Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 94

Yesterday, investigators from Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office, accompanied by ski-masked commandos toting automatic weapons, raided both the offices of the Media-Most holding company in central Moscow, and the offices of NTV-Internet and Memonet, two internet companies connected to the holding company. Media-Most’s main outlets are NTV television, the newspaper Segodnya, the weekly magazine Itogi and Radio Ekho Moskvy. The raid took place early yesterday morning, after which the investigators spent more than twelve hours going through documents and other materials in the offices, some of which they eventually seized. Late in the afternoon, the Monitor’s correspondent witnessed the arrival of Media-Most founder and chief Vladimir Gusinsky at the media holding’s central headquarters on Bolshoi Palashevsky Perulok, where three armed men in ski masks and camouflage stood at the entrance. The “visitors” left late last night, and this morning, the Media-Most headquarters appeared from the outside to have returned to normalcy–whatever that means in today’s Russia.

The Prosecutor General’s Office took responsibility for the raids, which it said were carried out as part of a criminal investigation launched on April 26 against Media-Most’s security department, for allegedly conducting illegal eavesdropping and illegally obtaining and disclosing commercial and bank secrets. These activities were reportedly discovered at the end of 1998, as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of state funds inside the state media company Radio Rossiya (Vremya, Vremya novostei, May 12). Aleksandr Zdanovich, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB), claimed in an interview yesterday with Russian Public Television (ORT) that a listening device was found during the search, which had been used to eavesdrop on Media-Most’s own employees. ORT, the 51-percent state-owned channel said to be controlled by tycoon Boris Berezvosky, alleged that Media-Most’s security service had illegally collected the information for both security and journalistic purposes (ORT, May 11).

Media-Most officials, of course, took a different view. Gusinsky called the raids an act of “political pressure,” while Igor Malashenko, deputy chairman of Media-Most’s board of directors, called the raids “an act of intimidation and an attempt to interfere with the publication of materials on corruption in the highest levels of power” (NTV, May 11). Mikhail Berger, the editor of Segodnya, said the raid showed that Russian society was “under the control of people with submachine guns in their hands” (Reuters, May 11). The FSB’s Zdanovich and other officials denied that any political motive was behind the raid. Yesterday’s raid, meanwhile, was condemned by politicians across Russia’s political spectrum, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, Union of Right-Wing Forces leader Sergei Kirienko and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky (Russian agencies, May 11).