How Pravda’s Top Editor Paid the Price of Picking on Yeltsin


In the typically Byzantine ways of journalism Soviet style, the man now at Pravda’s helm owes his job at least in part to Communist Party gadfly and populist Boris N. Yeltsin.

When Yeltsin, now Russia’s president, was in the United States last September, Pravda reprinted an Italian newspaper article claiming he was shopping and boozing his way across America--for him, “a bar 5,000 kilometers long.”

The front-page article was an obvious attempt to hurt Yeltsin’s standing, but it backfired badly. Yeltsin denounced the story as “delirium,” and his popularity only kept rising. In an apparently unprecedented episode in the annals of Soviet journalism, Pravda publicly apologized, saying that its accusations were unsubstantiated.

A month later, Viktor G. Afanasyev, the editor-in-chief since 1976, was transferred to unspecified “scientific work” and replaced by Ivan T. Frolov, Gorbachev’s handpicked adviser on ideological issues during the previous two years.


The Yeltsin affair may have been the last straw for Afanasyev--under his tutelage, Pravda had been losing credibility with many readers for its distortions or one-sided reporting on ethnic disputes in the Caucasus and Baltic republics and for attacks on party reformers.

Yeltsin, a member of the party Central Committee that is Pravda’s publisher, remains on the outs with the Kremlin hierarchy, but by conviction or cold calculation, Pravda now treats him more gingerly.

When he was elected the new president of the Russian Federation last week, Yeltsin’s name was back on Pravda’s front page--this time in a matter-of-fact account of his victory.