The media and politicians get ready for new battles: restructuring, crossfire, and name-calling


According to the media, Gazprom’s acquisition of the Izvestia newspaper and creation of the new channel broadcast in English and headed by mysterious Margarita Simonian means another realignment of political forces on the eve of the upcoming presidential election.

“The Russian gas monopoly which is buying a Russia’s leading newspaper from the industrial and banking conglomerate Interros, owned by Vladimir Potanin, enhances influence of the Kremlin on the media,” notes the website.

The states, referring to The Wall Street Journal: according to its source “closely connected with Interros maintains that the company received the order on selling an 50.19% stake in Izvestia to the gas monopolist immediately from the presidential administration, though the latter denied this information.

“Until now, it had been considered that the Kremlin wouldn’t go beyond harsh control over the national TV channels; but now its wish to clean up the print media as well is clear,” notes Indeed, “given such owners as Potanin, who is considered to be the most loyal of all Russian oligarchs, Izvestia avoided overt clashes with the Kremlin, which had accelerated the ruination of the NTV, maintaining the reputation of a liberal publication at the same time. Associates of the newspaper fear its independent standing will be lost now.”

Meanwhile, the press service of Gazprom-Media holding president Nikolai Senkevich stated that “the current internal condition and popularity of the Izvestia newspaper enabled Gazprom-Media to pay attention to it.” Moreover, Senkevich stressed, “the direction in which Izvestia is projecting seems to be absolutely correct to us and we shall be actively contributing to the further development of this newspaper.”

The prospects are as radiant for the Russia Today television channel; according to Mikhail Seslavinsky, director of the Federal Agency for Print and Mass Communications, it “will be acting independently, as an independent publication” (quoted from Vremya Novostei).

At the same time, Seslavinsky said at the channel presentation, the presidential administration and the government undoubtedly know that a new television channel will be set up. Moreover, a special bill on amending the 2005 federal budget is to be submitted into the Duma for financing this channel. As expected, the budget of Russia Today will amount to $30 million by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, Seslavinsky noted that nobody at the Kremlin or at the White House has any intention to restrict freedom of broadcasting. “I cannot imagine anybody in the halls of power, finding texts written in English with a red pen and recommend what is needed and what is not,” Seslavinsky was saying with conviction.

This would surely be redundant given the appropriations of $30 million from the state budget.

Few facts are known about margarita Simonian, editor-in-chief of this channel: she graduated from the Kuban University and Vladimir Pozner’s School of Television Art, was a special reporter of Vesti in Beslan, for what she was awarded the Defense Ministry’s medal “For Fortifying the Combat Unity.” She has been affiliated with the president’s pool and received personal greetings and a bunch of flowers from Vladimir Putin for her 25th birthday. As editor-in-chief of the new television channel she will lead the team of 500 people (including some 300 members of the creative group), which is to “show Russia as foreigners see it when they come to our country.”

In Simonian’s opinion, “the widest possible range of opinions must be represented at the channel.”

She underscored concurrently that “our newsreaders must have no opinion, they must convey the word.”

As is said, this is beyond-the-hard task: finding 300 English-speaking journalists in Russia who would have no opinions of their own…

All of this has provided Alexander Gamov, a reporter of Komsomolskaya Pravda with a plea to perplexedly ask a newly-appointed director of Russia Toda?: “Rita, how could that likable young ladies become editors-in-chief?” Simonian replied with dignity: “I’m not confident that career progress is linked directly to being likable.”

One cannot provide for a better statement…

Either way, Profil magazine noted optimistically, “the youth has won,” as well as confidence of one’s own ability.

“Young means another background; I’ve studied in the United States, speak English and my personality wasn’t formed on the basis of some Komsomol values, unlike those who are older: as far as I can understand, they needed a person like me,” Margarita Simonian told with her interview for the magazine.

Undoubtedly, “they” know it better…

As could be expected, the last Russian media tycoon, namely London exile Boris Berezovsky, showed activity against the backdrop of these striking events.

Without any preliminary notice, the owner of Kommersant Publishing has dismissed its editor-in-chief Andrei Vasiliev and Alexander Stukalin, editor-in-chief of the newspaper of the same name. This was done during a teleconference from London.

“The reasons why the oligarch would want to replace the senior executives of a successful publication, which remains among the most influential Russian newspapers, are not quite clear,” says the Vremya Novostei newspaper, perplexed. In the opinion of Vremya Novostei, Berezovsky’s explanations about the need for new momentum and strengthening economic coverage don’t appear convincing.

Nevertheless, the title of the article dedicated to Berezovsky’s latest demarche is evidently spiteful in Vremya Novostei: “A Bleeding for Kommersant.”

The media was immediately engrossed in conjectures: what this could mean?

Rafael Akopov, head of the Prof-Media holding company, told Izvestia that “from the business standpoint, there is no observable stagnation at Kommersant.”

Raf Shakirov, who as chief editor of the Kommersant newspaper in 1997-99, says “the suddenness of this decision appears strange; it is not dictated by the internal logic of Kommersant’s development. Perhaps Berezovsky has decided to make some personnel changes over summer before launching a new political campaign.”

Alexei Volin, head of the Rodionov publishing house, came out with a more distinct statement: “As I understand it, Boris Berezovsky meant that the Kommersant newspaper has failed to become a weapon in the media war he is waging. From this standpoint, he might be dissatisfied with the newspaper.” If fighting a war is the objective, notes Volin, “Kommersant should be headed by someone who has the taste and desire for such activities, and agrees to undertake a suicide mission,” since the experience of previous media wars shows: “the weapons eventually end up destroyed,” the fate of Sergei Dorenko serves as an example.

According to Izvestia, as potential new executives at Kommersant must be regarded Vladislav Borodulin, chief editor of (owned by Leonid Nevzlin), Rustam Narzikulov and Tatiana Koshkareva, the present heads of Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Referring to another online publication, Novye Izvestia speculates that the new general director of Kommersant Publishing could be Demian Kudriavtsev, currently on the Kommersant board of directors. However, specifies Novye Izvestia, one cannot neglect the fact that the Russian authorities have denied entry visa to Mr. Kudriavtsev, a citizen of Israel, thus making the possibility of his employment in Russia doubtful.”

The question is whether the name of the new editor-in-chief conveys something to the public, rather than to the journalists alone, says Gazeta. In the opinion of this publication, “to make the name speak for itself,” Berezovsky would have to recruit someone “from television” (following the example of Moskovskiye Novosti, which recruited the out-of-favor Kiselev, or Newsweek Russia, which recruited Parfenov). However, says Gazeta, “Kiselev’s chair is being shaken.”

A more extravagant decision is also possible – “recruit a public figure, somebody like Garry Kasparov, to act as editor-in-chief.”

However, says Novaya Gazeta, “the veil of mystery” will remain until the owner of Kommersant names the new names.

In Novaya Gazeta’s opinion, “Berezovsky’s behavior resembled President Vladimir Putin’s manner of appointing a prime minister – and Berezovsky clearly enjoyed acting as he did.” Andrei Vasiliev also enjoyed being a senior executive, and Novaya Gazeta describes him as “a successful manager, with an unconcealed veneer of cynicism and good negotiating skills.”

Indeed, even though it is owned by Berezovsky, Kommersant “has retained its sources in business and government and maintained good relations with its readers.”

All this time, Kommersant has “pointedly distanced itself from Berezovsky, while also being described by him as ‘one of the last remaining newspapers independent of the Kremlin.'”

This even went as far as Kommersant publishing all of Berezovsky’s appeals as advertisements. “Vasiliev was highly amused by this: Berezovsky’s representatives complained that Kommersant charged more for publishing its owner’s statements than Vedomosti, a rival paper.”

However, Berezovsky might think that Vedomosti has put pressure on Kommersant in the market of business media, and “Kommersant perhaps needs to restore its standing here.”

Berezovsky regarded Novaya Gazeta’s question concerning the real causes of Vasiliev’s dismissal as tactless: “Your question – about the real reasons for Vasiliev’s dismissal – is incorrect. It implies a different question: why am I lying? But I’ve always stated only my real motives and attitudes.”

The oligarch mentioned expansion of information as one of the motives: “We will publish a separate edition in Ukraine, and no one can do a better job of establishing that paper than Andrei Vasiliev.” He added caustically: ” Your newspaper may not consider Kiev a very important place for Russian politics, but I think Russia’s fate is being decided there.”

In the opinion of Vremya Novostei, this statement by Berezovsky seems to be true: “Following the Orange Revolution, Berezovsky, who is wanted by the Russian authorities, has enthusiastically become involved in politics in neighboring Ukraine, and has probably decided to co-own an influential publication there as well.” Who else can lead this but Andrei Vasiliev, who managed “to preserve Berezovsky’s media assets in Russia in the time of troubles?”

Still, maintains Novaya Gazeta, Vasiliev’s departure for Ukraine to head the branch company of Kommersant resembles “seems like enforced exile – with a suitable bonus (he will get a stake in the venture).”

The situation is also uncertain with another publication owned by Berezovsky – Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the sale of which has been negotiated for a long while, since it has failed to match the influence level of Kommersant.

This is no surprise: Kommersant has its own well-formed audience, the specific nature of which is greatly determined by the newspaper’s name. As for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it has been for a long time been ranked among publications which have the circulation “inside the Garden Ring”: the political consulting, which is the profile reporting stuff, could hardly be recognized as meeting requirements of the public. However, the newspaper is steadily following this course, turning any event in the life of Russia into a plea for “old songs about important things.”

Apparently in connection to the end of the political season Nezavisimaya Gazeta focused on the prospects of possible heroes of the next season this week. Naturally, these include the individuals on the Russian political scene who are potential participants of the upcoming 2008 Elections performance.

This time, the matter concerns Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, “generally acknowledged as a favorite of President Putin,” who is facing a storm of criticism from the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office, which has blamed him for disorder in the Armed Forces.

“This is the first case of such substantial pressure being exerted on such an important military-political figure. And that is evidence of good coordination among the opponents of Ivanov, one of the leading potential presidential candidates in the election campaign of 2008,” says Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The newspaper applied for comments to Sergei Markov, director of the Political Studies Institute, who describes these attempts to discredit the Defense Ministry as “firing from a great distance: “Ivanov’s opponents still view him as one of the leading contenders for that position.”

Alexei Makarkin, deputy head of the Political Techniques Center, shares this viewpoint: “Every possible effort is being made to convince Putin that Ivanov is a weak, vulnerable figure who cannot possibly become the successor,” especially since the accusations of the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office “are not simply an intrigue based on insinuations, but they reflect real problems in the Armed Forces.”

In the opinion of Makarkin, the problem is not about the difficulty of identifying who might have instigated the anti-Ivanov campaign, but also about the difficulty of identifying Ivanov’s supporters: “Ivanov’s main and only source of support is the president himself.”

According to Markov, members of other clans close to the president are behind the attempts to discredit Ivanov.

Ivanov hasn’t spent much of his career in St. Petersburg. His acquaintance with Putin began in intelligence, then continued in the Federal Security Service (FSB). But most other members of Putin’s current team did work in St. Petersburg and fear that Ivanov would promote those who have worked with him in Moscow: “Obviously, many members of Putin’s current team wouldn’t want that to happen.”

Mercator Analytical Center Director Dmitri Oreshkin noted in Novye Izvestia, which belongs to the pool of publications controlled by Boris Berezovsky: “evident is the serious confrontation between the siloviki of St. Petersburg and Moscow teams. Therefore, “Ivanov may face pressure from various directions, represented by the security wing of the power elite.” However, Oreshkin has refused to name any names.

The article about attacking on Sergei Ivanov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta is entitled “Shooting Down Successors,” while the one published by Novye Izvestia is entitled “Operation Counter-Successor.”

The Izvestia newspaper, which has Gazprom as its new owner now, has contributed to the debating over Vladimir Putin’s potential successor. Its publication has been entitled “The Successor Will Arrive By Rail” and dedicated to Vladimir Yakunin, recently appointed CEO of Russian Railroads, formerly the senior vice-president of Russian Railroads.

Gazeta found it necessary to stress that Yakunin is another person from the St. Petersburg team and, moreover, “the one who owns the dacha next door to Putin’s dacha: like Putin, Yakunin used to work for the KGB, their families were friendly, and they even built dachas in the Leningrad region side by side.”

Dmitri Oreshkin told Izvestia that after this appointment, Yakunin “has reached the semi-finals in the battle for the right to be President Putin’s successor.”

Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Andrei Ryabov agrees with this; he views Yakunin’s new position as “a springboard to higher levels of government.”

As Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the National Strategy Council, explained to Izvestia, “Only a limited number of individuals are available for rapid transformation into dominant politicians: the speakers of the two houses of parliament, the prime minister, some of the prominent ministers, a minority of regional leaders, and the chief executives of the three giants: RAO Unified Energy Systems, Gazprom, and Russian Railroads.”

Therefore, the appearance of Yakunin – “as a close friend of the president” – attracts the “most intent attention,” Diskin emphasized.

One cannot fail to note that way back when, Vladimir Putin wouldn’t have stood any chance of making it onto Diskin’s list. Boris Berezovsky knows something about “individuals who can be rapidly transformed into dominant politicians” – but he’s silent so far – he has other concerns nowadays.

As noted by Novaya Gazeta in this regard, “if he didn’t have a talent for intrigue, Berezovsky would still be working at the Academy of Sciences.”