Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 113

The tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who earlier this year was the target of a criminal investigation and even an arrest warrant, has not only restored his role as a major Kremlin insider, but has also strengthened his position in the Russian media. Yesterday, Eduard Sagalaev, head of the Moscow television channel TV-6, announced that he had sold Berezovsky a 51 percent stake in the channel. Sagalaev said that the channel’s dire financial situation prompted the sale. Earlier this week, Sagalaev was named deputy chairman of the board of Russian Public Television (ORT), Russia’s most widely viewed television channel. While ORT is 51 percent state-owned, its management is said to be controlled by Berezovsky.

The takeover of TV-6 will certainly enhance Berezovsky’s position in the information “wars” very likely to become more intense both in the walk-up to Russia’s parliamentary vote in December of this year and in next year’s scheduled presidential contest. Russian media have reported that Berezovsky plans to put Sergei Dorenko, the former anchor of ORT’s “Vremya” news program, in the position of TV-6’s news director, though this has not yet taken place (Moscow Times, June 11; Russian agencies, June 10).

Dorenko has been accused of serving as a mouthpiece for Berezovsky. Indeed, in 1997 he did play a leading role in attacking–on the air–the team of “young reformers” led by Anatoly Chubais and Oneksimbank, which at the time was in sharp competition with Berezovsky’s business empire for political influence and control over Russia’s privatization process. Two newspapers said to be controlled by Berezovsky–“Nezavisimaya gazeta” and “Novoe izvestia”–played an active role earlier this year in attacking members of Yevgeny Primakov’s cabinet for corruption and other alleged sins. This all took place at a time when Berezovsky and Primakov were engaged in public attacks on one another.

Berezovsky, at the same time, has said that he is interested in taking a controlling interest in the influential political business newspaper “Kommersant,” which is also reportedly in financial trouble. Various media, however, have reported that Chubais, who now heads Russia’s power grid United Energy Systems, has formed a consortium to block Berezovsky’s bid. The newspaper’s position would thus appear to be similar to that of the newspaper “Izvestia,” which in 1996 became the object of a takeover battle between the oil giant Lukoil and Oneksimbank. The latter eventually acquired the controlling stake.