Russia’s leading independent newspaper has suspended operations after pressure from Moscow, less than six months after its editor won the Nobel Peace Prize for his paper’s courageous reporting under difficult circumstances.
Novaya Gazeta said it will remain closed for the duration of what the newspaper referred to as “the special operation” in Ukraine, the term Russian authorities insist media must use.
The newspaper was the last major independent media outlet critical of President Vladimir Putin’s government after others either shut their doors or had their websites blocked following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
The trigger for the shutdown was a second formal warning from the media regulator Roskomnadzor, which has increasingly taken on the role of a censor in recent years. Novaya Gazeta had long had a difficult relationship with the government.
Novaya Gazeta’s long-time editor Dmitry Muratov shared the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa, a journalist from the Philippines, in October.
He said last week that he was donating his Nobel medal to be auctioned off to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees and called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine.
Exactly why Novaya Gazeta was warned remains unclear. Roskomnadzor told state news agency Tass that the newspaper had failed to identify an unnamed non-governmental organisation as a “foreign agent” in its reporting, as required by Russian law. It did not specify the report in question.
Novaya Gazeta has walked a fine line during the war in Ukraine. It initially defied Moscow’s restrictions, publishing in Russian and Ukrainian the day after the invasion began.
However, it removed much of its war reporting from its website after Russian legislators passed a law on March 4 threatening jail terms of up to 15 years for information deemed to be “fake” by Russian authorities.
That can include any mention of Russian forces harming civilians or suffering losses on the battlefield.
On Sunday, Mr Muratov sent in questions for an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky along with a group of Russian journalists. Roskomnadzor banned the publication of the interview with Mr Zelensky in Russia and said media outlets that took part would be investigated.
“A country without media (the last free ‘Novaya Gazeta’ was closed), without discussion, without political competition, without a full-fledged parliament,” Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter on Monday.
“This is the modern (Russian Federation). That is why Russians do not see, hear or realise anything. No matter what language you speak to them.”
In its citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee noted that six of Novaya Gazeta’s journalists had been killed. The best known was Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on atrocities during the second Chechen War at the start of Mr Putin’s first term as Russian president.
She was shot dead in her apartment building in 2006. Five men were convicted of involvement in her murder in 2014, but there has never been a ruling on who ordered her killing.
Mr Muratov said winning the Nobel Prize was “recognition of the memory of our fallen colleagues”, including Ms Politkovskaya.
Novaya Gazeta was born from the legacy of another Russian Nobel Peace Prize-winner, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He won the Peace Prize in 1990 and used part of the award to fund what later became Novaya Gazeta, which was launched in 1993.
Mr Putin had a warning for Mr Muratov after his win last year, when asked if the paper could follow other media in being given the dreaded “foreign agent” label by Russian authorities, which must be added to every article a media outlet produces and carries a pejorative connotation.
“If (Muratov) doesn’t break Russian law and if he doesn’t give a reason to be announced as a foreign agent, then he won’t be,” Mr Putin said.
“But if he hides behind the Nobel Prize like a shield to do something which breaks Russian law, that means he’s doing it consciously to attract attention to himself.”