Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 215

In his radio interview yesterday, Media-Most deputy board chairman Igor Malashenko said that he does not believe that Yeltsin wants to see Russia isolated from the West. Malashenko is obviously trying to appeal directly to Yeltsin–over the heads of Kremlin insiders such as Boris Berezovsky–something that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov have also done. It is also clear that Malashenko is very worried about the fate of Most-Media and its various subsidiaries, including NTV television, given that they have always been associated with a more pro-Western stance, while the Russian political zeitgeist now appears to be turning radically more nationalistic. Indeed, while Malashenko was criticizing the Chechen campaign, a survey by the RAMIR polling agency found that 66.4 percent of those asked said they fully or partially backed the use of military force in Chechnya (Russian agencies, November 18).

In addition, Media-Most, and particularly NTV, have become targets of the Kremlin inner circle on the basis of their sympathies toward Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and their strong criticism of both Berezovsky–who is said to control the rival Russian Public Television, along with the Nezavisimaya gazeta and Kommersant newspapers–and Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, who is reputedly a close ally of Berezovsky. Yevgeny Kiselev, the host of Itogi, NTV’s weekly news analysis program, regularly refers to Berezovsky, Voloshin, presidential daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and Sibneft oil company chief Roman Abramovich, as the “Kremlin camarilla.” The Kremlin clearly does not appreciate such commentary, and Media-Most officials have accused Voloshin of being behind the tax police raid earlier this year on Seven Days, Media-Most’s publishing house, which includes the newspaper Segodnya and the weekly magazine Itogi.

Media-Most, however, is also in a vulnerable position today because it was itself, in essence, once part of the “Kremlin camarilla.” NTV provided heavy propaganda support to Yeltsin during his 1996 re-election bid against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. It also played a key role in the June 1996 removal of then Presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov. After Korzhakov’s men arrested two Yeltsin campaign workers for smuggling US$538,000 cash out of the Russian White House in a Xerox copy-paper box, Kiselev claimed on the air that the arrests were part of an attempted coup. That claim was never substantiated, but it helped convince Yeltsin to fire Korzhakov. The government rewarded NTV for its assistance by giving it various privileges, including the sole right to broadcast on the state’s Channel 4.

Media-Most, apparently, also received huge loans from various state institutions. Berezovsky-controlled media have reported that Media-Most’s total debts exceed US$1 billion, and that it owes US$293 million to Sberbank, the state’s savings bank, alone (Kommersant-Vlast, November 16). Meanwhile, the state creditors have started calling back their loans to Media-Most. Last month, the Moscow arbitration court found in favor of the state’s Vneshekonombank, which demanded that Media-Most repay US$42.2 million in loans, and Media-Most’s bank accounts were frozen. The ruling, however, was suspended last week by a federal arbitration court, which will hear Media-Most’s appeal on December 3. Media-Most claims that it has repaid the loans, and charges that the court case is politically motivated (Moscow Times, November 17). If, however, Media-Most is forced to pay up, this could be lethal, given that NTV’s advertising revenues have plummeted since the August 1998 ruble collapse. This week, in an apparent act of desperation, Media-Most announced that it is negotiating the sale of 15 percent of NTV to an unspecified foreign investor.