Boris Berezovsky has announced that he will hand over the 75-percent stake he owns in TV-6 to the television station’s team of journalists, headed by the station’s general director, Yevgeny Kiselev. Berezovsky–who broke with President Vladimir Putin last year and went into self-imposed exile after accusing Putin of authoritarianism–revealed his plans for TV-6 in an interview published today in the newspaper Kommersant, which is also part of Berezovsky’s media empire. TV-6 faces liquidation after the Moscow Arbitration Court in November upheld an earlier decision liquidating TV-6’s parent company, MNVK. That decision was made in response to a suit brought by Lukoil-Garant, the pension fund of Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company, which alleged that TV-6 had been mismanaged. While Lukoil denies that its suit was politically motivated, many observers believe that the company was acting on the Kremlin’s behalf. First, and particularly, in light of Berezovsky’s falling out with Putin. Second, given that TV-6 became a refuge for journalists from NTV, the station once owned by another rebel oligarch, Vladimir Gusinsky, after NTV’s management was ousted by its majority shareholder, the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas monopoly. Before the Gazprom takeover, NTV was highly critical of Putin and other Kremlin officials.
Berezovsky’s offer to give his TV-6 shares to the channel’s journalists followed news that TPG Aurora, an investment fund belonging to the Texas Pacific Group, a U.S. private equity firm, had offered to buy all of TV-6’s shares from its main shareholders, including Berezovsky, Lukoil-Garant and the Moscow Committee for Science and Technology. TPG Aurora has already invested in two Russian media properties–MTV Rossiya and Russkoe Radio (Lenta.ru, RBK, December 17). In the interview published in today’s Kommersant, Berezovsky said he was making an “official announcement” that he was ready to hand over his stake in TV-6 to its journalists and that it would therefore be up to them to decide whether to sell the shares to TPG Aurora. “I have unequivocally taken the decision to delegate responsibility to the TV-6 team headed by Yevgeny Kiselev.” Berezovsky said he was motivated by a desire to protect independent media in Russia and accused the Russian authorities of trying to shut down TV-6. Kiselev, for his part, told the paper that the offer was “completely unexpected” and that he needed time to find out the details and think about it (Kommersant, December 17).
Last week, Leonid Fedun, Lukoil’s vice president and Lukoil-Garant’s board chairman, indicated that his company would in essence be willing to save TV-6 by buying a majority stake in the station and retaining Kiselev, the main NTV veteran, as TV-6’s general director. Fedun accused Berezovsky of not being interested in saving TV-6 but instead in creating an image for himself as a “political fighter and democrat” and thus “a victim of the struggle for freedom of speech” (NTV.ru, December 13). Kiselev rejected Lukoil’s offer and vowed that TV-6 would appeal the court decision ordering its liquidation (Radio Ekho Moskvy, December 15).
The latest maneuvers around TV-6 come amid a distinct heightening of attention between Berezovsky, who is wanted on charges involving alleged embezzlement from the state airline Aeroflot, and the authorities. Last week, the erstwhile Kremlin insider told a Moscow human rights conference by videophone that the August 1999 invasion of Dagestan by militants in Chechnya was a “thought-out provocation by the Russian secret services,” who, he alleged, were also involved in the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk a month later, which killed more than 300 people. Both of these incidents provided the rationale for the current Russian military campaign in Chechnya. “The only thing I cannot do is say that Putin gave the order for these operations, that Putin personally commanded these operations,” Berezovsky added. “And if anybody reckons this is a provocation on my part, I am prepared to meet these people in court” (NTV, December 14). Putin, who was Russia’s prime minister at the time of the Dagestan invasion and the apartment building bombings, had previously headed the Federal Security Service (FSB). Elaborating on these allegations, Berezovsky said in an interview published today that the Russian security services had carried out the apartment bombings to “consolidate society around Putin’s candidacy” prior to the presidential elections by creating the pretext for a new military campaign in Chechnya, which “ensured Putin’s victory” (Wall Street Journal, December 17). FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich today called Berezovsky’s allegation concerning the apartment building bombings “complete madness” and a “well-planned action aimed at putting pressure on the president and Russia’s special services” (Russian agencies, December 17).
Last Friday (December 14), five men in masks reportedly trashed the office of Liberal Russia, the democratic opposition group funded by Berezovsky, after beating up a security guard and breaking down the office’s door. Members of the group, including a spokesman for one of its leaders, Sergei Yushenkov, suggested that attack was politically motivated. They noted that Berezovsky had recently joined the group, that a similar attack occurred several months ago at its St. Petersburg office and that a criminal case had been launched against another of its leaders, Vladimir Golovlyov (Gazeta.ru, December 14; see also the Monitor, October 30, November 2).
Meanwhile, the Kompromat.ru website last Friday posted sexually compromising video clips involving, in its words, “a person resembling Yevgeny Kiselev.” The website claimed the clips were taken from hidden camera footage sold this past spring by members of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Most security service who had not received their salaries and were thus forced to sell “several videos from their archives” (Kompromat.ru, December 14). Asked over the weekend about the clips, Kiselev said that no one had the right to pry into his private life. He did not, however, directly deny that he was the person featured in the footage (Radio Ekho Moskvy, December 15).
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