Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 96

Officials from the Media-Most group yesterday charged that the Russian authorities and state-controlled media used fabricated evidence in trying to show that Media-Most’s security service had illegally eavesdropped on leading politicians, businessmen and the media group’s own employees. Armed state security agents raided Media-Most’s headquarters in Moscow on May 11, and over the weekend the two main state television channels, RTR and ORT, featured separate interviews with Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich, who presented what he said was evidence that Media-Most’s security service had illegally recorded the private conversations of a number of Russian public figures (see the Monitor, May 12, 15).

In a statement released yesterday, Media-Most repeated its claim that the May 11 search of its headquarters was carried out illegally, and denied that any evidence was seized showing that its security service had engaged in illegal eavesdropping. The media group claimed that the alleged evidence shown over the weekend on RTR and ORT appeared to be “kompromat” (compromising materials) prepared earlier by the Russian special services themselves, which had previously appeared on the now-defunct “Kogot” website. Media-Most said it would sue those who made the accusations, and repeated its charge that the raid was politically motivated. “The use of open disinformation, falsification and fraud by the government-controlled media and law-enforcement officials show that such methods are becoming a state policy,” the Media-Most statement read. The newspaper Kommersant reported today that the tapes and transcripts of allegedly bugged private conversations shown on RTR and ORT were in fact not seized during the May 11 raid, but had been purchased earlier from Media-Most’s security service by another private security group (Kommersant, May 16). Kommersant, it should be noted, like ORT, is part of the media empire controlled by Boris Berezovsky, who is a bitter foe of Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinsky.

Government officials have repeatedly denied that the May 11 raid was directed against Media-Most’s journalistic activities, and Deputy Prosecutor General Vasily Kolmogorov said yesterday there were “sufficient grounds” to launch a criminal investigation into MOST’s security service. Kolmogorov told the State Duma’s security committee that similar actions were being considered against other private security structures suspected of illegal activities (Kommersant, May 16).

Also yesterday, the Union of Russian Journalists and the For Human Rights movement sent an appeal to the State Duma to support freedom of the press in Russia. The two groups called on State Duma deputies to insist that the Prosecutor General’s Office give a full explanation of the May 11 raid on Media-Most before voting on whether to confirm Mikhail Kasyanov as prime minister. President Vladimir Putin last week put forward Kasyanov as his choice to head the new cabinet. The appeal was signed by Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Union of Russian Journalists, and Lev Ponomarev, executive director of For Human Rights (Russian agencies, May 15).

It is not clear, however, what kind of reception the appeal will get, in view of recent signs that recent actions against the media are not simply coincidental, but part of a government plan to move against media deemed “hostile.” Yesterday, for example, Deputy Press Secretary Andrei Romanchenko said accused U.S government-funded Radio Liberty of being “hostile” to the Russian state, and said that Russia’s media law should be changed to allow broadcasting licenses to be withdrawn from “hostile” foreign media (Reuters, May 15). Earlier this year, Andrei Babitsky, a Moscow correspondent for Radio Liberty, was arrested by Russian forces in Chechnya and later “exchanged” to unknown armed Chechens.