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Russian news site editor fired after warning over Ukraine coverage

© 2014 AFP

12 March 2014

The chief editor of one of Russia's oldest and most popular news websites, Lenta.ru, was summarily dismissed Wednesday after a state watchdog warned the site over its interviews with Ukrainian ultra-nationalists.

The news portal is known for its detailed coverage of figures in opposition to President Vladimir Putin, including punk rock band Pussy Riot and protest leader Alexei Navalny.

Owner Alexander Mamut took the decision to fire editor-in-chief Galina Timchenko with immediate effect, the site said in a brief statement that did not give a reason for her dismissal.

"This is definitely it now. Thanks, it has been very interesting," Timchenko wrote on Facebook.

Timchenko had headed Lenta.ru since 2004 and had worked there since its launch in 1999.

She has been replaced by an editor who previously worked for a news website seen as pro-Kremlin.

Timchenko's sudden departure comes after a Russian government media watchdog earlier Wednesday issued an official warning to Lenta.ru for "distributing materials of extremist nature."

It cited an interview with a member of Ukraine's Pravy Sektor, or Right Sector, a far-right radical movement that fought police during protest clashes in Kiev last month, as well as an article quoting the movement's leader Dmytro Yarosh.

"In the texts of these materials there are statements aimed at inciting ethnic hatred," the watchdog said in a statement.

Two warnings by the watchdog in the course of a year are sufficient grounds to shut down a media outlet.

A Moscow court on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant in absentia for Yarosh on suspicion of inciting "terrorism."

Independent reporters and media obervers responded with dismay to Timchenko's dismissal.

"This dismissal is acknowledgement of you as the head of a quality independent outlet," Yevgenia Albats of opposition magazine The New Times wrote on Timchenko's Facebook page.

"The whole of the Russian Internet is being wrapped in barbed wire," wrote Pussy Riot band member Maria Alyokhina on Twitter.

"I respect Lenta," tweeted former US ambassador Michael McFaul.

Russia's media landscape dramatically changed this year when the only state news agency to experiment with a more Western approach to news reporting, RIA Novosti, was abruptly wound up and relaunched under the same editorship as RT television.

In an interview with Afisha magazine earlier this year, Timchenko complained that "mass media are put in a situation where you cannot work without constantly watching your back."

Mamut is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $2.3 billion. He owns the British book shop chain Waterstone's.