Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 27

Gazprom stepped up its own public diplomacy in the war over Media-Most and NTV, publishing a full-page open letter signed by its CEO, Rem Vyakhirev, who accused Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky of driving the holding into bankruptcy and calling on Media-Most shareholders to either sell their stakes to Gazprom or help vote in a new management for the media holding. Vyakhirev’s paid-for appeal appears to have been aimed, above all, at one of Media-Most’s small shareholders–Capital Research & Management Co., which owns 4.5 percent of NTV. This stake, pooled with the 46 percent of NTV which Gazprom currently controls, would constitute a controlling share of the channel (Vedomosti, Moscow Times, February 8). Late last month, Alfred Kokh, head of Gazprom-Media, the gas giant’s media arm, said that it would nominate a new board of directors for NTV, five of whose nine members would be Gazprom officials. These include Vyakhirev and Vladimir Kulistikov, the former NTV deputy director who is now head of the state’s RIA news agency (see the Monitor, January 30). Gazprom is 38-percent state owned.

Meanwhile, officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office conducted searches yesterday at the central offices of Imidzh Bank, which holds Media-Most accounts. Late last month, the Prosecutor General’s Office charged that NTV journalists and others had received no-interest loans worth tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars each from Imidzh Bank, and questioned NTV news reader Tat’yana Mitkova concerning a US$70,000 loan she received in 1994 to buy a Moscow apartment (see the Monitor, January 30). Media-Most officials charged that yesterday’s searches “paralyzed” the work of three of its companies–NTV, TNT and Radio Ekho Moskvy (NTV, February 7). Gusinsky and Media-Most continue to insist that such actions are the result of politically motivated persecution by the Kremlin and the Prosecutor General’s Office, and certain comments made by the authorities have given credence to this charge. Last week, for example, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC that “if the Prosecutor General’s Office had such an opportunity, NTV would no longer exist.” The Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently accused the paper of distorting Kolmogorov’s words (NTV, Russian agencies, February 2).