Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 79

The Kremlin may be backing away from attempts to pressure or even shut down critical press–specifically those belonging to the Media-Most group, founded and headed by the tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky. At the same time, other media are receiving heavy-handed treatment from some of Russia’s regional leaders.

Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, recently gave an interview to the weekly magazine Itogi, which is part of Media-Most’s Seven Days publishing house. The fact that Surkov agreed to speak with Sergei Parkhomenko, Itogi’s editor-in-chief, is significant in and of itself. Late last month, Surkov was identified as the anonymous high-level Kremlin official who had warned that Gusinsky and rival media tycoon Boris Berezovsky would soon feel the Kremlin’s wrath. That official compared both oligarchs to “bacteria which live in a decaying body,” warning that once the “organism”–meaning, obviously, the state–ceases to decay, both oligarchs will either die or be forced to live the way they “are supposed to.”

In his Itogi interview, Surkov was not asked directly about these remarks. His tone, however, was generally conciliatory toward Media-Most, and he played down fears that the government might use indirect pressure–using the tax authorities or the credits Media-Most owes to various state banks and other semi-state corporations–to put the media holding out of business (Itogi, April 18). Surkov was vague and somewhat slippery, but gave the overall impression that he had been dispatched by the Kremlin to do the interview in order to calm fears both inside Russia and in the West that the Kremlin plans to crack down on free speech. Media-Most’s outlets have, to varying degrees, been critical of the war in Chechnya and President-elect Vladimir Putin’s overall policies and performance.