Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 146

The top editors and other top officials of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media Most group held a press conference in Moscow yesterday, during which they continued their attack on Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and his putative patron, the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. One of the participants, NTV president Oleg Dobrovodeev, charged that Voloshin and others in President Boris Yeltsin’s staff were keeping the head of state in the dark about the ongoing media war (Russian agencies, July 28). Media Most has accused Voloshin of being behind a probe by the tax police into the media group’s finances; the two over the last several days have exchanged accusations, with Voloshin charging Most with running a “political racket” to extort money from the state and Most accusing Voloshin of “using methods of political racketeering and blackmail” (see the Monitor, July 28). Meanwhile, Yeltsin’s spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin yesterday denied that Yeltsin was not aware of what is going on, though Yakushkin was quoted this morning as saying that Yeltsin would be briefed today on the battle between Media Most and the Kremlin administration (Russian agencies, July 29). The Most personnel said at their press conference that they would like to meet with Yeltsin face to face, without “intermediaries” (Russian agencies, July 28).

While observers have speculated that the main bone of contention between Media Most and the Kremlin administration is that the former’s media outlets–particularly NTV television–have been too critical of Yeltsin and too friendly toward Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in its coverage, the real sources of the conflict may be somewhat different. One theory has it that the Kremlin inner circle–meaning Voloshin and Berezovsky, among others–is demanding that NTV support whomever it, the inner circle, chooses as Yeltsin’s successor. And while Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, with his just-completed trip to Washington and his swing across Russia, is looking increasingly like the heir apparent, he may not be their choice. Berezovsky has reportedly been pushing both Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, whose successful 1998 gubernatorial bid reportedly received Berezovsky’s financial support, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as possible Yeltsin successors. The inner circle has also been said to want to replace Stepashin with First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko.

In addition, Berezovsky and Voloshin are reportedly continuing their efforts to replace Rem Vyakhirev, head of the Gazprom natural gas monopoly, with a loyalist. Gazprom owns 49 percent of NTV’s shares, and Media Most is heavily indebted to the gas giant, meaning that Vyakhirev’s replacement by an ally of Berezovsky and Voloshin would put the media holding in their hands (Moskovsky komsomolets, July 29).

Thus NTV’s attacks on Voloshin could be seen less as an indication of its support for Luzhkov than of its hostility toward–and fear of–Berezovsky. Indeed, the channel’s coverage of Stepashin has been consistently respectful, suggesting that it would have nothing in principle against the prime minister and might even support him as Yeltsin’s successor. In any case, during yesterday’s press conference, Yevgeny Kiselev, an NTV co-founder and host of the weekly news analysis program Itogi, accused the Kremlin inner circle of aiming at electing a president who will be “totally dependent” on it, as a way of continuing to wield power after Yeltsin leaves office next year (NTV, July 28).