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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hackers Attack Novaya Gazeta

Novaya Gazeta -- a biweekly newspaper known for its investigations that dig deep and challenge official versions of events - was kept off the stands Thursday after someone broke into its computer network and destroyed the issue, the paper's editors said.

Deputy editor Sergei Sokolov said it happened around 3 p.m. Wednesday, two hours before the paper should have gone to press. The laid-out pages of Thursday's and next Monday's issue, as well as the paper's logo, were erased.

Sokolov said in a telephone interview that the break-in was likely related to one of the articles that was scheduled to come out in Thursday's issue.

"There are many possibilities," he said. "Naturally, most of the articles were about the election campaign."

Thursday's issue was to contain an article detailing the sources of campaign financing for Boris Yeltsin's 1996 campaign and acting President Vladimir Putin's campaign this year, Sokolov said.

"The editors do not rule out the possibility that the obsequious entourage of the country's leaders is ready to display its loyalty using even this method," the editorial board said in a statement.

One high-profile investigation the paper has been conducting concerns last fall's incident in Ryazan, when the Federal Security Service, or FSB, announced that a bomb residents had discovered in their apartment building was fake and had been put there as part of a training exercise.

Many observers contend that the bomb was likely real and see it as proof that the secret services were behind the apartment building explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which took place earlier in September.

Novaya Gazeta furthered this version in Monday's issue, where it printed the story of a paratrooper identified as Alexei P. According to the article, while guarding a storehouse last fall, Alexei and his friend discovered hexagen, the explosive that the Ryazan authorities say was found in the apartment building. The hexagen was in large sacks marked "sugar," and the soldiers said they broke one open hoping to be able to sweeten their tea. When their tea tasted strange, they informed their supervisors, who had the white powder tested.

In the end, FSB officials sent from Moscow scolded the soldiers for "exposing state secrets," and advised them to forget what they had seen, Novaya Gazeta said.

The idea that the secret services might have had something to do with the apartment bombings evoked indignation in Putin in an interview published last week in Kommersant.

"To even speculate about this is immoral and in essence none other than an element of the information war against Russia," he was quoted as saying.

Pavel Voloshin, author of the Novaya Gazeta series on Ryazan, said he thought the destruction of Thursday's issue was provoked by his reports.

"In each article, we call upon the FSB to answer specific questions," he said. "The FSB answered in an untraditional way."

But Sokolov said he did not suspect it was related to the Ryazan series, in part because no article on the subject was planned for Thursday.

When the issue was erased, Voloshin was at the State Duma working with Deputy Editor Yury Shchekochikhin, who holds a seat in the Duma with the Yabloko faction, on a proposal for the lower house to hold an inquiry into the Ryazan affair. Reached by telephone, Shchekochikhin said he hoped the issue would be put on the agenda for Friday's Duma session.

Voloshin said he had new evidence about FSB attempts to cover up the details of the "training exercise" that he was planning to publish shortly.

"Those who had any connection to the training exercise are now [serving in the armed forces] in Chechnya, including the explosives specialists and those who were guarding the storehouse," he said.

In his previous articles, Voloshin outlined in painstaking detail the reactions of local authorities who said they believed the explosives discovered in the basement of the building were real.

Similar reports have been published in the Western press, but they have been largely absent from Russian newspapers.

One exception is Versia, the muckraking weekly published by Sovershenno Sekretno publishing house with U.S. News and World Report. Sovershenno Sekretno publisher Artyom Borovik was killed in a plane crash last week and while officials say they found no evidence of a bomb, some suspect he was killed because of his journalistic endeavors.

Among the facts it presented in its article on Ryazan, Versia quoted a statement issued by local FSB officials saying they had been on the verge of arresting suspects when Moscow announced it had been an exercise.

Sokolov said Novaya Gazeta editors would decide Thursday whether or not to go to the police regarding Wednesday's computer break-in. He said the paper would publish an expanded issue Monday that would include the articles planned for Thursday's issue.

Robert Coalson, a program director at the National Press Institute, said such problems are not unusual at Russian newspapers.

"It happens in the regions fairly regularly. About once a month or so, either a paper gets its computers wiped out or the whole print run gets impounded," he said.

Most Russian newspapers are believed to be controlled by financial structures with concrete political interests, but Coalson said he did not think Novaya Gazeta was serving any political clan.

The editors' statement Wednesday said that former financial partners of Novaya Gazeta have "put pressure on the paper."

"We have over and over again refused to change our political line in exchange for financial assistance," it said.

In late January, the paper said an FSB officer had threatened a reporter who had been writing articles critical of LUKoil.

Sokolov said the paper, which has been published since April 1993, was currently financially independent. He said former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who has a foundation, "helped us get on our own two feet" in the paper's early days.