Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 108

Vladimir Gusinsky, founder and head of the Media-Most empire, claimed yesterday that Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin tried in essence to bribe him last summer during the walk-up to the December parliamentary elections. Gusinsky confirmed a report in a U.S. newspaper that Voloshin had suggested the Kremlin could pay him US$100 million “so that you won’t be in our way while the election is on.” Voloshin, a reputed ally of the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, reportedly played a key role in the creation of Unity, the party led by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu which closely identified itself with President Vladimir Putin. Media-Most’s outlets, including NTV television and the Segodnya newspaper, were widely seen as sympathetic to Fatherland-All Russia, the bloc led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, and Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, both of which were Unity rivals. Gusinsky also charged that Putin had pressured the gas monopoly Gazprom, which owns a 30 percent stake in NTV, Media-Most’s flagship television channel, to call in a US$211 million debt earlier than originally agreed. Earlier this year, Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev said his company might reconsider its investment in NTV if the station continued to criticize the war in Chechnya (Moscow Times, June 2; Los Angeles Times, May 31; see also the Monitor, February 17, May 12).

On May 11, armed government agents raided Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow, ostensibly to gather evidence against the media group’s security service for illegal eavesdropping (see the Monitor, May 12, 15-16). Gusinsky made his remarks yesterday to a group of Western journalists, just two days prior to U.S. President Bill Clinton’s arrival in Moscow for a summit with Putin. Also yesterday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Igor Malashenko, Media-Most’s first deputy chairman, calling on Clinton to speak out for press freedom in Russia (Washington Post, June 1). All of this suggests that Media-Most is genuinely worried about its future. The government has repeatedly denied that the raid was politically motivated, and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov denied it again yesterday, while answering questions on CNN (Russian agencies, June 1).

Media-Most critics and foes, meanwhile, continued to attack it. Boris Berezovsky, the controversial tycoon and State Duma deputy, said Gusinsky and Media-Most had replaced the Communist Party of the Russian Federation as the “unconstructive opposition” to the government. Berezovsky, who this week criticized Putin’s federative reforms, said he could never make common cause with Gusinsky. At the same time, a weekly newspaper alleged that Gusinsky’s media/business empire was formed on the basis of Soviet Communist Party money provided by Filipp Bobkov, former head of the Soviet KGB’s Fifth Directorate, which persecuted dissidents. The paper claimed that Bobkov now heads Media-Most’s security service (Sobesednik, June 1). Media-Most officials have admitted that Bobkov works for the holding, but deny that he heads its security service (see the Monitor, May 24).

An anonymous official in NTV’s press service confirmed yesterday that the Putin puppet from “Kukly,” the channel’s political satire puppet program, was removed from the May 28 broadcast of the show at the Kremlin’s request. The official said the puppet’s return to the show–which will next be broadcast on June 4–would depend on the “creative plans” of the show’s producers (Russian agencies, June 1). For his part, Gusinsky vowed that the Putin puppet would remain on the program (Moscow Times, June 2).