news is not a problem in Russia the way it is in China, for example. Although television is largely state-controlled, the range of opinions in newspapers and on the Internet is broader than, say, in Germany. The country suffers from a completely different sort of affliction: Even the biggest, most scandalous exposés lead to no consequences whatsoever.

Free and influential media ought to be an important tool in fighting excessive corruption. But in Russia the media lack the necessary powers. Boris Yeltsin, as Russia's first president, compelled the attorney general's office to respond within 10 days to corruption charges brought by the media. His successor Putin promptly revoked Yeltsin's order shortly after taking office.

'Find Out Who's Involved'

Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Muratov is looking at one of his senior editors, who has just received word of a spectacular accident on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a street that leads to the Kremlin. A 20-year-old has crashed his new Ferrari while traveling at 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph). The father of the young man is apparently a member of the executive board of a group of banks.

For Muratov, the story is yet another example of the excesses of what he calls "an elite that places itself above the law." "Find out who's involved!" he tells his editors. "And I'll ask Lebedev."

For a moment, it appears that Alexander Lebedev, a former member of the Soviet foreign intelligence service and a 30-percent owner of the national airline Aeroflot, is just another of Muratov's many sources within the establishment. In truth, however, the banking magnate is something of a cash machine for Novaya Gazeta.

He has supported the paper since the 1990s. In June 2006, he and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev acquired a 49-percent stake in Novaya Gazeta, which was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. The employees owned the rest.

Lebedev bought the employees' shares for about €1.5 million ($2.1 million). Since then, he has injected millions into the money-losing paper every year. No one buys advertising; everyone is fearful of incurring the Kremlin's wrath. "As long as I have money, I will help," says Lebedev, in the opulent reception room of his luxurious mansion near the Foreign Ministry. He is wearing jeans, a designer vest and stylish black sneakers.

The magnate praises his "team of fantastic, courageous journalists," says that his goal is to make the paper the "opinion leader in Russia," and quotes the poet and Stalin critic Osip Mandelstam. He likes to see his editors as part of this tradition of resistance to the throne, and himself as a shining light of press freedom.

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