Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 186

The political mudslinging in the Russian media is becoming more intense with each passing day, making it evident that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is very much a target. Today the newspaper Segodnya, which belongs to the Seven Days publishing house, itself a part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s Most-Media group, published an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signed by its chief editor Mikhail Berger and the chief editors of NTV television, radio station Ekho Moskvy and the weekly magazine Itogi. The editors claimed that the federal tax police services had illegally opened a criminal case against Seven Days for alleged violations of tax laws and asked Putin to put an end to “the use of the power agencies as instruments in the struggle with the mass media.” Back in July, officers of the tax police raided the publishing house’s offices (see the Monitor, July 20, 22-23).

Today’s demarche in Segodnya was obviously a continuation–and, apparently, a deepening–of the battle between Gusinsky, who is friendly to Luzhkov, and the Kremlin inner circle, including the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. In its lead article this morning, Segodnya charged that “the threats to the free press” were emanating from the Kremlin (Segodnya, October 8).

Other pro-Luzhkov newspapers are also claiming harassment. Pavel Gusev, the chief editor of Moskovsky komsomolets wrote in today’s edition that friends from his Komsomol days have been getting visits from people claiming to be from the special services (but not showing identification) and asking about his past. Gusev also claimed that the paper’s security service has determined that he is being followed and that his phone calls are being monitored (Moskovsky komsomolets, October 8). Moskovsky komsomolets is not only sympathetic to Luzhkov, but has been leading what can only be described as a campaign against Berezovsky.

Yesterday, Luzhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, announced that she was suing the Federal Security Service (FSB) for failing to adequately explain why it had seized documents earlier this year from her plastics firm, Inteko. The seizure was made as part of a larger investigation into alleged illegal capital flight, but no charges were brought against Baturina or her company. On October 3, Russian Public Television, which is controlled by Berezovsky, charged that a brother of Baturina named Andrei had foreign bank accounts. Baturina said yesterday that she is not related to Andrei Baturin (Moscow Times, October 8).

In a related scandal, the Central Election Commission is looking into charges that Fatherland-All Russia, the electoral coalition led by Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, had falsified financial statements and falsely indicated that its candidates owned Russian cars rather than more expensive Western cars. Such violations, if proved true, could be used to disqualify Fatherland-All Russia from the December 19 parliamentary elections. Primakov said yesterday that the scandal was a misunderstanding, and that he did not think it was part of a deliberate strategy to sabotage Fatherland-All Russia (NTV, October 7).