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Vladimir Gusinsky

 
Vladimir Gusinsky

Vladimir Gusinsky’s media empire was another logical place to start “deoligarchization.” Gusinsky’s vast media holdings, which included Russia’s main independent station, NTV had been amassed thanks to political connections and, first of all, to the backing his media outlets had provided to Yeltsin in his 1996 reelection campaign.

In the run-up to the 1999 parliamentary and 2000 presidential elections the powerful media mogul is rumored to have demanded vast economic and financial concessions from Putin in return for the backing of his media empire. When his demands were met with refusal, Gusinsky’s media supported the anti-Putin side in both elections. Following the elections, NTV continued to criticize Putin and his policies, reporting aggressively on the war in Chechnya, official corruption, and the embarrassing scandal surrounding the sinking of the submarine Kursk in August 2000.

The clouds over the media tycoon began to gather in the summer of 2000, when Gusinsky was arrested and jailed on charges of financial fraud. After three days, however, he was released, charges against him were dropped, and it looked as if he had agreed to give up his media empire in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Gusinsky then fled abroad, where he resumed the legal battle against NTV’s powerful creditor Gazprom, which, goaded on by the Kremlin, strove to declare his business empire bankrupt and take control of the television company.

The intense wrangle continued for ten months and involved an extradition battle in Spanish courts. Finally, in April 2001, Gazprom cobbled together a majority of shares in NTV and launched a coup: at an extraordinary meeting in Moscow shareholders unceremoniously fired the board and tossed out the company’s general director and Gusinsky’s close ally, Evgeny Kiselev. Gusinsky effectively lost control of NTV, but managed to escape criminal prosecution, as Spain refused to hand him over to Russia.

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