Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 160

The news that the security agencies have been given greater leeway in carrying out surveillance and eavesdropping corresponded with renewed fears that the Kremlin may be poised to bring Russia’s main television channels under state control. Two top television anchors–Yevgeny Kiselev of NTV, who is also its general director, and Sergei Dorenko of Russian Public Television (ORT), who is also a deputy general director at that station–warned yesterday that the authorities might be tempted to use the destruction of the Ostankino television tower by fire earlier this week against the two channels. Kiselev said there were indications that the Kremlin plans to restore fully only RTR state television’s broadcasting signal, and that certain “known forces” have a political and economic interest in weakening NTV. Dorenko went further, warning that the authorities might try to take control of all the television channels (Russian agencies, August 30). NTV is part of the Media-Most empire, which has been critical of Putin and the Kremlin, and whose founder, Vladimir Gusinsky, was briefly jailed earlier this year. The 51-percent state-owned ORT is widely thought to be controlled by Boris Berezovsky, the tycoon and erstwhile Putin ally who not long ago declared his opposition to the president’s moves to centralize power in Russia.

Even before the Ostankino tower fire, some observers were predicting that ORT would be merged with RTR. It is possible that the need for the two state-owned stations to find a new means of broadcasting will simply bring that about sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, another Berezovsky-controlled outlet, the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta, reported today that Media-Most’s Gusinsky agreed in writing last month to transfer 60 percent of his holding’s shares to Gazprom in order to pay off a debt to the natural gas giant–a debt totaling US$473 million, according to the paper (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 20). Gazprom is 38-percent state-owned.

Should all this come to pass, RTR would become Russia’s predominant television channel–something which the Kremlin appears to want, given that it gave RTR the exclusive right to cover Kursk submarine disaster earlier this month. Putin, who was criticized by much of the media–including ORT, NTV and newspapers controlled by Gusinsky and Berezovsky–for his handling of the Kursk crisis later lashed out at his critics. The president blamed the media barons–who, he claimed, have villas on the Mediterranean purchased using fake names or fake companies–for contributing to the armed forces’ dissolution (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 28).

This week, some media outside the Berezovsky and Gusinsky empires took Putin to task for his press bashing in connection with the Kursk tragedy. The newspaper Izvestia–which is owned by Interros, the financial-industrial group belonging to rival oligarch Vladimir Potanin–cited Putin’s vow “to restore the army, the navy and the state,” which accompanied his attack on the media barons. The paper accused Putin and his team of “speaking the language of Zavtra,” the ultranationalist (some would say fascist) newspaper. Izvestia reported that one of Putin’s key advisers, Gleb Pavlovsky, plans to meet with Aleksandr Dugin, a leading nationalist theoretician and regular contributor to Zavtra (Izvestia, August 29).