The expulsion of the TASS director comes ten years after Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin attempted to overthrow Russia’s military government. This is the first time a senior civilian official has been held responsible for their role in the rebellion.
No one expected that Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who arrived on July 5 at the Soviet brutalist offices of the state-run TASS news agency near the Kremlin Fires TASS Director , would announce the appointment of a new general director.
According to Chernyshenko, 54-year-old CEO of TASS Sergei Mikhailov, who was awarded the presidential Order of Friendship in 2021, had resigned freely. He pointed to Mikhailov, who was sitting next to him and appeared to be rather worried.
Mikhailov’s replacement has been named Andrei Kondrashov, the deputy general director of the state-run VGTRK and a former spokesman for Putin’s 2018 election campaign.
There was little media coverage of the reorganization at TASS, which took place soon after the Wagner mercenary group’s abortive insurrection.
Mikhailov and about 2,000 TASS employees were surprised by it, according to three people who know the former CEO, as The Moscow Times reported.
In fact, the Kremlin dismissed Mikhailov as a punishment for TASS’s coverage of the Wagner mercenary group’s mutiny, which the Kremlin believed inaccurately depicted Russian authorities.
According to The Moscow Times, a senior TASS executive, a member of the presidential administration, two well-known contacts in the State Duma, and a Russian government official all confirmed his dismissal.
Since they would suffer repercussions for disclosing private material to the media, each of them had their identities protected.
A senior executive of a well-known Russian media company was also made aware of the situation.
According to two of Mikhailov’s companions, his escape from Moscow on June 24 during the mutiny was the final straw.
Mikhailov denied fleeing Moscow, telling The Moscow Times: “I was in my office during the mutiny and only left work in the morning.”
“I have had no complaints about my work at TASS for 11 years,” Mikhailov said via messaging app. He did not respond to a question about the reasons for his resignation.
No, it’s all wrong,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Moscow Times when asked if Mikhailov was sacked.
He declined to respond to a follow-up question about Mikhailov’s resignation.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, whose administration TASS is under, was not reached for comment on the request.
The expulsion of the TASS director is the first known instance of a high-ranking civilian person being held responsible for their role in the insurrection; it happened barely ten days after Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Yevgeny Prigozhin, attempted to topple Russia’s military government.
Following the mutiny, a number of high-ranking military officials were fired. Sergei Surovikin, the former commander of the Russian Air Force and head of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, was among the most well-known of these individuals.
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According to The Wall Street Journal, fifteen senior Russian military officers were taken into custody, interrogated, and ultimately suspended from their positions.
Mikhailov had “no intention” of stepping down at the time of his resignation, one of his old acquaintances said.
“He asked to be relieved of his duties earlier. Being on the sanctions list shook him up a lot. He’s a bon vivant, he likes to go out to European restaurants. But the Kremlin did not let him go. So he continued,” the acquaintance said.
Several agency staffers who corresponded with Mikhailov shortly before his resignation verified to The Moscow Times that he intended to remain at TASS.
“We discussed with him our work tasks for late 2023,” one of the employees told The Moscow Times.
The Kremlin saw Mikhailov as responsible for TASS’s overly zealous, “newsworthy” and detailed coverage of armed Wagner mercenaries taking control of the Russian army’s command center in Rostov-on-Don while the Russian government stood by, panicking and publicly showing weakness.
TASS was among the first to release images from Rostov-on-Don in the early hours of June 24, demonstrating unequivocally that Wagner forces had captured the city center and blockaded the Southern Military District headquarters, which served as the command center for the conflict in Ukraine.
“TASS covered all this in too much detail and promptly. Some kind of insanity has happened to them. They have forgotten that their main task is not to report the news. It’s to create an ideologically correct narrative for the Kremlin,” a Russian government official said.
According to a source within TASS’s management, the Kremlin, which is well-known for its stringent control over both state and private media, voiced displeasure with both the Yevgeny Prigozhin uprising and what it saw as insufficient pro-Kremlin reportage from TASS. Two reliable sources inside a major Russian media company and a Kremlin insider confirmed this opinion.
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The TASS source claimed that Alexei Gromov, the first deputy head of the presidential administration in charge of the Russian media, “was just furious.”
“Mikhailov demanded that we observe the basic rules of journalism. We weren’t as tabloidy as RIA Novosti [state news agency that is part of a media holding run by anchor Dmitry Kiselyov and RT head Margarita Simonyan],” the TASS official said.
Security officials and the Kremlin were not pleased with the TASS manager’s actions during the mutiny. Two people who have known Mikhailov for a long time say that he was one of the authorities, merchants, and functionaries that left Moscow.
A private plane carrying oligarchs and politicians raced out of the Russian capital as Yevgeny Prigozhin’s soldiers captured Rostov-on-Don and advanced on Moscow.
They allegedly included billionaire Arkady Rotenberg, a longtime friend of Putin, billionaire Vladimir Potanin, the head of Inter RAO, the children of another childhood friend, billionaire Boris Kovalchuk, and deputy prime minister Denis Manturov. The investigative publication IStories revealed this information by citing Flightradar tracking data.
Putin was said to have departed Moscow as well, according to independent Russian media, but Peskov refuted this, stating that “the president is working in the Kremlin.”
A number of days after the failed revolution, members of the State Duma demanded that the security services launch an investigation and provide a list of the officials and civil servants who had left Russia during the unrest so that they could be held responsible for their corrupt actions.
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A civilian official’s response to the rebellion has not since resulted in any public punishment. It looks like Mikhailov was the first one.
“[Mikhailov] had left Moscow those days. But he received a call telling him to come back urgently. Then he told everyone that his departure from Moscow was a pre-planned trip. But who cared?” an old acquaintance of Mikhailov told The Moscow Times.
This was verified by a second acquaintance, who told The Moscow Times that his exit from the capital had nothing to do with the rebellion.
“Sergei is indeed a fan of traveling. It was the weekend. He said it was just a coincidence,” the acquaintance told TASS.
Nevertheless, Mikhailov lost his job as a result of this purported departure and TASS’s publication.
“The neutrality of TASS is of no use to anyone right now. It’s wartime and presidential elections are looming. The chief [Putin] must win on record,” the Russian government official said. “Under the new director general, TASS will be more aggressive and provocative.”