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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov Went Too Far in Barring ABC

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The military and Federal Security Service must be beside themselves. They had spent months hunting for Shamil Basayev, and a Russian journalist working for U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty manages to spend two days and nights with Terrorist No. 1 himself in Chechnya. To top things off, the journalist, Andrei Babitsky, said he happened upon Basayev by chance.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that Defense Minister and former KGB officer Sergei Ivanov declared that ABC television, the U.S. network that broadcast the resulting interview with Basayev, was now considered persona non grata by his ministry.

"Today, I have given the order to the head of the press service that not one serviceman of the Defense Ministry should have contact with the American television channel ABC," Ivanov said Sunday on state television. "We will continue to act openly with the press, but this channel will not be invited to the Defense Ministry and no interviews will ever be given to it."

Ivanov's harsh response should have little effect on ABC. While Ivanov has recently taken steps to open up his ministry, its officials remain notoriously tight-lipped with reporters, especially those who are foreigners.

To its credit, the Foreign Ministry, which had summoned the U.S. Embassy's top official to protest the broadcast, quickly said Sunday that it would not revoke ABC's accreditation to work in Russia.

ABC News, which has adjusted to the post-Cold War reality that Russia is no longer a big story and at the same time sought to trim costs, has cut down its Moscow staff to a single person who acts both as bureau chief and Russia correspondent.

Ivanov's remarks smack of populism. In his anger, he has shown contempt for media freedoms and, more disturbingly, the law. As defense minister, he should know that he cannot legally deny a Foreign Ministry-accredited media organization access to information. If ABC mounted a challenge in court, it could easily win.

Speculation has been intense for the past year or so that Ivanov, one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies, could be a possible successor to the president in 2008. Ivanov has several times brushed aside suggestions that he might run.

But should Ivanov announce a presidential bid, people may want to ask themselves whether the man who unilaterally decided to ban a TV network from his turf over a controversial interview is suited to lead a democratic Russia.