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The Russian maintained a low profile yesterday, and his spokesman tried to deny the existence of the talks. Artyom Artyomov, as quoted by Interfax news agency, said that Western reports of the tycoon’s plan to buy the paper were “incorrect”.
But he added: “The businessman deems it extremely important to provide financial protection to free and independent mass media in Russia and abroad. He could buy an influential foreign edition this year.”
The Standard is the sole survivor of 14 paid-for London evening newspapers, but now loses about £10 million a year, hurt by falling circulation and new competition from freesheets, including thelondonpaper, owned by News International, parent company of The Times.
There is much speculation as to Mr Lebedev's motives for wanting to buy the Standard. But perhaps there is some comfort in his comments after he bought shares in Novaya Gazeta. "We don't plan to influence editorial policy but to boost objectivity," he said.