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Cablegate: Moscow Tabloid Shut Down by Owner After Breaking

VZCZCXRO5525
OO RUEHBW
DE RUEHMO #1124/01 1141027
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 231027Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7727
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 001124

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/23/2018
TAGS: PHUM KDEM KPAO PGOV RS
SUBJECT: MOSCOW TABLOID SHUT DOWN BY OWNER AFTER BREAKING
THE PUTIN - KABAYEVA STORY

Classified By: Amb...

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 001124 SIPDIS SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/23/2018 TAGS: PHUM KDEM KPAO PGOV RS

SUBJECT: MOSCOW TABLOID SHUT DOWN BY OWNER AFTER BREAKING THE PUTIN - KABAYEVA STORY Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reasons: 1.4 (b,d).
1. (C) Summary. The Moscow-based tabloid Moskovskiy Korrespondent suspended its operations on April 18 at the request of its owner after being the first Russian newspaper to report the rumor on April 11 that Putin had divorced in February and planned to marry 24-year old rhythmic gymnast and Duma member Alina Kabayeva. Korrespondent owner, Aleksandr Lebedev, told the Ambassador that no one had called him and he had not been forced to suspend the publication, as reported in the media. Korrespondent had ceased publication because kiosk owners had refused to carry it in the wake of the scandal. Putin denied there was any truth to the rumors during an April 18 joint press conference in Sardinia with Silvio Berlusconi, and the reporting which followed in the mainstream Russian press focused exclusively on his denial, pointedly failing to address the veracity of the rumors. Media sources we have spoken with indicate that it is not worth the risk of attracting Kremlin scorn to print any stories having a First Family angle. End summary.
Lebedev Denies Involvement
2. (U) The Moscow-based tabloid Moskovskiy Korrespondent (circulation 30 thousand) suspended its operations on April 18 at the request of its owner, Aleksandr Lebedev. According to Artyom Artyomov, the Senior Executive at the paper, the tabloid will eventually resume publication in a "less politicized" format. Moskovskiy Korrespondent was the first Russian publication to report -- on April 11 -- the rumors that President Putin had divorced his wife in February and planned to marry 24-year old rhythmic gymnast and Duma member Alina Kabayeva. When interviewed by Ekho Moskvy radio station on April 16, Lebedev claimed that he had been out of town when the story was published, and only learned about it after publication.
3. (U) In the same Ekho interview, Lebedev also said that the story's authenticity should be investigated and the journalists should apologize if it proved to be false, and denied he had any plans to "punish" the journalists who penned the story or the paper as a whole. Two days later he shut them down, after the Moskovskiy Korrespondent story unleashed a flood of other reporting and speculation in the international and electronic media, and forced Putin to deny the rumor publicly at an April 18 press conference with Berlusconi in Italy. Lebedev reportedly met with Moskovskiy Korrespondent staff in the last hours before its shutdown, but the official reason given for closing the tabloid was "poor financial performance."
4. (C) In an April 22 meeting, Lebedev -- unconvincingly -- told the Ambassador that he was unaware of the controversy as it was unfolding, and said he had not taken steps to suspend the publication, as reported. No one from the Kremlin had called him after publication of the article, Lebedev said, but kiosk owners had refused to distribute the newspaper after the controversy broke, making further publication of Korrespondent pointless.
5. (C) Vitaliy Tretyakov, editor of journal "Political Class," and close to the Kremlin, conceded that "political correctness" in Russia extended to not touching on the personal lives of the President and his family. Noting that this was nothing new in Russian politics, Tretyakov pointed to NTV's decision under the "liberal" Kiseylev to quash Tretyakov's story on Nina Yeltsin -- a profile that had focused on her amusing political slips as first lady. Yeltsin's chief of staff Valentin Yumashev's refrain, which Tretyakov said still echoed in the Kremlin, was "don't touch the family." Rumors of the unhappy state of the Putin marriage had circulated for years, XXXXXXXXXXXX noted, and Kabayeva's name had been linked to Putin's for over two years. XXXXXXXXXXXX was skeptical of Lebedev's claims that he acted unilaterally to close down the offending journal; if Lebedev had not acted, he stressed, the Kremlin would have taken its own measures. Nikolay Svanidze, a prominent TV host and author of the forthcoming book of interviews with President-elect Medvedev, underscored that family issues represented the reddest of red-lines. The bastion of liberal reporting in Moscow, Echo Mosvky, had agonized over whether the report on Putin's Italy press conference debunking reports of his affair. Svanidze related that Ekho management nixed his intention to discuss the scandal on his weekly radio broadcast, in an effort to avoid picking a fight with the Kremlin. While "everyone knows" the unhappy state of Putin's family life, everyone also knows not to write about it. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the same rules would apply under Medvedev, with former Gorbachev advisor Aleksandr Tsipko claiming that the offending article had started a dangerous (in his view)
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