The Kremlin has reportedly threatened to close down the Moscow bureau of Radio Liberty if the channel, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, goes through with its announced plans to begin Chechen-language broadcasts. This past February, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Thomas A. Dine announced that it had started the “planning process” for broadcasts in three languages indigenous to the North Caucasus–Avar, Circassian and Chechen–at the request of the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees.
Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper yesterday quoted a source “close” to Radio Liberty as saying that the Kremlin had made the closure threat to “senior journalists” at the station and that a Russian cabinet minister had told him that the Kremlin was “furious” about the decision to broadcast in Chechen and would take “steps” against the station. “It doesn’t like much of the station’s coverage and this would provide it with the perfect excuse to take action,” the source was quoted saying. The paper quoted RFE/RL officials in Washington as saying that they would not bow to Russian threats and expected to begin Chechen-language broadcasts in August.
Immediately after RFE/RL made these plans public, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin called the decision “very negative,” “very inappropriate” and politically motivated. The Sunday Times yesterday quoted Federal Security Service (FSB) Public Relations Center chief Aleksandr Zdanovich, as saying: “If Radio Liberty goes ahead with a Chechen service, we are not going to take it calmly. The FSB will fight everything that threatens Russia’s interests, including in the world of the media.” Some Russian media speculated last February that the Russian authorities might withdraw Radio Liberty’s license to broadcast on medium-wave stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg and quoted unnamed Radio Liberty employees as saying they feared their journalistic accreditation could be withdrawn or that Radio Liberty’s broadcasting to Russia could be banned altogether. The Sunday Times suggested yesterday that President Vladimir Putin could close Radio Liberty’s bureau in Moscow and cancel an agreement by which its signal is carried by Russian transmitters, which would force the station to broadcast exclusively via shortwave from its headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, or from other points outside Russia.
The paper quoted Paul Goble, head of communications at RFE/RL headquarters in Washington, as saying that U.S.-Russian relations would suffer if the Kremlin took steps against the channel. It also quoted a spokesman for Senator Jesse Helms, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and whom the paper described as a backer of the plans for Chechen-language broadcasting, as saying that the Kremlin had been trying to “harass” Radio Liberty and that this was part of an overall campaign against independent media. The Helms spokesman was apparently referring both to the arrest and detention of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky in Chechnya last year and to the more recent controversy over the takeover of NTV television, formerly part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding, by Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas monopoly. Last week, a leading supporter of Gusinsky in the United States, Congressman Tom Lantos, called for Russia to be expelled from the G-7 group of industrialized nations on the basis of the crackdown on the press (Sunday Times [UK], NTV.ru, May 13; see also the Monitor, February 13).
SAVIK SHUSTER’S REMOVAL COMES IN FOR CRITICISM.