Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 116

The reaction to Vladimir Gusinsky’s arrest was for the most part negative and critical. Even Boris Berezovsky–tycoon, leading “Family” member and long-time Gusinsky rival and foe–said that he disapproved of the arrest. Berezovsky added, however, that Gusinsky had fallen victim “to the machine which he set in motion himself”–meaning that Gusinsky’s Media-Most business group had “tried to pressure its competitors using law enforcement agencies” (Russian agencies, June 13). Berezovsky’s assessment was rather ironic, given the fact that a raid last year by tax authorities on Seven Days, Media-Most’s publishing house, was widely believed to have been instigated by Kremlin chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin, a reputed Berezovsky ally and “Family” member. Indeed, during an interview last night on NTV television (part of the Media-Most empire), Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), openly accused Voloshin of being behind Gusinsky’s arrest. Nemtsov said that a Kremlin group which includes Sibneft oil company head Roman Abramovich and Moscow banker Alesksandr Mamut was consolidating control over Russia’s economic resources and using Voloshin as its “power instrument.” “If the consolidation of this economic power continues, it is hard to imagine what will happen to our country in the near future,” Nemtsov said. Nemtsov also questioned Putin’s claim that he had been in the dark about plans to arrest Gusinsky (NTV, June 13). Other observers were equally adamant that Gusinsky’s arrest was politically motivated. Aleksei Venediktov, chief editor for Radio Ekho Moskvy, another Media-Most outlet, said that the arrest came in retaliation for the radio station’s June 4 interview with U.S. President Bill Clinton on a live phone-in show. Venediktov claimed that the Kremlin could not forgive Gusinsky for trying to “enlist the support of the West” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 13; see also the Monitor, June 5). Mikhail Berger, chief editor of the daily Segodnya newspaper, which is also part of Media-Most, said the arrest was aimed at bringing the holding’s journalists to heel (NTV, June 13). Segodnya wrote today that “dictatorship of the law” that Putin had promised had given way to a “dictatorship of fear” (Segodnya, June 14).

Sergei Yushenkov, a State Duma deputy with the SPS faction and a leader of Russia’s Democratic Choice, said that Gusinsky’s arrest was the result of a fight between various quasipolitical forces that have varying degrees of influence on Kremlin policy. Sergei Ivanvenko, who heads Yabloko’s faction in the State Duma, said that Gusinsky’s arrest was unquestionably political, and its aim was to “intimidate and humiliate” (NTV Oleg Sysuev, the former first deputy head of the Kremlin administration who is now first deputy chairman of Alfa-Bank’s board of directors, said that Gusinsky’s arrest looked like a “political reprisal” and could not have occurred during Yeltsin’s tenure. Sysuev said, however, that Putin’s comment that the arrest was a “dubious present” should be taken at face value and that the head of state should be given time to react. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, head of the Fatherland movement, said that the action against Gusinsky was too harsh, and that the tycoon should simply have been told not to leave Moscow while the investigation into the alleged embezzlement of government funds was ongoing. Luzhkov called for Gusinsky’s immediate release, and said he would be willing to take the tycoon’s place in prison. The Union of Russian Journalists, meanwhile, condemned Gusinsky’s arrest as a political act, and charged that the authorities were trying to destroy the independent media under the guise of “imposing order.” It said that it demanded nothing from Putin, given that “each time his subordinates carry out an act of illegality in relation to the independent press, he turns out to be not ‘up on things'” (NTV, June 14). Putin and/or his spokesmen claimed that he had no prior knowledge of the detention of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky earlier this year or the May 11 raid on Media-Most’s headquarters.

The condemnation, however, was not universal. Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky greeted Gusinsky’s arrest with approval, while Oleg Morozov, head of the Russian Regions faction in the State Duma, said he saw “nothing terrible” in Gusinksy’s arrest if it was carried out on a “legal basis” (Russian agencies, June 13). Nezavisimaya gazeta, one of the newspapers controlled by Boris Berezovsky, cryptically claimed today that “the so-called oligarchs” had recently been called to the Kremlin and each of them privately told “about the Leninist methods, almost forgotten by now, of ‘expropriating the expropriators'” (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 14). An online news-analytical service reported today a group of Russia’s most influential businessmen were set to hold an emergency meeting over Gusinsky’s arrest, and that “financial circles” did not rule out that there would be more arrests of top businessmen and politicians (Russian agencies, June 14).