(Updates with comment from Usmanov in third paragraph.)
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Alisher Usmanov fired the editor of a leading Russian weekly magazine for publishing a photo showing protests over election fraud that contained an obscenity against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Maxim Kovalsky, editor of Kommersant Vlast, was dismissed because he published a photo containing “indecent language,” Usmanov’s press service said by e-mail from Moscow today. Andrei Galiev, general director of the media group that manages the weekly, ZAO Kommersant Holding, was also fired, it said.
Russia’s third-richest man, Mikhail Prokhorov, who pledged to run against Putin for the presidency next March, will offer to buy the publishing house from Usmanov, Dmitry Razumov, chief executive officer of the billionaire’s Onexim Group holding company, said today by phone. Usmanov said through his press service that he has “no plans to sell” Kommersant.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets at the weekend to protest fraud in Dec. 4 parliamentary elections won by Putin’s United Russia party in the biggest demonstrations since the Russian leader came to power 12 years ago.
“The Kremlin is very nervous after the mass protests against ballot-stuffing,” Kovalsky said in a phone interview today. “They are extending their control over the flow of information. Before they focused only on mass audience outlets, television stations. Now it’s reached another level. They are in a difficult spot.”
Usmanov, whose media group also publishes Kommersant, a leading Russian daily newspaper that is often critical of the government, fired the editor and executive because they violated “journalistic ethics,” he told news website Gazeta.ru. The billionaire said he may sue the former editor, according to a transcript of the Gazeta.ru interview forwarded by his press service.
“As a matter of principle, I maintain non-interference in the editorial policy of Kommersant publishing house,” Usmanov said in the statement sent by his press service. “But there are moral-ethical codes that were violated in this particular case. The media shouldn’t be a platform for hooliganism.”
The latest edition of Kommersant Vlast, published yesterday, featured a photo of a ballot cast for the pro- democracy party Yabloko which had the words “Putin, Go F--- Yourself” scrawled across it.
Putin, 59, decided in September to return to the Kremlin next year, edging aside President Dmitry Medvedev, who replaced him in the Kremlin in 2008 because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms. Putin may remain in power for almost a quarter-century if he runs again in 2018.
During his time as president that started in 2000, Putin established state control of nationwide television. Usmanov, a metals and mining magnate, bought Kommersant in 2006.
--With assistance from Lyubov Pronina in Moscow. Editors: Paul Abelsky, Torrey Clark, Andrew Langley
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