Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 151

The Russian press over the past several days has focused heavily on the possible fallout from the formation of the Luzhkov-Shaimiev coalition, including possible Kremlin countermeasures. Yesterday it was predicted that the Kremlin would step up its attacks on Media Most and the Gazprom natural gas monopoly, both apparently regarded by the Kremlin inner circle as being too close to Luzhkov. It was also predicted that several newspaper editors, including Raf Shakirov, editor of the influential daily “Kommersant,” would be fired by the end of August and replaced by Kremlin loyalists (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 4; see also the Monitor, August 4). In fact, Shakirov was fired today (Russian agencies, August 5).

Earlier this year, a little-known U.S.-based investment fund, American Capital, bought 85 percent of Kommersant’s shares, with Berezovsky-controlled structures reportedly buying the other 15 percent. Russian media have speculated that American Capital was serving as a front for Berezovsky, giving him effective full ownership of the paper, and Shakirov’s firing points in that direction. Shakirov himself said in an interview today: “We continued to act as we thought best, and this naturally could not suit the new owner. He could no longer tolerate what we write” (NTV, August 5). Last week, Shakirov was among the group of newspaper editors who signed an open letter accusing the Kremlin administration of pressuring the media (see the Monitor, July 28, August 3-4).

Meanwhile, Luzhkov has again charged that the Kremlin has been pressuring his supporters, saying that members of All Russia, the bloc of regional leaders which this week entered into a coalition with Luzhkov’s movement Fatherland, came under “enormous pressure” not to ally with him. Luzhkov said also that among those feeling the Kremlin heat were Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev and former Yeltsin press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who is a leading member of Luzhkov’s team. Luzhkov claimed that Russia “is now actually led by two people currently under investigation in relation to criminal cases–Berezovsky and [Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr] Voloshin. In the same paper, Deputy Prosecutor Mikhail Katyshev, widely viewed as an ally of suspended Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, alleged that the Federal Security Service was gathering “kompromat” (compromising materials) against him (Obshchaya gazeta, August 5-11). An FSB spokesman denied Katyshev’s charges (Russian agencies, August 5). “Obshchaya gazeta” editor in chief Yegor Yakovlev, in a commentary published in this week’s edition, warned that the Kremlin inner circle is in a “panic” and a state of “hysteria,” making the possibility of a state of emergency more likely. “Obshchaya gazeta,” it should be noted, is generally sympathetic to Luzhkov.