Russia’s top independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose chief editor was last year awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, on Monday suspended publication until the end of Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
Chief editor Dmitry Muratov said it was a “difficult” decision, indicating it was an effort to “save” the respected publication and avoid a total shutdown.
“For us and, I know, for you, this is a terrible and difficult decision. But we need to save us for each other,” he said in a statement.
Co-founded by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is the only main newspaper left voicing criticism of President Vladimir Putin and his tactics in and outside the country.
The announcement came more than a month into the Kremlin’s military campaign in pro-Western Ukraine, with thousands of people killed and more than 10 million displaced in the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
“We have received another warning from Roskomnadzor,” the newspaper said in a statement, referring to Russia’s media regulator.
“We are suspending publication of the newspaper on our website, on social media and in print — until the end of the ‘special operation in Ukraine’,” it added.
Earlier on Monday, Novaya Gazeta staff learnt of a formal warning from Roskomnadzor state communications watchdog, its second since last week.
Nadezhda Prusenkova, a Novaya Gazeta spokeswoman, told AFP that the newspaper still did not have a copy of the warning, adding they had learnt about the development “from the news”.
If a media outlet receives two warnings from the communications regulator in the space of a year, a court can shut it down.
“If we don’t stop, we will be stripped of our licence through court,” Prusenkova said.
‘Losses and destruction’
Muratov said the formal warnings were payback for Novaya Gazeta’s efforts to cover the conflict and its efforts to estimate “losses and destruction”, both in Russia and Ukraine.
The newspaper has got into hot water with Russian authorities even after it said it would have to work “under conditions of military censorship”.
In early March, the media outlet said it would have to comply with newly adopted legislation after lawmakers introduced jail terms of up to 15 years for publishing “fake news” about Russia’s army.
Last week, Roskomnadzor said Novaya Gazeta failed to mark a non-governmental organisation mentioned in one of its stories as a “foreign agent” in accordance with Russian legislation.
Russia is seeing an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting voices and independent journalism that has included dubbing NGOs and media outlets as “foreign agents” — a label that carries strong pejorative connotations and implies increased government scrutiny.
Novaya Gazeta itself has not been declared a “foreign agent”.
Even in the current conditions Novaya Gazeta’s statement came as a jolt.
“That’s it, there is no more independent media in the country,” wrote StalinGulag, a prominent opposition blogger. “Complete censorship.”
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged Russian authorities “to stop these policies of censorship”.
Last year, Muratov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Maria Ressa of the Philippines for their efforts “to safeguard freedom of expression”.
Muratov said last week the newspaper had decided to donate the gold medal to a fund to help Ukrainian refugees.