Russia bars news site that said Putin may have secret child

Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik

Russia outlawed an investigative media outlet that published a report last year suggesting that President Vladimir Putin secretly fathered a daughter outside his marriage, stepping up a campaign to stamp out any challenge to the Kremlin.

The Prosecutor General on Thursday declared the U.S.-based publisher of Proekt Media an “undesirable organization,” saying its activities “pose a threat to the foundations of constitutional order and security of the Russian Federation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday.

It was the first use of the law against a news outlet and means anyone associated with Proekt could face a prison sentence. The Justice Ministry also declared the site’s editor-in-chief, Roman Badanin, as well as several other journalists “foreign agents.”

Badanin didn’t respond to a request for comment. Proekt later said on Telegram it would shut down the U.S.-based publisher but that the journalists would continue investigative work by other means, without giving details.

The article, which said that the daughter of a multi-millionaire woman who’s a shareholder in Bank Rossiya bears a close resemblance to the Russian president, was denounced at the time by the Kremlin’s spokesman as “tabloid fodder.” The bank is controlled by Yury Kovalchuk, a billionaire Putin associate. The Russian leader, who divorced his wife in 2013, rarely speaks about his family and guards their privacy closely.

Russian authorities have been waging the most aggressive crackdown in years on critics of Putin and independent media since the detention of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who survived a near-fatal chemical poisoning last year. The Kremlin denies accusations by Navalny and Western officials of involvement in the nerve-agent attack.

Police last month raided the homes of Badanin and two Proekt reporters after the news site published an investigation alleging that relatives of Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev own multi-million-dollar residences. The miinister didn’t comment on the claim and authorities said the journalists were being probed in an unrelated libel case. That followed the designation of several popular online outlets as foreign agents.