The Newspaper Loved in the West, Hated at Home

But politicians, media executives and journalists in Moscow often have other things to say about Lebedev. For one, they say that the entrepreneur, who lost bids to become the mayor of Moscow and Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, keeps the paper to promote his political ambitions. They also claim that, in the Moscow game of power politics, he has been chosen to keep the inconvenient newspaper under control on Putin's behalf.

Lebedev and Gorbachev reject such claims as "absurd." "Just take a look at the stories in Novaya," says Lebedev. For example, he says, Putin's press czar, Alexei Gromov, was furious when the paper disclosed his alleged business interests in digital television.

'No Story Is Worth another Life'

"Lebedev became interested in Novaya when he went into politics," says one of the magnate's colleagues from his days working for the foreign intelligence agency. When he took over the National Reserve Bank in the mid-1990s, Lebedev recruited some of his top managers from the intelligence community. The head of the bank's administrative board, an old friend of Lebedev, is married to the sister of Anna Politkovskaya, a star reporter for Novaya Gazeta who was shot dead in October 2006. Lebedev offered a reward of more than €700,000 ($980,000) for information leading to the arrest of the murderers.

One of his former colleagues from his days in intelligence, who insists on remaining anonymous, remembers working with Lebedev at the Soviet Embassy in London in the late 1980s. In those days, most Soviet diplomats wore baggy suits and horn-rimmed glasses. Lebedev, however, treated himself to a pair of Cartier glasses for his birthday, and then proceeded to explain to the others why appearance matters. "He was far ahead of the rest of us, and he was constantly coming up with ideas," says his former KGB comrade. Lebedev still has a soft spot for London, where he acquired another newspaper, the Evening Standard, in January.

His real rivals are at home, especially his archenemy Yuri Luzhkov, the powerful mayor of Moscow. Lebedev once published a pamphlet in which he listed all of Luzhkov's broken promises.

But there are few overly critical words written about Luzhkov in Novaya. The building that houses the paper's editorial offices, for which it pays a low rent, belongs to the city. It appears that even Novaya has its limits when it comes to exposing the foibles of the powerful.

Seeking to Change Reality

Nevertheless, no other Russian newspaper makes life quite as uncomfortable for the country's power elite. And no one symbolizes this David-and-Goliath struggle more effectively than Elena Milashina. She is 31, a diminutive 1.59 meters (5'2") in height -- and she has already caught the Russian government in a lie. She has also boldly confronted a US president.

After an awards ceremony to commemorate the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the young journalist took advantage of a reception given by former US President George W. Bush to explain to the president why she considers Vladimir Putin to be "a criminal." She had done some research on the Beslan hostage crisis.

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