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Newsline - May 22, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin has sacked Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and First Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Samsonov, the chief of the General Staff, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 22 May. Chairing a meeting of the Defense Council, Yeltsin said he was not just dissatisfied but "indignant over the state of reforms in the army and the general state of the armed forces," according to ITAR-TASS. Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin have long clashed over military reform. Yeltsin has appointed Army Gen. Igor Sergeev, the head of the Strategic Rocket Forces, as acting defense minister. Meanwhile, sacked Army Gen. Konstantin Kobets has been arrested on corruption charges and taken to Moscow's Lefortovo prison after being released from the hospital, Russian news agencies reported on 21 May. Kobets was fired as Russia's deputy defense minister and chief military inspector the previous day (see RFE/RL Newsline, 19 and 20 May 1997). He denies the charges against him.


Yeltsin has returned the trophy art law to the parliament for a second time, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May, citing the presidential press service. A statement said the law, which would ban the return of cultural valuables seized from Germany during World War II, was adopted "with violations of the constitutional procedure." The president's action appears to be based on the unusual voting procedure the Federation Council used to override Yeltsin's veto. Written ballots were distributed to all deputies, including those who did not attend the Council's session in Moscow. The Constitution states that a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament is needed to override presidential vetoes but does not specify what kind of balloting procedure must be used. Yeltsin had been expected to appeal to the Constitutional Court against the terms of the trophy art law (see "End Note," RFE/RL Newsline, 16 May 1997).


The State Duma passed by 233 votes to 88 with one abstention a resolution declaring the performance of the government during the first quarter of 1997 as "unsatisfactory," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 May. While seeking to win the Duma's support for the government's proposed budget sequester, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said the government is willing to compromise on the size of the budget cuts. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised that the government would fund a new parliamentary newspaper and allocate time for a regular 30-minute program about parliament on state-run television, ITAR-TASS reported. However, numerous Duma deputies criticized the government for proposing large budget cuts but no specific measures to increase revenues. The Duma delayed consideration of the draft law on the sequester. Deputies appear almost certain to reject it.


Duma deputies from the Yabloko and the left-leaning Popular Power factions have collected 96 signatures in favor of putting a no confidence vote on the Duma's agenda soon. However, the leaders of larger parliamentary factions have spoken out against such a vote, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 May. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on the Duma to vote against the policies pursued by Yeltsin and to request a government reshuffle. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky also said he would not support a vote of no confidence, describing Chernomyrdin as the "lesser of two evils." Opposition Duma deputies have long maintained that voting no confidence in the government would allow Yeltsin to dissolve the Duma and replace Chernomyrdin with Chubais or First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.


Meanwhile, Zyuganov announced that the Communist Party is preparing to organize massive public protests against government policies, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 May. Zyuganov also said his party has collected 3 million signatures demanding Yeltsin's resignation, Interfax reported. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii says the Communists back Chernomyrdin's government because they are likely to benefit most from the widespread popular discontent with government policies. In an interview with RFE/RL on 21 May, Sergei Baburin, the co-leader of the Popular Power faction, criticized the Communists for backing down from numerous ultimatums to the government since last summer. Baburin noted that the Duma's failure to vote no confidence has kept Chernomyrdin in office but has not reduced Chubais's influence over economic policy.


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii has repeated that if NATO expands to include former Soviet republics, Russia will review all its foreign policy priorities and its relations with the West, "including the Founding Act," Interfax reported on 22 May. Yeltsin's top foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, on 21 May rejected recent suggestions by U.S. officials that Russia might eventually join NATO, Interfax reported. While admitting that Russian and Western interpretations of the Russia-NATO Founding Act have differed significantly, Prikhodko suggested this was "quite natural" as each side tried to stress what it had gained from negotiations. Meanwhile, LDPR leader Zhirinovsky on 21 May compared Russia's new security deal with NATO to the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Reuters reported.


Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 21 May called for a resumption of the Middle East peace talks on the principle of "land for peace." Primakov was speaking to journalists after meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Farouk-al-Sharaa, in Moscow. Yeltsin also discussed the stalled peace negotiations with Al-Sharaa by telephone. Last month, Russian envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk toured Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and Israel in an attempt to revive the peace process. Russia and the U.S. are co-sponsors of that process.


At the first meeting of the Russian-Chinese Subcommittee on Nuclear Issues on 21 May, an agreement was signed to design a nuclear power plant for China's Jiansu Province, Russian news agencies report. The agreement was made possible through a deal reached by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, last December in Moscow. Neither the cost nor a timeline for plant construction was made available.


Aslan Maskhadov and his Tatar counterpart, Mintimer Shaimiev, signed a friendship and cooperation treaty in Kazan on 21 May, Russian media reported. Speaking to journalists, Maskhadov expressed his gratitude to Shaimiev for his "principled support" during the war in Chechnya. Maskhadov also met with Tatar Prime Minister Farit Mukhametshin to discuss economic cooperation. RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reports that a working group was set up to examine the possibility of Tatar participation in restoring Chechnya's oil sector. Shaimiev also met with Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, but the planned signing of a friendship and cooperation treaty between Tatarstan and Ingushetia was postponed until early June, when Shaimiev will visit Nazran.


Chechen First Deputy Security Minister Vakha Zakriev told journalists in Grozny on 21 May that he is confident the reporters abducted on 4 March are still alive and will not be harmed, Interfax reported. The kidnappers had threatened to execute the journalists if a $2 million ransom was not paid by 21 May. The same day, Sultan Mineev, an adviser to Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, told ITAR-TASS that Raduev will not comply with Maskhadov's decree ordering the disarmament of all informal military formations in Chechnya. Mineev said Raduev would remain in Grozny but his three regiments would move from there to the village of Novie Gordali. in Gudermes Raion.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov says he is happy in his current job and does not plan to run for president in the year 2000, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Luzhkov is in Krasnodar attending a conference of mayors from large cities in southern Russia. Also on 21 May, he signed cooperation agreements with Krasnodar Krai and the city of Krasnodar. Luzhkov has signed similar agreements between the Moscow city government and several other regions in recent months. Some observers have speculated that Luzhkov is strengthening his ties with regional elites with a view toward a future presidential bid. The Moscow city authorities are also sponsoring a new television network, to be broadcast to many regions (see "End Note," below).


Yeltsin has awarded the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich Russia's highest order "for services to the fatherland," praising his contributions to world music and defense of freedom in Russia, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. Rostropovich is in Russia on a 70th birthday tour. Yeltsin unexpectedly summoned Chernomyrdin, Chubais, and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov from yesterday's State Duma session to the Kremlin to take part in the award ceremony. Chubais and Nemtsov attended the ceremony, but Chernomyrdin remained in the parliament to answer questions from Duma deputies.


Writer and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has been in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital since 12 May with heart problems, Reuters reported on 21 May. A doctor said that there was nothing seriously wrong with the 78-year-old author but gave no further details about his condition.


Vladimir Platov has asked the federal government to allow his administration to set tax policy in the region, Delovoi mir reported on 21 May. Tver is supposed to collect about 3 trillion rubles ($520 million) in taxes annually, of which 2.5 trillion rubles remain in the oblast and 500 billion are transferred to the federal authorities. However, tax collection is poor, and the governor believes that prohibitively high taxes have deterred investment in local industry. Under Platov's plan, Tver would pay the federal government 500 billion rubles a year in exchange for the freedom to decide tax rates and exemptions within the oblast. Platov argues that local authorities would be better able to implement a "feasible" tax policy. However, Delovoi mir argued that Platov has yet to name concrete criteria for a better tax policy.


The Washington Post reported earlier this week that North Koreans are being used as a cheap source of labor on farms and construction sites in Russia's Far East. The U.S. newspaper reported that Russian companies are concluding deals with the North Korean government for teams of workers to travel to Russia. The workers are accompanied by North Korean security agents, who take most of the workers' wages. But once there, they are made to work 12-15 hours daily and receive minimum food rations. One Russian official admitted conditions were difficult for the Koreans but said "compared to where they come from, it's like paradise for them."


Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 20 May that he favors signing a treaty with Georgia similar to the 12 May Russian-Chechen peace treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Ardzinba said such a treaty would contribute to the normalization of relations between Abkhazia and the Georgian government. Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's representative in Moscow, told Interfax on 21 May that such a treaty would preclude the use or threat of force. Akhba said talks between Tbilisi and Sukhumi on economic cooperation and Abkhazia's future status within Georgia can take place only after a peace treaty is signed and Russia's economic blockade of Abkhazia lifted.


Agreements signed during the 16-20 May visit to Tbilisi by Col.-Gen. Cetin Dogan, Turkish first deputy chief of staff, provide for the training of Georgian officers in Turkish military academies and the participation of Georgian servicemen in peacekeeping operations in which Turkey is involved, ITAR-TASS reported. Turkey will train a Georgian commando unit and provide the Georgian armed forces with non-combat material supplies. Georgian trainees will receive Turkish-language instruction, according to BS-Press.


Islam Karimov told a group of legal experts and journalists on 20 May that there is a need in Uzbekistan for citizens to be more familiar with the law, Interfax reported. Karimov said "the rights and interests of the individual" are of greatest importance but that he doubted the people "fully and deeply" realized what their rights, both political and civil, are. He encouraged those present to make the law accessible for everyone by using "simple and understandable terminology." He also proposed opening legal education centers.


The judge in the trial of Yrysbek Omurzakov ordered on 21 May a new investigation into charges against the journalist, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek report. Omurzakov is charged with libel for an article he wrote on alleged abuse of authority by a factory director in Bishkek. Both Amnesty International and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists have sent several letters to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev asking him to intervene in the case. Omurzakov has been in detention since March and is to remain in custody pending the results of the new investigation.


Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart, Alexander Kwasniewski, signed on 21 May a declaration of reconciliation, which is aimed at helping overcome the centuries-long animosity between the two countries. Kuchma said after the signing that the moment had arrived to draw a line beneath the two countries' difficult past, while Kwasniewski noted that conclusions should be drawn from history to ensure its negative aspects are never repeated. The two presidents also spoke out against isolating their neighbor, Belarus, which has been criticized in the West over its human rights record.


Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 21 May he is confident that he and Russian President Boris Yeltsin will overcome their differences over a Russian-Belarusian union charter at their 23 May meeting in Moscow. Lukashenka ruled out any federation with Russia, saying he wants a union of two equal sovereign states. Yeltsin earlier said the ultimate goal of the union should be the merger of the two countries.


Ain Seppik, the director-general of the Estonian police department, and Richard Owens, the director of the U.S. Justice Department's international relations bureau, initialed a legal aid agreement in Tallinn on 21 May, ETA reported. The accord is an amended version of a 1924 bilateral agreement. It provides for mutual aid in solving criminal cases, extradition of detained persons, determining the whereabouts of suspects, and information exchange. Also on 21 May, Prime Minister Mart Siimann said Estonia will not be deterred by Russian opposition in its bid to join NATO. Siimann was responding to Russian President Boris Yeltsin's statement on 19 May that Moscow will reassess its relations with NATO if the alliance expands to include former Soviet republics. "In determining our foreign strategy, we have decided not to respond brutally to such declarations," Siimann said.


Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov wrote in a 21 May message to his Latvian counterpart, Valdis Birkavs, that he is hopeful an agreement on the countries' common border can be signed by the end of the year, Interfax reported. Latvia and Russia agreed on the treaty text in March but are still drawing up delimitation maps. Primakov expressed satisfaction with the development of bilateral relations but showed concern about the problems facing ethnic Russians in Latvia. He said he hoped that the two sides would discuss this and other issues at the Baltic foreign ministers conference in Riga in July.


In a telephone conversation on 21 May, Boris Yeltsin and Algirdas Brazauskas confirmed that bilateral relations are "constructive and good," Reuters reported, quoting a Lithuanian spokesman. The two leaders discussed the Russia-NATO Founding Act but did not touch upon Lithuania's bid to become a member of the alliance. They also discussed their common border and agreed that a Brazauskas's visit to Moscow in the fall should center on the signing of a border treaty, Interfax reported.


Polish Interior Minister Leszek Miller told journalists in Warsaw on 21 May that authorities will prevent any group from disrupting Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland from 31 May to 10 June. Gay rights groups and Polish anarchists are planning protests in Wroclaw, the first stop on the Pope's tour. PAP reported that 33,000 policemen will be on duty during his visit. More than 4 million Poles are expected to see the Pope, and the Polish parliament is expected to ratify a treaty with the Vatican during his visit. The Pope is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia while he is in Poland.


The Czech government announced on 21 May that it is willing to compensate Slovak victims of the Holocaust for gold confiscated from them and now deposited in Prague, CTK reported. Gold seized from Slovak Jews by the Nazi regime was deposited in a Bratislava bank until 1953, when it was transferred to Prague. Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, however, told journalists that his government still has to decide who should be compensated and in what way. Klaus argued the biggest problem is that the original owners of the gold have no descendants or legal heirs. Klaus has proposed that the Slovak government be involved in the process and provide about a third of the compensation.


The Constitutional Court has ruled that a referendum on direct presidential elections is legal and that a change to the constitution can be the subject of a referendum. But it also ruled that if citizens vote to change the constitution in favor of direct presidential elections, the question remains of how the actual change to the basic law would be made. The referendum is to be held 23-24 May. Despite the court ruling, Interior Minister Gustav Krajci ordered on 21 May that referendum ballot papers be printed omitting the question on direct presidential elections. Krajci told journalists he has decided to assume responsibility for issuing ballot papers with only the three questions about NATO membership. The ballots with four questions--including the question on direct presidential elections--have in the meantime been distributed on the orders of the Central Referendum Commission.


Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano said in a declaration in Tirana on 21 May that his party will take part in the 29 June elections if the international community monitors them. Socialist Prime Minister Bashkim Fino made the same point in a letter to Franz Vranitzky, the OSCE's special envoy to Albania. It is unclear whether the smaller parties agree, since their main concern is not monitoring but rather increasing the number of parliamentary seats elected by proportional representation. Meanwhile, Fino is continuing talks aimed at securing an all-party agreement on the elections.


OSCE officials discussed in Vienna on 21 May what that organization will do if Albanian political parties fail to reach an overall pact on holding elections. Vranitzky announced on 22 May that the Albanian parties have reached such an agreement, but no details have been given. One OSCE participant called the 29 June date a "total fantasy" in view of the anarchy prevailing in much of Albania. Other participants noted, however, that there is little hope of ending the turmoil or disbanding the rebel committees without an early vote. Vranitzky, Italian leaders, and other representatives of the international community have hinted that they are running out of patience and that outside aid to Albania will cease if there are no elections.


The Macedonian Defense Ministry said in Skopje on 21 May that armed incidents are increasing along the Albanian frontier. The worst single case was a four-hour gun battle between Albanian bands and Macedonian security forces near Debar on 19 May. Defense Minister Blagoje Handziski visited the area the next day and promised to step up security along the border, which is already officially closed. In an other incident, a peacekeeper was wounded on 20 May by shots fired from the Albanian side of the frontier.


State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said in Washington on 21 May that "the United States strongly supports the voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons to Bosnia. [But Washington also believes] that it is premature to return forcibly Bosnians to areas where their ethnic group is in the minority." The next day, German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther said that Germany does not need any advice from abroad. The State Department also announced the appointment of David Schefferas special envoy to deal with war crimes. He is currently an adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who will visit Sarajevo at the end of the month. Meanwhile, U.S. charge d'affaires in Belgrade Richard Miles heard complaints from Sandzak human rights activists in Novi Pazar on 21 May.


Local Croatian authorities said in Mostar on 21 May that they have discovered a "catacomb" of tunnels under a road separating Croatian and Muslim positions on the west bank of the Neretva. The officials did not speculate on the purpose of the network, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Herzegovina's main town. In Sarajevo, four non-nationalist opposition parties said they will run a joint slate in the September local elections. Spokesmen added that their goal is to keep control of Tuzla and win at least one of the districts of Sarajevo. The parties' "shadow government" includes people from either side of the inter-entity frontier.


Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic sent an open letter to the war crimes tribunal on 21 May charging that the court violated Croatian sovereignty by conducting investigations in the country without the government's permission. Also in Zagreb, Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that Croatia needs $3 billion in foreign assistance to help resettle returning Serbian refugees. In Vukovar, UN officials stated that fewer people than expected took advantage of a three-day program to exchange Yugoslav dinars for Croatian kunas (see RFE/RL Newsline, 19 May 1997). The officials added, however, that most local Serbs are using "other mechanisms" to convert their dinars to Croatian currency.


Representatives of several political parties met in Kosovo's Decani monastery and agreed that the province must remain part of Serbia and that the ethnic Serbs there must enjoy full rights. The parties also called for a democratic, peaceful solution to the Kosovo problem. Neither the governing Socialists nor Vojislav Seselj's Radicals attended the meeting, BETA noted. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Bratislava Morina, the federal official in charge of refugees, said that only 10% of the Bosnian refugees entitled to register to vote for the September elections have done so. Morina called for an extension of the registration deadline and said refugees' fears that voting will lead to deportation to Bosnia are "unfounded."


The basic treaty initialed between the Romanian and Ukrainian foreign ministers on 3 May (see RFE/RL Newsline, 5 May 1997) will be signed by the two country's presidents, Emil Constantinescu and Leonid Kuchma, on 2 June in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta. The announcement was made by President Kuchma in Kyiv and was confirmed by the Romanian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. On the same occasion, the signatories will exchange letters detailing the agreed solutions to problems not mentioned in the treaty. Among these are the non-deployment of offensive weapons by Ukraine on the Black Sea Serpents Island, navigation on the Chilia branch of the Danube River delta and the delimitation of the continental shelf around Serpents Island. In the treaty itself, the two countries recognize present frontiers as inviolable and grant extensive rights to each other's national minorities.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Nikolaus Schiffer lost his Romanian citizenship when he joined the German SS in 1943 and will not be allowed back in the country. The U.S. Justice Department announced earlier this week that it would deport Schiffer, who was a concentration camp guard during World War II, to Romania (see RFE/RL Newsline, 20 May 1997). RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reports that the ministry's spokeswoman said on 21 May that Schiffer lost his Romanian citizenship in line with the provisions of a 1939 law that prohibited service in foreign armies. She said Romania had on these grounds rejected a U.S. request in 1995 to allow Schiffer to return and had not been approached since.


The U.S. Bell Textron Helicopter company has acquired 70% of the shares in the Brasov IAR aircraft company, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 21 May. The remaining shares are to be held by IAR employees. An agreement signed the same day in Bucharest stipulates that the Bell Textron IAR subsidiary will produce 96 Cobra helicopters, to be called AH-1 Ro Dracula, for the Romanian Defense Ministry.


The parliament on 21 May rejected an initiative to change house rules to allow deputies who have left the faction on whose lists they were elected to form new factions, Infotag reported. The initiative was submitted by 18 members of the house who, at different times, quit their parties. The largest number of supporters were defectors from the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova and from the Socialist Unity-Edinstvo faction. Opponents of the initiative said it would encourage factionalism and thereby complicate and even paralyze the work of the legislature.


The parliament on 21 May confirmed Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's government by a vote of 179 to 55. All deputies present, except for the opposition Socialists, voted in favor. Kostov told legislators that the "years of false reform" and "officially-sanctioned theft" have come to an end. He said his cabinet would immediately set to work to "bring Bulgaria into the 21st century as a civilized European country." The immediate priority of the government, he said, is to stabilize the national currency by tying the domestic money supply to foreign exchange reserves. The government would also privatize many state companies, sell off state banks, cut bureaucracy, and intensify the struggle against organized crime. Kostov said joining the EU and NATO are the country's main foreign policy goals.


In his first act as premier, Ivan Kostov on 21 May demanded the resignation of State Savings Bank (DKS) chief Bistra Dimitrova. Dimitrova said she will resign by the end of the week. She was appointed to head the bank, where most Bulgarians keep their savings, by the previous Socialist-controlled parliament. An RFE/RL Sofia correspondent says Kostov's demand indicates his intention to do away with credit policies at state banks that are alleged to be politically-biased. The DKS is blamed for issuing bad loans to companies with links to the former Socialist government and failing to protect the interests of savers.


by Floriana Fossato and Anna Kachkaeva

In less than a month, a new nationwide television network, TV-Center, will start broadcasting in Russia. TV-Center is being sponsored by the Moscow city authorities. Russian media observers are already calling it "Luzhkov's television," linking it to the presidential ambitions of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov.

Three Russian television networks currently broadcast nationwide: fully state-controlled RTR; partly state-owned ORT; and the commercial network NTV, which is controlled by the financial group MOST through its media branch, Media Most.

During last year's presidential campaign, the Russian media--particularly television networks--played a key role in helping President Boris Yeltsin overcome single-digit approval ratings and eventually defeat Communist party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Observers say this support had economic and political dividends for NTV and for the major private shareholder of ORT. In September 1996, NTV obtained permission to broadcast nationwide, 18-hours a day. Previously, the network had been able to broadcast only six hours a day to Moscow and European Russian regions. In October, the businessman Boris Berezovskii, ORT's most influential executive, was appointed deputy secretary of the Security Council.

In an interview with RFE/RL, NTV President Igor Malashenko dismissed claims that NTV's support for Yeltsin during the campaign was the only reason the network was later licensed to broadcast nationwide. However, he did not deny that NTV played an important role in Yeltsin's re-election bid.

Over the last few years, but particularly after the 1996 elections, Russia's main financial and industrial concerns have fiercely competed to buy media outlets. Media magnates often say they are not looking for immediate financial gains, since few Russian broadcasting stations and newspapers are profitable. Rather, they value media branches as conduits for self-promotion and political influence.

Following his appointment to the Security Council, Berezovskii formally quit ORT's board of directors and delegated his other business commitments. He has told RFE/RL that "it is in the state's interests, therefore in the public's too" for ORT to lobby for business interests and instill market reform concepts in the viewers' minds. In Berezovskii's view, businesses are investing in media branches mainly in order to secure the very existence and further development of their businesses.

When NTV was founded in 1993, many viewers and observers were pleased by the independent channel's professionalism in news broadcasts and quality international entertainment programs. However, many commentators have grown skeptical about NTV's objectivity since last year's presidential election. Vladimir Gusinskii, former chairman of the MOST financial group, recently gave up his banking activities to focus on his MOST Media outlets, which include Ekho Moskvy (one of Moscow's most popular and respected radio stations), the daily newspaper Segodnya, the weekly political magazine Itogi, and the entertainment weekly Sem dnei. Gusinskii was the first Russian businessman to recognize the potential political and financial benefits of media holdings. Other private investors have followed his lead.

The Moscow English-language daily Moscow Times recently quoted Gusinskii as saying that NTV "turns a profit, albeit a small one," thanks to recent investments, such as a satellite cable network, NTV plus. He expressed doubt that new channels will be successful.

But TV-Center will start operating in June with big ambitions. The network has already obtained a license to broadcast its programs on a frequency formerly used by the Moscow city channel. It will be able to broadcast nationwide by means of state-of-the-art digital technology. And it is reported to have already signed agreements to distribute its signal to local stations in 19 regions.

The content of TV-Center broadcasts will be influenced by Luzhkov's ideas: executives connected with the new network say it will support national consolidation and patriotism. Even more important for electoral reasons, the network will aim at differentiating Moscow and its mayor from the Kremlin and Russia's federal government, which are widely perceived as corrupt and inefficient.

Moscow city authorities are heavily financing the project and already own a 67% stake in TV-Center. The remaining 33% is expected to be sold to private investors soon. TV-Center plans eventually to have five channels, including two satellite networks. It is expected to employ more than 1,000 people, absorbing the news department of an existing popular local network, 2X2, which is to be discontinued.

Luzhkov appears to be seeking to create his own public platform because he thinks neither ORT nor NTV will support him during the next presidential campaign, scheduled for the year 2000. Those networks would also be unlikely to help Luzhkov attract leftist and nationalist voters who are disillusioned with Communist leaders.

Luzhkov's broadcasting ambitions are seen in Moscow as deepening the rift between the mayor and those viewed as "reformers" in the federal government. A second Moscow network, the nationalist-leaning Moskovia, has been granted the right to broadcast three hours a day on TV-Center's frequency. TV-Center's managers have expressed disappointment at that decision. They maintain that broadcasting Moskovia's often extremist message on their frequency is an attempt to disrupt the image TV-Center is seeking as a "network for all."