Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 137

The contradictions between Most business empire founder Vladimir Gusinsky and the Kremlin have apparently turned into a real war. Russian news agencies reported yesterday that the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the tax police have begun to audit structures belonging to the Media Most holding–which includes NTV television, radio station Ekho Moskvy and the daily newspaper “Segodnya.” While spokesmen for both the FSB and the State Tax Police Service said that they had no information that such an audit was being carried out, anonymous representatives of Media Most said that they were (Russian agencies, July 15; Vremya MN, July 16). One newspaper reported today that the tax affairs of Gusinsky himself, along with the top officials of his media companies, will be investigated (Kommersant, July 16). According to another rumor reported today, Deputy State Duma Speaker Mikhail Yurev, who has been battling with another Gusinsky ally, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, may begin proceedings in the Duma to rescind NTV’s broadcasting license (Izvestia, July 16).

On July 10, Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned channel reportedly controlled by the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, featured a segment which claimed that NTV is mired in debt (ORT, July 10). NTV, like ORT, has received millions of dollars in credits from the state’s Vneshekonombank.

The multipronged offensive against Gusinsky and his media empire is no big surprise: The Kremlin inner circle–and particularly Berezovsky, according to many Russian observers–are angry with Gusinsky for what they see as his “disloyalty” in cozying up to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, which they say is reflected in the news coverage by his media. Indeed, one paper today cited unnamed top government officials as complaining that NTV covers Luzhkov “often and warmly” while Yeltsin is presented “little and coldly,” and that the television channel has frequently interviewed Yuri Skuratov, Russia’s prosecutor general, who launched a number of investigations into alleged Kremlin corruption before being suspended from his post earlier this year (Vremya-MN, July 16).

For their part, those who work for Media Most insist that they are simply covering the news objectively (Vremya MN, July 16). According to Aleksei Venediktov, chief editor of radio station Ekho Moskvy, the current campaign against Media Most is politically motivated and being led by Berezovsky (Kommersant, July 16).

On July 14, Gusinsky reportedly met for four hours with presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin at the Russian White House (the offices of the government)–with Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin trying to play a mediating role. The meeting apparently did not result in a peace agreement (Vremya MN, July 16).

Like the Kremlin’s recent decision to establish a press ministry and put a loyalist at its head, the scandal surrounding Gusinsky and his media holdings suggests that the “Family”–the Kremlin inner circle which includes Berezovsky and Voloshin, among others–is seriously stepping up its attempts to make sure that the Russian media supports Kremlin-backed candidates for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The Kremlin can squeeze Gusinsky by demanding immediate repayment of his media holding’s debts to Vneshekonombank, by investigating his own and his holdings’ tax situation, and by manipulating other creditors of and shareholders in Media Most, such as Gazprom, the state’s natural gas monopoly. Indeed, yesterday Gazprom CEO Rem Vyakhirev denied rumors that he plans to buy out Media Most, saying: “Those reports undoubtedly constitute part of a campaign designed to drag us into the notorious ‘information war'” (Russian agencies, July 16).

The “Family” apparently views Vyakhirev as not completely “loyal.” Thus Berezovsky, who has reportedly long coveted control over Gazprom, is pushing for an extraordinary meeting of Gazprom’s shareholders to push through an increase in the number of the state’s representatives on its board of directors. If Berezovsky succeeds in this, he could force Vyakhirev to act against Gusinsky and Media Most. In any case, Berezovsky and his allies are reportedly working on a contingency plan to nationalize NTV next year, should their plans to bring it into line fail (Vremya MN, July 16).