Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh has ruled out the possibility of selling a 9.5-percent stake in Media-Most’s Radio Ekho Moskvy to the station’s staff. Kokh rescinded the offer after talks with Aleksei Venediktov, Radio Ekho Moskvy’s chief editor, broke down, with both sides accusing each other of blackmail. A conference on press freedom that had been organized by both sides and set for this coming weekend was postponed. Meanwhile, Kokh offered to start negotiations with Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), to give the SPS leader, in Kokh’s words, “as many Ekho Moskvy stakes as would be sufficient for preventing Gazprom-Media from being a controlling shareholder.” Nemtsov agreed to hold such talks, concurring that neither Gazprom-Media nor the station’s staff should hold a controlling share and promising to set up an advisory council made up of people with “unblemished” reputations to hold the shares in trust (Gazeta.ru, Izvestia.ru, Moscow Times, July 11).
For his part, Venediktov strongly condemned Kokh’s offer to Nemtsov, saying that in most countries such a large gift from a large state corporation to the leader of a political party would be considered an act of corruption. It meant, Venediktov asserted, that Gazprom shareholders like Germany’s Ruhrgaz would essentially be supporting the SPS. He said that more radio station staffers had tendered their resignations after hearing of the proposed transfer of shares to Nemtsov, saying they neither wanted to work for a state radio station nor one connected to a political party. A number of the station’s journalists and editors tendered their resignations after a Moscow court ruling gave Gazprom-Media a controlling share in Radio Ekho Moskvy, saying that the decision amounted to the station’s “nationalization” (see the Monitor, July 6, 10). Venediktov said he would appeal to Kokh’s superiors, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and the country’s political leaders–presumably meaning President Vladimir Putin-asking them to state their positions vis-a-vis Kokh’s offer to Nemtsov (NTV.ru, July 11). In what may be a reaction to Venediktov’s criticisms, Kokh insisted in an interview published today that he promised to sell Ekho Moskvy shares to Nemtsov, not give them as gift (Kommersant, July 12).
As it now stands, Gazprom-Media controls 52 percent of Radio Ekho Moskvy’s shares and the station’s employees control 34 percent. The remaining 14 percent belonged to Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky, who announced that he was giving them to the radio station’s staff. This, however, was precluded recently when the Prosecutor General’s Office, which has charged Gusinsky with large-scale fraud and money laundering in connection with debts that Media-Most owes Gazprom, froze the 14-percent stake (see the Monitor, July 6, 10). The frozen stake is likely to revert to Gazprom-Media, giving it control over 66 percent of the station. This would mean that for Gazprom-Media to give up a controlling share, Nemtsov would have to acquire at least a 16-percent stake, something worth at least US$1 million, according to one estimate (Gazeta.ru, July 11).
Earlier this week, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that Putin was completely opposed to Radio Ekho Moskvy’s nationalization and said that Kokh’s offer to sell shares in the station to its employees opened the way to resolving the dispute between Gazprom-Media and the station (Lenta.ru, July 10). The Kremlin has not yet commented on the fact that Kokh has rescinded that offer while offering Ekho Moskvy shares to Nemtsov.
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