Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 94

As is usually the case with such incidents in Russia, much remains unclear about both who actually ordered yesterday’s raid on Media-Most and the motives behind it. It is even unclear which security services were involved: The armed and masked commandos initially had emblems on their uniforms indicating that they were from the tax police, but later took those emblems off (NTV, May 11; Vremya novostei, May 12). According to other reports, the armed participants in the raid were from the tax police, Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Interior Ministry’s anti-economic crimes unit (Russian agencies, May 11). Today, Moskovsky komsomolets (M-K) reported that the raid was initiated by Yuri Zaostrovtsev, a recently appointed FSB deputy director. Late last month, Media-Most’s Segodnya newspaper published an article alleging that Zaostrovtsev, who in the early 1990s worked in the FSB’s economic counterintelligence department, and then left the service to work in banking, had been involved in various shady deals. However, according to M-K, the raid on Media-Most was aimed less at seizing incriminating materials which had been gathered on Zaostrovtsev than at finding “certain material about property abroad belonging to high government officials” (Moskovsky komsomolets, May 12).

It is likely, however, that the raid was more a result of the Kremlin’s cumulative list of complaints against Media-Most. Last year, when some of the holdings’ outlets were regularly criticizing the so-called “Family”–as the media referred to key members of then President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle, including tycoon Boris Berezovsky and his reputed ally, Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin–tax police searched the premises of Seven Days, Media-Most’s publishing company. The Kremlin and others saw Media-Most as sympathetic to the Kremlin’s main enemies at the time, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov–a generally accurate view. Voloshin accused Media-Most of running an “information racket,” while the latter accused Voloshin of “political racketeering and blackmail” (see the Monitor, July 20-28, 1999). Yesterday, Igor Malashenko, deputy chairman of Media-Most’s board of directors, openly speculated that Voloshin might have been behind the latest raid on Media-Most (Russian agencies, May 11). In addition, Media-Most’s outlets have been critical of both President Vladimir Putin and the war in Chechnya. In March, NTV aired an investigation into allegations that the FSB was behind a thwarted attempt last year to bomb an apartment in the city of Ryazan and to then blame the incident on Chechen terrorists. Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Union of Right-wing Forces, subsequently warned that the government might retaliate against NTV for this report (see the Monitor, March 27).

More generally, Media-Most’s NTV looks increasingly like the odd man out in the process of “consolidation” that the Putin era represents. It continues to feature more dispassionate Western-style reporting while the other two main television channels, Russian Public Television (ORT) and RTR state television, feature “patriotic” coverage of the Chechen War and reports that generally support the Kremlin’s initiatives. The Kremlin is said to hate “Kukly,” NTV’s political satire puppet show. It also cannot be happy about articles like the one that appeared this week in the magazine Itogi, timed to Putin’s inauguration, which openly stated that Putin remains a puppet in the hands of the “Family” (Itogi, May 9). This article alone could have aroused the Kremlin’s wrath–either if its thesis is false, or all the more so if it is true.