Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 149

President Boris Yeltsin today signed decrees today dismissing Sergei Zverev from the post of deputy head of the presidential administration and replacing him with Vladislav Surkov (Russian agencies, August 3).

The firing had been rumored for about a week. Prior to joining the Kremlin administration, Zverev had worked as an advisor to Vladimir Gusinsky, founder of the Media Most holding. Over the last month or so, Media Most has feuded openly with Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin, the tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Russian Public Television (ORT), which Berezovsky is said to control and on whose board of directors Voloshin sits. In an interview, Zverev said that he met with Voloshin yesterday evening, who told him about the decree firing him. According to Zverev, Voloshin also said he had given President Boris Yeltsin a letter Zverev wrote last month to the head of state, in which he criticized certain unspecified actions by Voloshin. Zverev said he will soon hold a press conference, in which he will detail his complaints against the Kremlin administration (Russian agencies, August 3).

Zverev’s dismissal coincided with the release of an open letter signed by the editors of more than a dozen Russian publications, who accused high-ranking officials of “using their clout and even the name of the Russian president” to “put pressure” on the mass media and journalists in the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections. The signatories, noting that freedom of expression “can be sufficiently protected under the current circumstances only by the intercession of the president,” asked for a meeting with Yeltsin. Among the signatories were the editors of the newspapers “Kommersant,” “Argumenty i fakty,” the government-owned “Rossiiskaya gazeta” and “Segodnya,” which is part of the Media Most group (Russian agencies, August 2). Media Most has accused Voloshin of launching a politically motivated tax audit of its media outlets. Voloshin has denied singling out Media Most, and said that a number of media were being audited. These audits could help explain the motive behind yesterday’s open letter.

Voloshin, meanwhile, was unapologetic. In the first of a two-part interview published today, the Kremlin administration chief denied that he was trying to bankrupt Media Most, but added: “It would be stupid to finance structures which are hostile to you” (Komsomolskaya pravda, August 3). The Kremlin reportedly considers the news coverage by Media Most’s outlets as hostile to its interests but friendly toward those of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Media Most has received tens of million of dollars in credits from state banks and from the state gas monopoly Gazprom, which owns anywhere from 33 to 49 percent of the shares in NTV, Media Most’s television channel. This, of course, makes it vulnerable to Kremlin pressure.

The tone of Voloshin’s comments suggested there is little room for compromise. Last week, “Versia,” a weekly put out by the Sovershenno sekretno (Top Secret) publishing group, ran an article alleging that Voloshin’s son had committed credit card fraud over the Internet. The weekly also published Voloshin’s telephone number, which, he said in the interview published today, was his mother’s number (Komsomolskaya pravda, August 3). Voloshin was clearly particularly angry about the “Versia” article. Meanwhile, in this week’s edition, the weekly claims that a man “looking much like Voloshin” not long ago met with rebel Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev at Saudi millionaire Adnan Kashoggi’s villa in France, but did not say what the alleged meeting was about (Versia, August 3-9). While Versia and Sovershenno Sekretno are not directly connected with Media Most, their editor-in-chief, Artem Borovik, recently got a seat on the board of TV-Center, the television channel controlled by the Moscow city government.