Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 175

There has been a mixed reaction to the mudslinging match between Media-Most, on one side, and Gazprom-Media’s Alfred Kokh and Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, on the other. Two State Duma deputies from the Yabloko faction, Sergei Ivanenko and Sergei Mitrokhin, jumped to Media-Most’s defense by lodging an official request with Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov. The two requested that an investigation be conducted into whether officials engaged in “blackmail and extortion as a means of concluding commercial agreements that were profitable to them.” Yabloko’s press service said that interrogatory was specifically referring to Appendix 6 of the agreement signed by Kokh, Lesin and Media-Most head Vladimir Gusinsky on July 20, and that among the things the faction wanted to find out is whose orders Lesin was acting under in signing the agreement (Russian agencies, September 20).

Meanwhile, Yuri Schmidt, the prominent St. Petersburg human rights lawyer who has defended environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, among others, told a newspaper that in his view, both Media-Most and its enemies have behaved “immorally.” “I profoundly dislike the authorities’ action in this situation, but I don’t think that Gusinsky was in such a bad situation that he could easily agree to these conditions and that back out of the deal,” Schmidt said. “All of this generates a feeling of disgust” (Moscow Times, September 21).

Schmidt’s comments were perhaps motivated by the view, held by a number of observers, that Gusinsky, far from being a genuine freedom fighter, is simply a once-powerful and Kremlin-connected oligarch who has now fallen out of favor. Indeed, critics point out that Media-Most won a number of privileges thanks to its strong support for Boris Yeltsin during his 1996 re-election campaign, including the right to by state airtime at a discount and the various loans and credits that have now come back to haunt the media holding. The reality, veteran Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats wrote in a column published today, is that “the state–that is, the Kremlin and its various departments and offices, the prosecutor general, the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the KGB and their ilk–are in fact semi-criminal groups fighting for property against other groups who happened to be more successful at it during the regime of former President Boris Yeltsin” (Moscow Times, September 21). Other observers have asked why Gusinsky, if he was forced to sign Appendix 6 under duress, did not reveal that fact two months ago, immediately after the criminal charges against him were dropped.

On the other hand, Media-Most’s outlets continue to devote much ink and airtime to high-level corruption charges–such as the Swiss investigations into alleged embezzlement from the Russian state airline Aeroflot and the Mabetex case, involving alleged multimillion-dollar kickbacks to top Kremlin officials–and the Russian law enforcement agencies’ apparent unwillingness to prosecute them. It is difficult to see what Gusinsky gains, in purely material terms, by continually angering the powers-that-be in this way.