Media 18 February 2020

Leading Russian newspaper Vedomosti faces upheaval

Russia’s leading business daily, Vedomosti, is on the verge of big changes. Amid rumors of new ownership, it emerged (Rus) Thursday that Vedomosti may get a new chief editor. The leading contender, Dmitry Solopov, is not just known as a journalist, but also a PR specialist. And there are fears the new owners have ties to state-owned oil giant Rosneft.

  • Vedomosti’s current chief editor, Ilya Bulavinov, has a one-year contract that ends in April. But popular Telegram channel Merciless PR Guy reported (Rus) Thursday that Bulavinov and web editor Maksim Tovkailo are quitting. An acquaintance of Bulavinov and Tovkailo confirmed their departure to The Bell, but there has been no official confirmation. A spokesperson for Vedomosti shareholder Demyan Kudryavtsev said a new contract has not yet been discussed with Bulavinov.
  • Merciless PR Guy named Dmitry Solopov as Vedomosti’s likely new chief editor. A former journalist, Solopov was editor-in-chief of radio station Business FM and Kommersant FM before co-founding a major PR agency. Solopov said (Rus) he was offered Vedomosti’s top job, but Kudryavtsev denied this, writing on Facebook that Solopov may have been the victim of a practical joke.
  • Vedomosti is Russia’s most authoritative business daily, and one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Russia. It has a monthly online audience of 12 million. Until 2015, the newspaper was owned through a three-way arrangement that included the Financial Times Group, Dow Jones (publisher of the Wall Street Journal) and Finland-based Sanoma. But a ban on foreigners owning media outlets in Russia saw the shareholders sell to media manager Demyan Kudryavtsev, former director of newspaper Kommersant and ex-advisor to 1990s oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Formally, Vedomosti is owned by Kudryavtsev’s wife — because he hasn’t had Russian citizenship since 2017.
  • For years there have been rumors that Kudryavtsev is the public face for a secret shareholder, or group of shareholders, but there has never been any official confirmation of this theory. One possible ‘co-owner’ is Kudryavtsev’s friend, metals tycoon Dmitry Bosov, who has business ties to Rosneft. In a 2018 interview with The Bell founder Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Kudryavtsev admitted (Rus) that he did borrow money for Vedomosti’s development from Bosov, but said it happened after the purchase of the newspaper, and that the debt was quickly repaid.
  • Last year, Kommersant reported (Rus) that Kudryavtsev was looking for a buyer for Vedomosti, and earlier this month Kudryavtsev announced (Rus) the newspaper would be sold to Vladimir Voronov, former manager of News Corp’s Russian assets (Rupert Murdoch helped Kudryavtsev finance the purchase of the paper in 2015). But the market has no doubt this is only an interim transaction — everyone expects the newspaper will get another owner very soon.

Why the world should care

We do not know for certain whether current (or future) Vedomosti shareholders have ties to Rosneft, or to Russian officials. But a well informed media manager told The Bell that the buyer will be a figure approved by the Kremlin. This means that the change of ownership at Vedomosti will almost inevitably compromise its independence.

Howard Amos, Peter Mironenko