Both Gazprom-Media and the journalists of Radio Ekho Moskvy, the last remaining major independent outlet of the Media-Most group, have approved an arrangement to divvy some 85 percent of the station’s shares between them. Gazprom-Media, which recently became the radio station’s majority shareholder, will sell a 9.5-percent stake in the station to Yevgeny Yasin, the veteran liberal economist who served as economics minister and is currently scientific director of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. The deal will leave Gazprom-Media and the Ekho Moskvy team with some 42.5 percent of the station each.
Earlier this month, a court decision handed a majority stake in Radio Ekho Moskvy to Gazprom-Media, which led a number of the station’s journalists and editors to charge that it was being “nationalized” and to tender their resignations in protest. Gazprom-Media had originally promised to sell the 9.5-percent stake to the Ekho Moskvy journalists. Negotiations, however, fell apart amid mutual recriminations, after which Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh said the stake would go to Boris Nemtsov, head of Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS). The station’s journalists also objected to this plan, charging that if Nemtsov acquired the stake, the station would end up under the control of both the state and a political party. Yasin, who is also a top SPS member but hosts a show on Ekho Moskvy as well, says that he came forward with the idea to buy the stake as a way to break the impasse. Both sides have agreed to the transfer of the stake to Yasin. Yasin, unlike a number of his SPS colleagues, has an unvarnished reputation and signed an open letter published earlier this year that accused the state of putting “unprecedented pressure” on Media-Most’s NTV television, which was subsequently taken over by Gazprom-Media (NTV.ru, March 28). Yasin will suspend his activities in the SPS when he formally acquires the Ekho Moskvy stake. This is expected to happen next month. According to Nemtsov, the Ekho employees who earlier tendered their resignations have changed their minds and will remain at the station.
The transfer of the 9.5-percent Ekho stake to Yasin has satisfied both sides in the dispute. But the key question now is what happens to a 14-percent stake in the station that Media-Most founder Vladimir Gusinsky intended to transfer to the Ekho employees. That stake, however, was frozen earlier this month by the Prosecutor General’s Office in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation of Gusinsky. Gusinsky has been charged with defrauding hundreds of millions of dollars from Gazprom, Media-Most’s main creditor, and laundering some of the proceeds. It seems likely that the frozen stake will eventually revert to Gazprom-Media, giving it control over the station (Gazeta.ru, Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 18; Izvestia.ru, Vremya Novostei, July 17; AP, July 16; see also the Monitor, July 6, 10, 12).
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