The editor of a prominent Russian magazine has been fired after publishing a photograph containing an obscene message addressed to the prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire owner of Kommersant publishing house and a major shareholder in Arsenal football club, fired the Kommersant Vlast editor-in-chief, Maxim Kovalsky, on Tuesday, raising fears of a Kremlin crackdown on media.
The magazine had the previous day published a picture of a ballot paper from last week’s parliamentary vote with the words “Putin, go fuck yourself” scrawled in red ink. The caption reads: “A correctly filled out ballot recognised as invalid.”
The image, taken at a polling booth for Russians living in London, was part of an investigative report into the parliamentary elections under the heading: “How the elections were falsified.”
“These materials border on petty hooliganism,” Usmanov told Gazeta.ru.
The Kremlin-friendly metals tycoon rarely wades into the day-to-day running of Kommersant, one of the country’s most respected publishers and home to the Kommersant daily newspaper, as well as Vlast and the Kommersant radio station.
Demyan Kudryavtsev, the publisher’s general director, wrote on his blog that he had submitted his resignation after “internal procedures and rules” had been violated. Kommersant “regrets this and apologises to its readers and partners”, he added.
Kovalsky, who edited the magazine since 1999, told the Slon.ru online news agency: “I really don’t want the publishers to move in the direction of servility. I hope enough professional and reasonable people work [there] to save its face.”
He later told Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station owned by Gazprom, the state-run gas company: “I am sure I did everything right and I do not regret that the magazine’s latest issue was as it was.”
Russian media reported on Tuesday that the Public Opinion Foundation, believed to have ties with the Kremlin, would cease conducting opinion polls. The move comes amid declining popularity for Putin and his United Russia party and growing protests against the elections.