The re-division of spheres of influence that began in May with the takeover of NTV television by Gazprom-Media is reverberating in Russia’s regions as well. The latest battlefield is the Republic of Udmurtia, where the bone of contention is the republic’s largest media outlet, the “Udmurtia” state television and radio company. The federal authorities, in the form of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), are vying for control of the company with the republic leadership (Russian agencies, October 6).
The history of this “information war” is typical for contemporary Russia. In September, the contract of “Udmurtia’s” director, Aleksandr Ushakov, expired. In his place, VGTRK Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev appointed Sergei Nikitin. When Nikitin reported for work on October 5, however, he was denied access to the building on the pretext that he did not have a valid pass. That same day, the president of Udmurtia, Aleksandr Volkov, visited the TV company and told employees that he would not permit the head of the company to be appointed without the agreement of the republic authorities, because such a move would violate Udmurtia’s sovereignty. In retaliation, VGTRK took “Udmurtia’s” broadcasts off the airwaves of RTR state television, which is part of VGTRK (Polit.ru, October 9).
On October 21, voting will take place for the mayor of Izhevsk, Udmurtia’s capital. This fact explains why the battle to control the republic’s TV has so quickly become politicized. Udmurtia’s State Council has called on President Vladimir Putin to intervene in the dispute. Putin, however, has pointedly declined to get involved (Lenta.ru, October 8). Instead, Russia’s prosecutor general has launched a criminal investigation into the decision to bar Nikitin from his office (Regions.ru, October 12). The Kremlin is clearly in no mood to set a precedent by allowing a region to seize control of a federally controlled channel.
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