Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: Berezovskii Eyes New Ukrainian Broadsheet Newspaper

Boris Berezovskii (file photo) Exiled Russian media baron Boris Berezovskii has revealed plans to reshuffle his respected newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" and launch a similar broadsheet in Ukraine. A strong foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Berezovskii says he is eager to extend his media activities to Ukraine following its recent Orange Revolution. Experts say the tycoon hopes to use his new publication to stir up similar political change in Russia.

Moscow, 15 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking to the staff of "Kommersant-Daily" via video linkup from London, Boris Berezovskii announced yesterday he is planning to replace the leadership of his Kommersant publishing house.

He also said he is currently in negotiations to sell another of his dailies, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," though he refused to give further details.

But maybe more importantly, Berezovskii unveiled plans to launch "Kommersant-Ukraine," a new Ukraine-based broadsheet modeled on its Russian counterpart.

The general director of the Kommersant publishing house, Andrei Vasilev, is due to move to Kyiv to kick off the paper, whose first edition is already scheduled for late July.

Yassen Zassourskii is the dean of the journalism department at the Moscow State University. Like a number of experts, he predicts Berezovskii's new publication will find great success in Ukraine.

“Certainly, his newspaper would be an asset for the Ukrainian media since it is known for its wide and quality coverage of economic affairs, and I think that the Ukrainian media don’t have this kind of publication,” Zassourskii said.

Explaining his decision to enter the Ukrainian media market, Berezovskii told reporters yesterday he believed the fate of Russia will be determined in Ukraine.
Berezovskii, who lives in Great Britain and France, has spent the past five years unable to return to Russia, where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering.

Berezovskii is a fierce critic of Putin’s regime and is wanted in Russia on fraud charges. He had voiced strong support for the Orange Revolution last year that brought the West-leaning Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Among Russia’s newspapers, "Kommersant" is the most critical of the Kremlin. And Yassourskii says Berezovskii’s new Ukrainian broadsheet is very likely to maintain this tone.

“Berezovskii has openly expressed his support for the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine," Zassourskii said. "It is possible that Berezovskii will try to use 'Kommersant' in Ukraine for his campaign against the Russian government, against Mr. Putin, to try to find ways to influence public opinion in Ukraine.”

Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Studies, also predicts that "Kommersant-Ukraine" will be a hit, and praises Vasilev as a “brilliant" editor. He says he believes the main goal of the Ukrainian paper will be to provide fertile ground for Berezovskii’s attempts at fomenting a revolution in Russia.

“I think Berezovskii’s goal is not simply to create a quality newspaper," Markov said. "He would like to provoke a kind of political revolution in Russia, to once again be in power in Russia and help his allies here. For him, Ukraine could grow into a perfect parade ground.”

Of course, in launching a newspaper in Ukraine, Berezovskii may have pure, simple profit in mind as well. Analysts have suggested the onetime tycoon may be having financial difficulties.

Berezovskii, who lives in Great Britain and France, has spent the past five years unable to return to Russia, where he faces charges of fraud and money laundering.

He has already sold off many of his oil and media assets -- the sale of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" could just be the latest attempt to obtain some extra cash.

During yesterday’s video linkup, Berezovskii also announced that "Kommersant’s" current editor in chief will be changed, but did not say who would replace him and Vasilev. Berezovskii gave little explanation for the switch, saying simply the shake-up would help "Kommersant" to reach its full potential.

Changes of ownership in the Russian press tend to spark strong debate in Russia, where the Kremlin is seen as gradually tightening its grip on the media.

Last week, the state-run gas giant Gazprom acquired the leading daily "Izvestiya" from oligarch Vladimir Potanin. The sale was viewed as a sign that the Kremlin is seeking to gain control of the press, which traditionally enjoys more freedom than television.