Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 213

The “peace agreement” between Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most and its main creditor, the natural gas monopoly Gazprom, has unraveled already. The agreement, signed on November 11 and set to be ratified by a Moscow court today, was essentially nullified this morning when lawyers for Gazprom-Media, the gas giant’s media arm, announced that it violated Russia’s civil-procedural code, could not be fulfilled and had been composed with the aim of “misleading” its signatories. While Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh signed the November 11 agreement, today’s announcement meant that Gazprom had effectively withdrawn his signature, thereby renouncing it. The agreement was to have put an end to a lawsuit which Gazprom launched against Media-Most to recover US$211.6 million in loans. Gazprom’s suit will now be adjudicated on December 20 (Russian agencies, NTV, November 14). While details of the now-invalid agreement between Gazprom and Media-Most were not made public, several newspapers, citing anonymous sources, gave details of what was apparently agreed to on November 11. According to these reports, the agreement–which was signed by Kokh and Media-Most’s Aleksandr Berezin on behalf of Gusinsky, who remains outside Russia–outlined a deal by which Gazprom agreed to forgive Media-Most’s US$211.6 million debt in exchange for 25-percent-plus-one-share of all of Media-Most’s companies except for NTV television, along with a 16-percent stake in NTV. Gazprom already owns 30 percent of NTV’s shares, so the agreement would have given it a 46-percent stake in the influential television channel. Media-Most had earlier put up an additional 19 percent of NTV and another controls another 25-percent-plus-one-share stake in Media-Most as collateral for other loans guaranteed by Gazprom (Vedomosti, Kommersant, November 14). The gas giant gave directly or guaranteed a total US$473 million in loans to Media-Most.

But while one newspaper interpreted the agreement as a “big victory” for Gazprom (Kommersant, November 14), other observers noted that it allowed Gusinsky to put off relinquishing control of Media-Most and NTV, at least for a while. Indeed, Media-Most spokesman Dmitri Ostalsky said yesterday that the agreement would affect neither the editorial policies of Media-Most’s outlets–which include NTV, the newspaper Segodnya and Radio Ekho Moskvy–nor issues related to personnel (see the Monitor, November 13). A newspaper reported today that Media-Most and Gazprom had agreed that the former would be divided into three parts, one to be kept by Gusinsky, another to go Gazprom and a third to be sold to a foreign investor but controlled by Gazprom prior to its sale. None of the three parts would represent a controlling share in the company (Moscow Times, November 14). For these reason, some observers, including the newspaper Izvestia, saw the November 11 agreement as a victory for Gusinsky (Izvestia, November 14). Indeed, this may be why Gazprom had second thoughts about the agreement and decided to renounce it–or, possibly, was pressured to renounce it. Whatever the case, the collapse of the agreement reduced the chances that Gusinsky will be able to retain any control over the media holding he created. That may be the least of his problems, given that the Prosecutor General’s Office yesterday issued a warrant for the media mogul’s arrest (see the Monitor, November 13).