| COWORKER MOTIONED TO ME AS I GAVE MY FATHER A TOUR OF THE newspaper offices where I work. “This is serious,” he said tersely. “Prokhorov is taking us to court.”
The news stunned me.
Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s wealthiest man, with a fortune of $9.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, felt we had defamed him by publishing an interview with his estranged business partner, Vladimir Potanin, himself worth $2.1 billion. These two towering figures of the Russian business world were caught up in an ugly division of $30 billion in assets at the time. In the interview, Potanin told us that Prokhorov had “promised” to swap some assets “but avoided doing this.” Prokhorov said through his lawyer that the phrase “promised . . . but avoided doing this” had painted him as an unreliable partner, damaging his reputation in business circles.
So Prokhorov, a hard-nosed 43-year-old Muscovite, sued Potanin, an equally tough 48-year-old Muscovite, and my newspaper for a retraction and unspecified damages.
The lawsuit quickly stirred up jitters at the newspaper. There was no way that the small daily could compete against a Goliath of business in hiring the best lawyers. A multimillion-dollar fine would be pocket change for Potanin, our codefendant, but the newspaper could ill-afford to match the sum.
A bigger question that bothered me was why the newspaper had been named in the
lawsuit. Our reporter had recorded the interview on tape. Potanin had even double-checked his quotes before they were published, a precondition of the interview. As I saw it, the news-
paper’s only crime had been to do its job—report what a newsmaker had said. And for that
we ended up in a high-stakes battle between two enormously powerful men.
I asked our lawyer for an explanation. She reminded me that, unlike in the United States
and many European countries, Russian law can hold media outlets liable for every word they publish, even statements attributed to named sources.
There seemed no way out. I somberly told my father, now back at home in Texas after
his Russian vacation, that only God could help.
The lawsuit dragged on for months as the court threw out our motion to dismiss the
case, then upped the stakes by adding our reporter to the list of defendants.
Finally the big day arrived.
Tension permeated the newsroom as we awaited the judge’s verdict. Shortly after 2:00 p.m. the phone rang. The judge had ruled against the newspaper. But he had not yet announced the damages. I clenched my eyes in prayer.
Another restless hour passed. The phone rang again. The full verdict was in. The judge had ordered us to publish a retraction and pay a fine—1,000 rubles (about $40). Potanin also had to pay 1,000 rubles, while the reporter got off free.
I bowed my head in silent thanksgiving. The newspaper could manage a fine of $40.
Just like the newspaper, you and I are trapped in a battle not of our choosing. We are caught in a conflict between two powerful forces that began long before we were created. And now the life-and-death struggle has boiled down to a division of assets—Jesus’ children and Satan’s children. We stand no chance of walking away from the carnage on our own. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” wrote Paul, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the whole armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:12, 13).
Armed with prayer, obedience to the Word of God, and faith in our Savior, we will survive the battle. It will be painful, and we may be required to pay a price. But it won’t be more than $40.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia.