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Russian sacked for stories on Slovakia

Marina Kalašnikova, a Russian reporter with the influential Moscow-based Kommersant Daily, was fired last month after Sergej Jastržembskij, a Kremlin spokesman and one of the most powerful Kremlin figures, took exception to her stories about Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar's use of presidential powers.
Expressing the conviction that the official interests of Russia were closely connected with Russian support of the current government of Vladimír Mečiar, Jastržembskij, who intervened with Kalašnikova's boss, got his way when Kalašnikova was fired on March 23.


Slovakia's ambassador to Russia. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Jastržembskij still has a keen interest in Slovakia.
Peter Brenkus

Marina Kalašnikova, a Russian reporter with the influential Moscow-based Kommersant Daily, was fired last month after Sergej Jastržembskij, a Kremlin spokesman and one of the most powerful Kremlin figures, took exception to her stories about Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar's use of presidential powers.

Expressing the conviction that the official interests of Russia were closely connected with Russian support of the current government of Vladimír Mečiar, Jastržembskij, who intervened with Kalašnikova's boss, got his way when Kalašnikova was fired on March 23.

On March 24, Jaromír Štětina, a Czech reporter with the Epicentrum Agency in Moscow, confirmed Kalašnikova's dismissal from Kommersant Daily. "Yes, it's for sure, she finally lost her job with the paper," Štětina said.

Between March 14 and March 16, Kommersant Daily, one of the few officially "independent" papers in the country, ran three articles critical of Slovakia, in which Kalašnikova criticized Mečiar's seizure of presidential powers and use of them to cancel a called referendum, recall 28 ambassadors and grant amnesty in two controversial criminal cases.

The last of the three articles, headlined "Slovakia Becomes a Zone of Conflict in Europe," drew a picture of the methods employed by "Mečiar's dictatorship," and discussed his building of ties with Russia rather than with Western Europe. "Moscow is connected to the policy of Mečiar's government," Kalašnikova wrote, "which inhibits the penetration of Western companies into the most lucrative and attractive spheres of the Slovak economy - namely the energy and military-industrial sectors."

Slovakia would never break its ties with Russia while Mečiar remained in office, Kalašnikova concluded, referring to the fact that Russian companies have recently won various tenders for doing business in Slovakia and have signed numerous bilateral contracts. Besides the well known case of the gas transit joint venture between Gazprom and SPP, Kalašnikova mentioned other interesting cooperative ventures like the building of new electro-blocks for the nuclear power station in Mochovce, the production of engines for JAK-130 military jets, and negotiations over the oil industry in Slovakia.

Kalašnikova said that the "Danubian Lukašenko [Belarus's authoritarian president]", as she called Mečiar, was the most crucial piece of the puzzle. "If Mečiar leaves, Russian gas will be replaced by Norwegian, and the military market will be taken over by American and Canadian companies," Kalašnikova wrote in her third article, which later proved to be her last one for the paper.

Soon after the story appeared, Jastržembskij called the editor-in-chief, Raf Šakirov, explaining that media should first and foremost support the national interests of Russia. Šakirov then duly warned Kalašnikova not to forget the interests of her own country. Later, Kalašnikova received a phone call from Jastržembskij himself, in which he charged that her article was no good.

On March 16, The Slovak Spectator made an effort to contact Kalašnikova.She said she was leaving for Lithuania, and proposed a phone interview on March 22. However, on the agreed day she was so frightened that she refused to say anything, and hung up after a few words.

Jastržembskij, Russia's former ambassador to Slovakia, is still active in cultivating strong Slovak and Russian ties even after having left his post at the end of 1996. Kalašnikova wrote that Mečiar called him "the Ambassador of Slovakia in Russia," and added unofficial information about Mečiar's reported secret visit to Moscow last December, which has never been confirmed by the Slovak government. Mečiar is scheduled to visit the Russian Federation officially before the end of May 1998.

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