Moskovsky Korrespondent, the newspaper that first reported rumours of a marriage between Vladimir Putin and Alina Kabaeva, a 24-year-old gymnast, has closed, shortly after the President told journalists it was unacceptable to pry into his private
life with snotty noses and erotic fantasies.
Putin strongly denied that he had divorced his wife Ludmilla and planned a June wedding with Ms Kabaeva.
The owner of the paper, Alexander Lebedev, had said he thought the story was "nonsense" and the editorial team admitted there was no factual basis to the story.
The head of the paper's parent company, Artem Artemov, told journalists the paper was being "temporarily halted" due to its lack of profitability, and insisted there was no political subtext to the decision. Most Russian media obey the
Kremlin line that Putin's private life is off limits.
Lebedev is a billionaire who has good relations with the Kremlin but also co-owns the sharply oppositionist Novaya Gazeta, where the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya worked. There are suggestions the incident may have been an attempt to set
up Lebedev by hardliners involved in a Kremlin turf war.
Sergey Topol, who wrote the story, told The Independent that he based it on a contact in a St Petersburg firm that was allegedly bidding for a secret tender to host the wedding.
Mikhail Zlatkovsky has been lampooning Russian leaders since the days of perestroika. But he has discovered that satire permitted by Gorbachev and Yeltsin is dangerous under Putin.
When Yeltsin named Vladimir Putin as acting president on New Year's Eve 1999, Zlatkovsky drew the ailing Yeltsin dredging a mermaid-tailed Putin out of the sea and putting a crown on his head. Putin became a regular feature of Zlatkovsky's
cartoons. But the new President was officially inaugurated on 7 May 2000, and the next day, Zlatkovsky's editor at Literaturnaya Gazeta, where he then worked, came into the newsroom, fresh from a Kremlin reception.
He said to me, 'Misha, we're not going to draw Putin any more,' recalls Zlatkovsky: The young lad is very sensitive. From that day onwards, Zlatkovsky has not had another cartoon of Putin published. Nowadays, the only cartoons of
the Russian leader to appear in the Russian press are those that depict him in a positive, or even heroic light.
As Putin's rule went on, says Zlatkovsky, the number of taboo subjects increased – ministers, Kremlin aides, Chechnya and top military brass all became off limits. Recently a cartoon depicting Alexy II, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox
Church, propmpted a phone call from the patriarchate and a strong request never to draw him again.
There's no central censor these days, says Zlatkovsky: Instead, we have the censorship of the fire safety inspectorate; or the censorship of the tax police. Satirise the ruling class today, and tomorrow the newspaper offices will be
paid a surprise visit by fire inspectors who will find a bureaucratic regulation that the office does not meet, and close it. Or there will be a call from the printworks stating that the price of paper has inexplicably risen tenfold. Many
cartoonists have given up, finding other work, and newspaper editors prefer to err on the side of caution and not publish cartoons at all.