Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 75

Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko today called on Russia’s Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the actions to–as the group put in a statement–“crush” NTV. In the statement, released by Yabloko’s central council, the movement expressed solidarity with the Media-Most journalists experiencing “the pressure of the authorities,” saying that the “the forceful seizure of NTV, the closing of the newspaper Segodnya, and the firing of the team at Itogi magazine is the start of a massive attack on free speech in Russia.” Yabloko also called for investigations into financing at Russian state television (RTR) and Russian Public Television (ORT), which is 51-percent state owned (Polit.ru, April 18). Some observers have accused the authorities of having a double standard by relentlessly pursuing alleged financial malfeasance by Media-Most while sweeping official reports of waste, fraud and abuse at the state television channels under the rug (see the Monitor, February 15).

Russia’s other putatively liberal grouping, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), has been split over the NTV takeover. Some members, including veteran human rights activists such as Sergei Kovalev and Sergei Yushenkov, have condemned it. Others, including high SPS officials such as United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, have supported it. Still other leaders, including Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, have been more equivocal, criticizing Gazprom’s moves against NTV, Gusinsky and Kiselev, and even giving some praise to Boris Jordan, NTV’s new Gazprom-appointed general director (see the Monitor, April 16). In an April 15 interview, Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and long-time democratic political activist, accused Chubais and another SPS leader, Sergei Kirienko–President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Volga federal district–of “representing the interests of oligarchs and new nomenklatura.” At the same time, Kasparov accused former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar–also an SPS leader and head of Russia’s Democratic Choice–of “blatantly playing into the hands of the Cheka [secret police] people who are ruling Russia now” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 15).

In an interview published earlier this month, Gaidar echoed the arguments put forward by Gazprom and the Russian government: that NTV and Media-Most’s problems are financial, not political–the result of bad management and debts, not of its political opposition to the Kremlin (Novoe Vremya, April 8). Arkady Murashov, leader of the SPS Moscow branch, has also backed Gazprom in its conflict with NTV, citing Chubais’ long-time contacts with Alfred Kokh, the Gazprom-Media head who was recently made chairman of NTV’s new board (see the Monitor, April 6, 16). Kokh served as Chubais’ deputy when the latter headed Russian privatization and later took over that spot himself. Some observers have speculated that Chubais himself may have played a key role in the takeover of NTV (Profil, April 9).