Boris Nemtsov, the head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces’ faction in the State Duma, said in an interview yesterday with NTV television, the flagship channel of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Media-Most holding, that he was certain that President Vladimir Putin was fully aware of Press Minister Mikhail Lesin’s involvement in an agreement signed July 10 by Gusinsky, Gazprom-Media chief Alfred Kokh and Lesin himself. According to that agreement–which has become known as “Appendix 6”–Gusinsky agreed to hand his media holding over to Gazprom, its main creditor, in return for US$300 million cash, US$473 million in debt forgiveness and a pledge by the state to end criminal prosecution of Gusinsky and lift restrictions on his movements. While Nemtsov did not present concrete proof for his assertion, he said that in a meeting he and other parliamentary leaders had with Putin several weeks ago, the Russian head of state was “absolutely up on” the Gusinsky-Gazprom battle and that Putin had made it clear that the position of the press minister would define the fate of Media-Most in general and NTV in particular. Putin, through his spokesman, subsequently said that he was surprised and outraged that Lesin had signed the document and said that he, as head of state, should stay out of disputes between “economic actors.” Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov later reprimanded Lesin publicly, but no further action was taken against the press minister (see the Monitor, September 21, 28-29).
Nemtsov also noted that the “information security doctrine” Putin recently signed could be used to prevent foreign investors from buying stakes in NTV. In Nemtsov’s view, the doctrine would prevent foreign ownership of media in Russia and gives preference to state media, meaning that NTV could, in his words, be turned into a third state channel. On the other hand, Nemtsov suggested that there is a disagreement inside the Kremlin between “hawks” who believe that the Kremlin should interfere in media’s information policy and hiring decisions and those that believe it should not. Nemtsov said it was up in the air which side Putin would favor (NTV, October 1; see the Monitor, September 7, 15).
Meanwhile, Andrei Trapeznikov head of the press department for United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s electricity monopoly, confirmed today that the company had bought “more than a controlling share” in Ren-TV. Trapeznikov said that UES, which is headed by Anatoly Chubais, was above all interested in Ren-TV’s network of regional television companies. Ren-TV currently enjoys a 3.5-3.7 percent share of Russia’s television viewing audience (Russian agencies, October 2).
BABITSKY TRIAL STARTS TODAY IN MAKHACHKALA.