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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Just When I Thought I'd Seen It All

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"Hell must have frozen over." I caught myself muttering this phrase to myself repeatedly Thursday evening.

About 10 p.m., I settled down to watch NTV's newscast "Segodnya" while at the same time I flipped through that day's Novaya Gazeta and Obshchaya Gazeta. I started with Novaya Gazeta and immediately noticed a front-page editorial titled, "Personnel Mistakes Roam the Kremlin." The article begins, "Russian President Vladimir Putin is being seriously undercut by his loyal, well-intentioned but shiftless cadres."

Already I am shocked. The age-old theme of the good tsar and the bad boyars is really something new for Novaya Gazeta. Thinking this over, I raise my eyes to the television, which is reporting that Novaya Gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya has been detained by federal authorities in Chechnya.

I read on. For five paragraphs the article denounces the bad boyars, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Kremlin Chief of Staff Alexander Voloshin, who are tripping up the president at every step. Further on come the predictions: "Putin will turn to the intellectuals of Yabloko to help work out a package of liberal laws. Apparently, Putin has already asked Sergei Stepashin to consider returning to the post of prime minister."

Back to the TV. "Segodnya" is playing a wide-ranging interview with someone sitting in front of Novaya Gazeta's logo. In the paper I read further: "Putin, replacing political plotters with real politicians, will most likely even come up with an acceptable compromise regarding NTV — the sale of shares to a foreign investor." Huh?

I try to make sense of what I am seeing and reading. Most likely, Novaya Gazeta suddenly adopting a pro-presidential stance is trying to send us some sort of important "message." But what is it? Promotion for Grigory Yavlinsky?

I test this hypothesis by turning to the ideologically related Obshchaya Gazeta, for which Yavlinsky writes regularly. In the Feb. 15-22 issue, he wrote a long article called "Time Backward" with subheads like "Sham Democracy" and "A Country With a Loyal Economy." The gist of the article is Yavlinsky's concern in recent months that the country is showing real signs of the creation of a police state. Perhaps the responses to that article will help me figure things out.

The first to respond was Dmitry Furman, a regular Obshchaya Gazeta columnist and a notably intelligent and honest political observer. His article bears the sub-head "The Opposition Consolidates the Regime." Here are some excerpts:

"Yavlinsky is quite correct to speak of the 'pseudo-opposition' of the Communists. ... But you can say the exact same thing about the other side as well. Hard on the heels of attacks on the state from the right, we may perfectly well hear announcements of their willingness to join the government ...

"I get the impression that in their heart of hearts, the leaders of both the left and the right have accepted their function in this system and find their social niche perfectly comfortable."

Once again — huh? For Obshchaya Gazeta to criticize Yavlinsky is as bizarre as for Novaya Gazeta to be pushing the "good tsar" illusion. After reading Furman, I think that I understand Yavlinsky a lot better. But I don't have a clue about the editorial line of these newspapers anymore.

Hell really has frozen over.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals. He contributed this column to Vedomosti.