Is Putin Afraid to Say Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny’s Name?

October 2, 2013
Dmitry Peskov at the Kommersant Academy. Photo by Sergei Kiselev/Kommersant

Several employees of Kommersant, an organization with deep Kremlin ties, have been fired for publicizing unauthorized quotes from Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. The offending quote suggested that Vladimir Putin was afraid to even mention opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s name in case it gave him free publicity. Putin has repeatedly spoken about Navalny without mentioning the politician’s name.

Below we have posted two translations concerning the same story, as they both add details and are relatively short. – Ed.

Staff members of Kommersant’s website have been fired after publishing remarks from presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov about why Vladimir Putin does not pronounce the name of Alexei Navalny. Andrei Kolesnikov, president of Kommersant’s Academy of Journalism explained in an interview on Kommersant FM that the two women had published remarks from a meeting behind closed doors and furthermore, had distorted Peskov’s words.

Kolesnikov explained that Dmitry Peskov had given a lecture to students of the Academy on the topic “News Journalism in Russia,” and in fact had explained to all those present that the meeting was “off the record” (i.e. not to be recorded). However, according to Kolesnikov, two female employees of the Kommersant site did not understand this and at the conclusion of the meeting published three news items: “They knew perfectly well about the closed format of the meeting, but they did this nevertheless, and in fact with big mistakes; these quotations were not authentic.”

Andrei Kolesnikov added that the news items were removed from the site since the quotations were not accurate and furthermore, “the reports grossly violated the agreement in this regard.”

A piece with the headline “Dmitry Peskov Tells Why Vladimir Putin Doesn’t Pronounce Name of Alexei Navalny” was published on the Kommersant website on 30 September at 20:17 (it is in Google’scache). It cited the following words from Peskov: “In this country, Putin in the political sense is beyond competition; if he pronounces the name of Navalny, he will yield part of his popularity to him.”

The news item was reprinted by news agencies but three hours later, Interfax sent out a notice about the retraction: “The report issued 30 September at 21:50 under the headline ‘Peskov Explains Why Putin does Not Pronounce Navalny’s Name” is cancelled at the request of Kommersant.”

Journalists have frequently noted that in answering questions about Navalny, Putin tries not to pronounce his name. For example, in commenting on the trial of Navalny in the Kirovles affair, Putin said, “People who fight corruption must be crystal-pure themselves.”

The only time Putin has pronounced the name of the opposition member was at the Valdai Discussion Club. The American journalist Alec Luhn wrote on his Twitter feed, “I asked Putin if he deliberately doesn’t say @navalny ‘s name. Answer: ‘No, why? Alexei Navalny is one of leaders of the opposition movement.’”

The following is a translation of an article published on on October 1st entitled “Pelevin is With Us: Kommersant Fires Journalists Who Revealed Putin’s Terrible Secret.” – Ed.


Despite everything, there’s a wonderful story that has happened involving Kommersant, Peskov, Putin and Navalny. On 1 October, the radio station Kommersant FM reported that two web staff were fired from the company. For what? For this blurb:

Dmitry Peskov Tells Why Vladimir Putin Does not Pronounce the Name of Alexei Navalny

At a press conference at Kommersant, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told why Vladimir Putin does not mention the name of the opposition member Alexei Navalny. “In this country, Putin in the political sense is beyond competition; if he pronounces the name of Navalny, he will yield to him part of his popularity,” Peskov explained.

The short piece was naturally removed, although naturally a copy is still in Google cache.

Andrei Kolesnikov explained on the air what had happened (vaguely, and with hints, but we understood it all). There was a closed meeting of students of the Kommersant Academy of Journalism with Dmitry Peskov. Peskov spoke a good deal there of things that you shouldn’t say to normal journalists. Besides the “Academy students” there were journalists in the hall who naturally went and published some of the news resulting from the meeting. This included Peskov’s statement about why Putin superstitiously avoids calling Navalny by name.

Well, alright, readers understood that Putin was behaving like a pagan. It was even funny. But now everyone knows that he is so panicked about saying “Navalny” that it is already a secret, it is forbidden even to write about this. That’s no longer funny, but alarming. Now the words “Putin” and “Navalny” cannot be pronounced even by Andrei Kolesnikov, who carefully avoided substantive explanations about this on the air. He also could not provide the names of those girls who had revealed Putin’s terrible secret.

In personal conversations with Slon, Kommersant staff could not confirm or deny the information about the fired staff. Furthermore, the workers from the online department which put out the news with the quotes from Peskov is refraining from commentary on the incident in talks with journalists from the other divisions of Kommersant.

“They say it was like this: a strict format for the meeting as ‘off the record’ was indeed publicly discussed with Peskov. Nevertheless, a girl from the web site came at least 20 minutes late to the meeting with Peskov, and without suspecting anything, immediately began sending quotes from the presidential press secretary by SMS to her girlfriend, who published them on the site,” one of the Kommersant staff people told Slon.

Nameless girls fired from Kommersant! Come in please, we’re looking for you!