A large number NTV journalists, led by Yevgeny Kiselev, the channel’s ousted general director and chief editor, having quit the channel to protest its takeover by Gazprom, have set up shop at TNT, a smaller regional network belonging to Gusinsky, and at TV-6, the Moscow channel in which Boris Berezovsky holds a 75-percent stake. Kiselev has been named acting general director of TV-6 (see the Monitor, April 16, 18). However, according to several reports (which, it should be noted, appeared in media generally hostile to Berezovsky, Gusinsky and Kiselev), Berezovsky in fact plans to sell off TV-6 to its minority shareholder–Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company–and is using TV-6’s absorption of NTV’s more professional journalists as a way of driving up the selling price to US$100-$120 million (Izvestia, April 19). As the pro-Kremlin Strana.ru website put it, if the deal goes through, “Berezovsky will confirm his reputation for being a financial genius, while ‘the Kiselev team’ will be fooled, finding itself sold to Lukoil, which is hand in glove with the Kremlin” (Strana.ru, April 18).
In the meantime, a newspaper reported today that Gusinsky is planning to sell his own stake in NTV–which comes to a bit more than 30 percent of the channel–to a Ukrainian oligarch, Vadim Rabinovich, for US$80 million. The paper cited unnamed sources as saying that were this deal to be consummated, Rabinovich in would in fact be acting as a front-man for the Alfa Group, headed by two well-known Kremlin-connected Russian oligarchs, Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven. According to Western businessmen in Moscow and other observers, Alfa Group is very influential within Russia’s current political-financial configuration. Indeed, Vladislav Surkov, a deputy head of the Kremlin administration, was formerly an Alfa Group executive. In any case, the paper quoted Media-Most spokesman Dmitry Ostalsky as neither confirming nor denying that Gusinsky planned to sell out his stake to Rabinovich. Ostalsky was quoted as saying he knew nothing about Gusinsky’s plans (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 19).
Following yesterday’s decision by a Spanish court not to extradite Gusinsky to Russia, Gusinsky told the New York Times that he plans to sell his NTV stake. Given the departure of the channel’s journalists, he said, it was no longer an asset worth holding. He also indicated that the agreement he recently reached to sell his NTV stake to CNN founder Ted Turner was now dead. In addition, Gusinsky, in the paper’s words, “dismissed” the NTV journalists’ plans to build a new television network under Berezovsky’s auspices. Gusinsky said that he supported the journalists but would not participate in such a project. He said, however, that he plans to sue the Gazprom-controlled NTV for a loan given by Media-Most and to restart the Itogi weekly magazine, whose staff was laid off this week (New York Times, April 19). In an interview published today in the Obshchaya Gazeta weekly, Mikhail Berger, the former editor of Gusinsky’s Segodnya newspaper, which was shut down this week, said that a new publishing house would be set up which would include a new daily newspaper and other publications, and that Gusinsky would be the publishing house’s main shareholder. Berger said he hoped to have an Internet version of Segodnya up and running some time in early May (Obshchaya Gazeta, April 19). Like the Novoe Izvestia daily, which Berezovsky owns, Obshchaya Gazeta has opened its pages to ex-Segodnya journalists: The April 19 issue of Obshchaya Gazeta includes a column written by former Segodnya political commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky which was to have run in Segodnya on April 17, the day the paper was shut down. That issue was pulled from the printers and never saw the light of day (see the Monitor, April 18).
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