Spokesmen for Radio Liberty, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and President Vladimir Putin have all denied the report published on May 12 in Britain’s Sunday Times that the Russian authorities have threatened to close down Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau if the station goes ahead with Chechen-language broadcasts. Mario Corti, director of Radio Liberty’s Russian-language service, told the Interfax News Agency that the radio station had received no signals, hints or warnings from the Russian authorities concerning the planned Chechen-language broadcasts, which are set to begin in August. For his part, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, a top Putin aide, said that neither the Kremlin nor the Russian government has any plans to take “repressive measures” against Radio Liberty. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that Russia’s special services would react “calmly” to Chechen-language broadcasts by the station.
The Sunday Times had quoted Zdanovich as saying that the FSB would not take it calmly if Radio Liberty went ahead with such broadcasts and would “fight everything that threatens Russia’s interests, including in the world of the media.” It also quoted an anonymous source close to Radio Liberty as saying that the Kremlin did not like the station’s coverage and that the Chechen broadcasts would give the Russian authorities “the perfect excuse to take action” against the station (Russian agencies, May 14; see also the Monitor, May 14).
Despite these denials from both sides, the Gazeta.ru website insisted yesterday that a plan to close Radio Liberty’s Moscow offices has existed for some time. Noting that Press Minister Mikhail Lesin has hinted on several occasions that Radio Liberty’s status may reconsidered, it pointed out that the authorities could simply refuse to renew the station’s license granting it the right to rebroadcast its programs on AM frequencies in Russia, which expires in two years. It was also suggested that the authorities could shut down the station even earlier by taking it to task for airing interviews with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other Chechen rebel leaders. According to Russia’s antiterrorism law, a court can order the withdrawal of a media outlet’s broadcasting license or the closure of a print media if it has received at least two warnings for interviewing or quoting “terrorists” (Gazeta.ru, May 14).
Meanwhile, Savik Shuster, the former head of Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau, called the decision to broadcast in three North Caucasian languages–Chechen, Avar and Circassian–a “big mistake” on Washington’s part. The decision was made by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, at the request of the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees (see the Monitor, May 14). Shuster said that he had been “categorically against” the plan, which he called a “pure provocation” in light of the guerrilla war in Chechnya. At the same time, Shuster said he was sure that Chechen rebel leaders would not be given airtime once the Chechen-language broadcasts began (NTV.ru, May 15). Shuster was recently removed as Moscow bureau chief for continuing to participate in a NTV television soccer talk show after the channel was taken over by the state-controlled Gazprom natural gas monopoly (see the Monitor, May 14).
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