The story broke like wildfire in the international press. President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s fiercely private strong-arm leader, had divorced his wife and was preparing to marry a Russian gymnast and model less than half his age. After it appeared in the little-known Moskovsky Korrespondent tabloid on April 12th, the rumor was reprinted in dozens of papers worldwide, with various interpretations, questions and added facts.
Putin was said to be romantically involved with Alina Kabaeva, a 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist who later turned to politics and now serves as a deputy in the State Duma. Widespread buzz that Putin was having trouble in his marriage fueled the flames, as did photos of Putin and Kabaeva together at various gatherings. Even before the rumor broke, Kabaeva had been called a “Putin babe,” one of a group of young women reportedly ordered by Putin to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party list, in an attempt to boost the party’s sex appeal before last year’s elections.
Now, after both Putin and Kabaeva publicly refuted the claims, and after the paper published a retraction, the chatter has ebbed somewhat. But the troubles of the Moskovsky Korrespondent are only beginning. Since the article was published, the tabloid’s offices have been visited several times by FSB agents. The paper’s billionaire owner was warned to beef up his personal security. And in a final twist, the publication has been shut down temporarily for “financial reasons.”
Artem Artemov, the general director of the paper’s parent company, commented on the decision to the Interfax news agency: “I took the decision to cease financing and therefore [cease] printing the newspaper, in connection with the large expense of publishing it, and also disagreement with editorial staff over its strategy.”
Artemov added that the Moskovsky Korrespondent’s lead editor, Grigory Nekhoroshev, had resigned.
The paper is owned by billionaire oligarch Aleksandr Lebedev, and some experts speculated that the article was planted as an attack on Lebedev, the paper, or even Putin.
Naturally, Artemov underscored that the closure had nothing to do with the scandalous marriage article.
“There can be no talk of any political motives in the suspension of the paper’s publication,” he said, adding that it was “purely a business matter.” “In the near future, we will establish a new strategy for the newspaper, and a business-plan for its development.