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A crisis in Russia? Kremlin says 'nyet'

MOSCOW — The Russian stock markets have been hemorrhaging value for weeks, Russian industries are gearing up for large-scale layoffs, and many Russians have rushed to convert their ruble savings into dollars.

Any way you look at it, it's a crisis, and that's exactly the word the chief editor of a Yekaterinburg Web site used to describe her country's economic plight.

But for a Russian government nervous about how Russians will react as hard times worsen, it's a volatile word — too volatile for publication.

So last month, prosecutors in Yekaterinburg summoned Aksana Panova, the Web site's editor, to their offices.

"They asked me, 'What makes you think there's a crisis in Russia?' " Panova said. "The question surprised me. I asked him, 'What makes you think there's no crisis in Russia? That's nonsense.'

"He answered back, 'I'm the one who asks the questions here.' "

With Russia's economy buckling under the weight of a worldwide credit crunch and sliding oil prices, authorities have grown increasingly attentive to how the country's television networks, newspapers and Web sites portray the crisis.

The script that authorities want the news media to stick to is the message that the Kremlin has been hammering home to Russians almost daily: The United States is wholly to blame for Russia's economic plight, and Russian leaders have taken the right steps to contain the crisis.

Russia's state-controlled television networks have dutifully obliged. Recently, though, authorities have begun scouring Web sites and newspapers for evidence of content that they believe could incite panic in a nation already on edge about its economic plight.

Russia's business daily, Vedomosti, was warned by Russian authorities after it published an article by economist Yevgeny Gontmakher that discussed the potential in Russia for unrest spurred by the economic crisis.

Panova, whose Web site covers economic and political issues in Russia's Ural Mountains region, was called into the regional prosecutors' office Nov. 17.

"They just said that we shouldn't write about the crisis, so as to not stir up panic," she said. "And if we don't stop, they would file charges."

Panova said her Web site will continue to write about the crisis, and "we'll call mass layoffs 'mass layoffs.' "

A crisis in Russia? Kremlin says 'nyet' 12/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 12:00pm]
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