Russian Newspaper Critical of Kremlin Shut Down After Probe

An irreverent English-language newspaper in Russia has been forced to close following an official probe, its editor said Monday.

"The eXile," a brash monthly that criticized the Kremlin and the West in its pages — often seeking to offend — was subject to a June 5 audit, said Mark Ames, its American editor.

After inquiring about the paper's links to Russia's opposition leader Eduard Limonov, inspectors issued a small fine for minor infractions such as an incorrectly printed address, Ames said.

In the wake of the probe, sponsors including the paper's publisher withdrew financing, forcing it to close.

Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for the federal agency for media and communications which conducted the probe, said material collected from the newsroom had been examined and "small violations" had been found.

"'The eXile' is subject to checks like any other media," Strelchik said, adding that more than 500 outlets are examined for conformity to media regulations every year. He dismissed talk of political overtones to the inspection.

Ames conceded that the technical infringements were "absolutely valid." "We don't do things very professionally around here," he said.

But he disagreed with Strelchik over the reasons behind the inspection, saying that the government apparently had lost patience after 11 years of seeing the newspaper publish Limonov's critical articles.

Limonov is the leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party, and his critical writings and opposition activities have irritated the Kremlin.

"I suppose that the problems started with my links to the newspaper," Limonov said Monday. "I don't see any other reason."

Ames declined to name the paper's sponsors, citing fears for their safety.

"Being here makes me nervous," he said. "Everyone knows what happens when the government trains its eye on you."

This was the second time the newspaper had been inspected, Ames said. Authorities seeking to shut the paper down in 1998 ask editors at English-language daily the Moscow Times about possible repercussions in the West were they to do so — and were persuaded against, he said.

Russia saw a steady rollback of post-Soviet media and political freedoms during eight years under former President Vladimir Putin, when major national television networks came under the control of the Kremlin or its allies.

Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's protege, who inaugurated as president in early May, has promised to give more freedom to businesses, civil society and media, raising hopes that he could soften some of the most repressive policies of his predecessor. But Kremlin critics said Medvedev would likely follow the guidance of Putin, who has retained clout as prime minister.