Kommersant,” perhaps Russia’s most influential newspaper covering business and politics, has reportedly been bought out by tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky–or is on the verge of being bought out by him. On June 30, a competing newspaper reported the sale as a done deal: Berezovsky, it wrote, had paid US$15 million and assumed US$20 million of the “Kommersant” debt in return for a controlling stake in the paper (Moskovsky komsomolets, June 3). Other media have reported that Berezovsky, who has publicly acknowledged his desire to purchase the paper, was assisted in his purchase of the Kommersant stake by several controversial figures–Anatoly Bykov, who owns the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory and Lev Chornoi of the Trans World Group, an international metals trading company (Moscow Times, July 2). Anatoly Chubais, who heads United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s electricity grid, was rumored to have formed a counter-consortium to thwart Berezovsky, though UES spokesmen denied this. Other reported bidders for the paper were Alfa Group and Systema Holding. The latter is connected to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Berezovsky’s purchase of the controlling stake has not been confirmed.
“Kommersant,” founded in 1990 by Vladimir Yakovlev, son of former “Moskovsky novosti” editor-in-chief Yegor Yakovlev, was post-Soviet Russia’s first independent business newspaper. While it shared many of the same defects as other New Russian publications–reportedly publishing articles paid for by businesses–it nonetheless developed a reputation for being Russia’s most independent publication. While it reportedly received loans from SBS-Agro Bank, owned by the “oligarch” Aleksandr Smolensky, when it began to experience financial problems, “Kommersant” nonetheless was able to avoid the fate of other newspapers, which were either formed by or bought up by one or another of Russia’s powerful financial-political clans (Oneksimbank, for example, purchased a controlling share in “Izvestia,” while Berezovsky took control of “Nezavisimaya gazeta”.)
If “Kommersant” does indeed fall under Berezovsky’s control, it will mean that all of Russia’s major newspapers and television stations are either state-controlled or controlled by one or another of the financial-political clans.
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