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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Another Blow to Professionalism

If you believe what is written in the news and conversations among journalists, then it would seem that Raf Shakirov -- the well-known former editor of both Kommersant and Izvestia and the current editor of the New Times weekly magazine -- is about to suffer again at the hands of the Kremlin. The last time this happened was in September 2004, during the hostage crisis in Beslan. The day after government troops stormed the school, Shakirov filled much of Izvestia's pages with graphic photos showing heaps of dead children's bodies. The Kremlin demanded his resignation soon after. Whether his editorial decision was appropriate is debatable, but there is no justification for the Kremlin's interference in the affairs of a private newspaper.

In any case, the current growing conflict between the New Times and the Kremlin is not so much dramatic as it is bizarre. The intrigue began at the end of 2006, when television businesswoman Irena Lesnevskaya bought the New Times, which was popular during glasnost but later fell in standing. She named Shakirov as editor in chief, and a short time later, installed journalist Yevgenia Albats as political editor. The shock felt by the journalistic community at these appointments was so great that I still regret failing to play the role of bookmaker with my colleagues at work: Will Shakirov quit now or after a few months?

If one accepts the definition of a Russian "democrat" as someone who attributes all that is wrong in the world to government authorities and President Vladimir Putin, then it would be impossible to find any two more contrasting individuals to run a single publication.

Shakirov's views are far from radical. His interpretations of the authorities' actions is based on a fundamental presumption of innocence. Albats, on the other hand, is the type of "democrat" who is inclined to blame Putin personally for the appearance of sun spots.

Shakirov is modest and speaks quietly. Albats' hot temperament is more like that of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Wherever she is, her voice is the only voice you hear. Shakirov loves facts, but Albats loves only her own "correct" opinion. I will never forget how, on her Ekho Moskvy radio program, Albats demanded that a young journalist repent for an article she wrote on the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya -- simply because Albats did not like the article.

I know a few good journalists who reconsidered joining Shakirov at the New Times once Albats started working there. The web site Gazeta.ru published a woeful list of people who could not tolerate working with the political editor. They ultimately left the magazine and Shakirov endured all of this patiently .

And there is a twist that adds some spark to this affair: According to Kommersant, Gazeta.ru and independent sources, the Kremlin expressed its dissatisfaction with the magazine's owner about the degree to which it expresses its opposition views. Lesnevskaya has never been one to buckle under pressure from anybody. She responded by closing ranks around Albats, declaring that anyone who doesn't like it can go take a hike. That "anyone" might very well turn out to be Shakirov, notwithstanding his public comments to the contrary. If that happens, he will become the sacrificial lamb for both the authorities and the opposition.

What is most disheartening in this matter is that the Kremlin leadership does not consider it below its dignity to meddle in the affairs of a small-circulation publication. At the same time, Lesnevskaya showed foolish courage by investing money in a respected brand and then destroying it with her own hands, appointing editors who were, from the start, fundamentally incompatible.

In the end, common sense and professionalism suffer most in these types of cases, and in Russia, these are in short enough supply as it is.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of "Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa," a magazine for publishing business professionals.