, the two oligarchs in charge of Russia’s most powerful media empires and who have already, to varying degrees, felt the state’s wrath. Putin, it should be noted, insisted that he would resort to the stick only from the noblest of motives: The obstreperous oligarchs, he said, had to be put in their place in order to ensure the principle of equality before the law and to further Russian society’s “democratization.” He even quoted Thomas Jefferson’s observation that “where freedom of the press is absolute, there is no freedom for anyone.”
On one level, the Russian president was right. Neither Berezovsky nor Gusinsky had gained control of two of Russia’s main national television channels through sheer hard work and talent, and Putin’s comments to Le Figaro were in part a powerful refutation of the widely held notion that Russia enjoyed a free press under Boris Yeltsin. On the other hand, it is unlikely that many readers came away from the Le Figaro interview with a warm and fuzzy feeling about the prospects for press freedom under Yeltsin’s handpicked successor. Indeed, Putin’s comments came on the heels of news that a draft law on “information security” authored by his powerful Security Council and the Press Ministry would ban all fully or partly owned foreign media. If passed, such a law would mean an end to the English-language Moscow Times newspaper and the business newspaper Vedomosti–both publications belong to a majority Dutch-owned media group–and to Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau. It would also prevent Gusinsky from selling all or part of his embattled Media-Most group to a foreign investor.
Putin’s demarche on the media-moguls was of a piece with the last-minute disqualification of Kursk Governor