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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Times Bids Farewell to Printing House

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Friday, was The Moscow Times last working day in the building best associated with the Soviet-era newspaper Pravda. As of Jan. 3, the Times will occupy new office space in north Moscow, joining its fellow Independent Media publications and leaving behind the historic Pressa printing complex at 24 Ulitsa Pravdy.

The reasons behind the move are primarily financial, said Moscow Times editor Matt Bivens.

"The Pressa building is owned by the Kremlin property department, and its where weve had both our newsroom and our printing presses," Bivens said. "We actually for years have had a great deal on rent and print costs."

In recent months, however, the Property Ministry has taken steps to improve Pressas commercial profile, raising the rent for all tenants of the complex from $28 to $88 per square meter and shortening lease agreements in preparation for more future hikes.

"All residents got the same hike," said a source within Pressa management, who asked not to be named.

According to the source, the rent change was the result of a ministry order dated June 23. To comply with the order Pressa management was forced to raise the rent for all residents. The raise was practically the first in at least three years, he added.

"It looks as though there will be further changes in the system next year according to which the rent will be recalculated, and the price may go up again," he said. "But this will depend entirely on the ministrys regulations."

The revamp coincides with the recent purchase of a part of the complex by LUKoil-Reserve-Invest, a brokerage affiliated with LUKoil, Russias top oil major. According to sources at LUKoil, the brokerage currently owns a 90 percent stake in Pressa-1, which is responsible for the complexs typographic services but not editorial office space, which remains under federal control.

The management of LUKoil-Reserve-Invest was not available to comment on the future of the Ulitsa Pravdy complex.

Besides The Moscow Times, there are 55 publications in the Pressa complex facing the rent hikes, including former communist stalwarts like Sovietskaya Rossiya, Selskaya Zhizn and Komsomolskaya Pravda, as well as newer titles like Vek, Rabochaya Tribuna, Parlamentskaya Gazeta, Rossiiskaya Gazeta and Ogonyok magazine.

The Moscow Times is the only publication to leave the Pressa complex over the rent hike.

"We are staying here. So far even the new rent is pretty reasonable," said Galina Zamotayeva, first deputy general director of Vek.

A publisher of another Pressa newspaper said on condition of strict anonymity that his publication is also staying put. "Whatever happens, we will pay. We have nowhere to go, the printers are nearby, and moving would require such huge expenses that it simply makes no sense," the publisher said.

According to publisher Stephan Grootenboer, the Times might have opted to stay on in spite of the hikes, were it not for the uncertainty regarding future lease agreements. The new management at Pressa in not offering contracts of periods longer than six months, he said. Moreover, even short-term leases were subject to change without advance notice. The first hike faced by a number of Pressa publications was announced in September, but charged retroactively to begin July 1.

Derk Sauer, CEO of Independent Media whose publications include the Russian-language versions of Playboy, Cosmopolitan and Mens Health in addition to a number of Internet portals like Business.ru and eStart.ru said he welcomed the papers move to the companys main office complex on Vyborgskaya Ulitsa, near the Vodny Stadion metro station.

"First of all, Id like to see the paper closer to us, and this is the most important factor," Sauer said, adding that the move to turn the Pressa complex into a more profitable business was understandable. "It is good real estate," he said.

The Moscow Times moved to Pressa, once the heart of the Soviet propaganda machine, in March 1993. (The paper had originally worked out of rented office space in the Radisson Slavjanskaya Hotel.) The move was prompted by a proposal by Pressas then-director Vladimir Ovechnikov, who offered cheap office space in addition to Pressas printing services.

"To move to the Pravda Street address was quite something," Sauer said. "When I came to the building for the first time, the old-time newspapers were still there and were much more powerful than they are now."

Indeed, the Pressa complex which currently occupies a large stretch of land between the Belorusskaya and Savyolovskaya metro stations had been the nest of all publications put out by the Central Party Committee before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At the peak of its glory in the 1970s and 80s, the complex employed a total of 12,000 people, with 9,000 of them working in the presses themselves.

In 1974 the complex was putting out seven national newspapers and 32 magazines at a total volume of nearly 90 million copies. In addition, the publishing house was printing some 20 million books, more than 50 million postcards and 3 million posters a year.

The complex began its history in the early 1930s, when in order to accommodate the growing needs of Pravda which was founded as a Bolshevist daily in 1912 and had bounced between a number of printers, including one in St. Petersburg the Soviet leadership launched an ambitious project to create a large-scale publishing house that could help spread the party line across the unions vast empire.

State-of-the-art presses were built; the Pravda editorial team was housed in the eight-story constructivist office building designed by Panteleimon Golosov, who beat out a number of architects, including Alexei Shchusev, designer of the Lenin mausoleum and Kazansky Station, for the right to the project. For Golosov, whose life was dedicated primarily to teaching, the Pravda building was to become his greatest achievement: The building has since been granted architectural-monument status.

The new complex printed its first issue of Pravda on May 5, 1934. The growing need to keep the nation tuned into party politics triggered incredible efforts to assure the papers phenomenal print run and distribution system. During the 1930s, Pressa was the largest publishing house in Europe.

Plates with ready-to-print fresh Pravda issues were delivered daily by plane to regional presses in cities throughout the Soviet Union. Ink and newsprint supplies were delivered to Pressa via an individual railway line leading directly to the presses.

Within the complex, virtually nothing was left to chance. According to Dmitry Kruglov, who worked at the Pravda presses for 50 years beginning in 1948, publishing was a rigidly controlled process. "Not a single change on the page was made without a check from the copy editors and the editors approval. There was even a practice of giving out financial rewards to anyone who could spot a mistake in layout or a typo," he said.

The atmosphere of tight control was especially felt in the press division responsible for printing Central Committee documents, which were all secret, regardless of content. "The things that were secret were not only internal party circulars but also things like menus from the cafeterias of top government resorts," Kruglov said.

Special attention was paid to guarantee Pravdas ability to spread the official line even in times of national chaos. The complex was equipped with independent electricity and water supplies; accumulated internal reserves, bomb shelters and a network of underground passages were created to ensure that the presses would work even if the rest of the city were brought to a virtual standstill.

"I was responsible for one bomb shelter. It was equipped to protect the finance department and some other services. I made sure that all the gas masks were in working order, and that the shelter was always ready to accommodate people," said Nikolai Trushin, who has spent the past 47 years at Pressa and now chairs its veterans council. "The gas masks are probably still there," he added.

During World War II, when the front came as close as the area that is now Khimki just 20 kilometers away Pressa continued to function uninterrupted.

But even in its heyday, the state publishing complex experienced the occasional glitch. Up until the late 1960s, for example, entering the editorial building was a surprisingly easy thing. That policy was abruptly ended, however, when the coat belonging to Pravdas editor in chief, Mikhail Zyemyanin, was mysteriously stolen from his office. Since then, the building has been guarded by police and a strict passes-only policy is still enforced.

Another of the buildings distinctive features was the pneumatic mail system that lined various departments of the editorial building with the presses. Parts of the old mail pipe, which was installed in 1935 and remained in working order through the early 1990s, are still scattered throughout the complex. (According to local legend, the system was occasionally used to send bottles of vodka from one department to another. The legend has not been documented, but the diameter of the pipes is sufficiently large for half-liter bottles to pass through.)

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the beginning of a decline in Pressas activities and influence. Pravda itself sank into relative oblivion, having turned into a minor and irregular publication. Most of the complexs once-influential publications either ceased to exist altogether or shrank in size beyond recognition.

The complex then opened its doors to a new generation of tenants including The Moscow Times. Since then, Pressa has been forced to sell off parts of its premises; it still remains unclear what will happen to the complexs House of Culture, or its once-famous food store, located across the street from the main building. And some parts of the Pressa publishing empire, like its resorts in Moscow and the Black Sea town of Pitsunda, seem lost forever.

"Its a shame to leave, because the downtown location was very convenient, and the building had a great history. The Moscow Times offices are part of the former offices of Pravda, which was fun for bragging rights," Bivens said.

"Other than location and history, everything else about the building was pretty shabby," he added. "But over time you get used to even that, to the point that I think Im going to miss even the surliest of the police officers at the building entrance."