Rosneft looms over Russian independent media

MOSCOW • Russian oil giant PJSC Rosneft Oil Co, run by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, is wielding growing influence over Russia’s remaining independent media outlets, already squeezed by tightening press freedoms and pressure from the Kremlin.

Now, reporters at the country’s top liberal business daily Vedomosti — shaken in March by an announcement from owner Demyan Kudryavtsev that he planned to sell the newspaper — have denounced censorship under its new acting editor-in-chief.

Andrei Shmarov was appointed in late March, ahead of the sale’s completion. Journalists said they were barred from covering negative opinion polls of Putin, and that editors interfered in coverage of Rosneft.

Last Friday, the new owner was announced as the head of a little-known regional news agency called FederalPress, Ivan Yeryomin.

An investigation in May by several Russian news outlets including Vedomosti revealed that Rosneft leveraged control over the paper through debts owed by owner Kudryavtsev to the oil giant’s bank.

Kudryavtsev denied these allegations, while Rosneft has not reacted.

“The real owner is Rosneft through a chain of debt,” said Vedomosti editor-at-large Maxim Trudolyubov, who has worked at the paper since it started in 1999.

Trudolyubov said the new editor-in-chief was “selected to run the newspaper favourably to the new owner”.

The newspaper wrote in a recent editorial: “Vedomosti will just become another dependent and controlled media outlet.”

Last Friday, the newspaper wrote that the change of ownership deal undoubtedly had “not only commercial aims”.

Its editorial suggested that “unnamed figures who really stand behind the official buyers… see the publication as an instrument of influence, not a business”.

In May, it was the turn of another respected business daily, RBK. Rosneft is suing the newspaper for a record 43 billion rubles (RM2.67 billion) over an article about the oil company’s activities in Venezuela. — AFP