Moscow: The owner of a leading independent Russian news website has fired its chief editor following official complaints over the outlet`s coverage of Ukraine.
Lenta.Ru says Alexander Mamut, who also owns several other media outlets, dismissed Galina Timchenko today. She will be replaced by the former editor of a staunchly pro-Kremlin website.
The Lenta.Ru editorial team said in a statement that Timchenko`s removal marked a further decline of media freedom in Russia.
"The firing of an independent chief editor and the appointment of a malleable person, one that comes directly from the offices of the Kremlin, this is a violation of the law on mass media, which rules out any censorship," said the statement, which was signed by dozens of Lenta.Ru writers and editors.
The website had received a warning from a state communications regulator over an interview with a prominent radical Ukrainian nationalist Andriy Tarasenko, who had engaged in the anti-government protests that sent Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Russia last month.
The regulator said the website also had included a link to earlier comments by Dmytro Yarosh, a nationalist leader who is wanted in Russia on charges of instigating terrorism over recent alleged calls for Chechen insurgents to mount attacks against Russia.
The regulator said the website breached a law banning dissemination of extremist material.
Lenta.Ru is the most read online news outlet in Russia, attracting 10 million hits daily, according to figures cited by Internet and technology news website TheRunet.Com.
Mamut, a metals and banking billionaire who also own the British bookstore chain Waterstones, oversaw an online media merger in 2013 that gave him control over several popular news outlets, including Lenta.Ru.
Lenta.Ru has since its creation in 1999 earned a reputation as a vibrant news outlet in a landscape largely dominated by media either directly controlled by the state or notable for their adherence to its official line.