The police raid on the Moscow offices of Media-MOST, a media group critical of the Kremlin, last Thursday spurred misgivings about the future of press freedom in Russia. The deputy head of Media-MOST, Igor Malashenko, was the guest on the "Face to Face" program of RFE/RL's Russian Service this Sunday. He shared his thoughts about the political backdrop of what he calls the Kremlin's offensive to destroy Media-MOST.
Moscow, 15 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Media-MOST officials say it looked more like an anti-terrorist operation than the routine application of a search warrant. But law-enforcement authorities say last week's raid on the media company -- when armed police in balaclavas burst into the media holding's main office -- was part of an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the company's security service.
Media-MOST, controlled by magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, owns several of Russia's more critical media outlets -- including NTV, Ekho Moskvy radio, and the daily newspaper "Segodnya."
Police say the company is suspected of collecting information on its competitors by using bugs and wiretaps -- an activity believed to be common among Russian private security services.
On RFE/RL's Russian Service's "Face to Face" program on Sunday, Media-MOST deputy head Igor Malashenko denied these allegations. And he said the police ignored his company's legal rights, searching and confiscating documents, computer discs and video cassettes without cataloging them. This lack of a record of what was taken, he said, gives the authorities leeway to manufacture incriminating evidence and claim it came from the office.
Malashenko repeated the calls of many journalists and politicians for President Vladimir Putin to speak out on the raid.
"Those politicians who are saying that it's not Putin, that someone acted behind his back, are apparently reacting correctly. In this way, it gives Putin some freedom for maneuvering. But to my distress, if you ask me, Putin in a broad sense did sanction this operation. He didn't make the specific decisions, of course -- which men would do what, how many men, that around 500 law-enforcement agents participated. But I think he gave his approval."
Malashenko accused the Kremlin of trying to force Media-MOST into "total capitulation" to the state version of events. He said the government wants to get its hands on a good investment in the broadcast media market.
"In the Russian context, changing the management [of a company], changing the editor in chief, means strangling the company -- forcing the media outlet to serve as a propaganda tool. Of course, first and foremost they're interested in the NTV television channel. Of course, they don't plan to buy anything. They think that [because] they're the authorities they're in the right. Everything should be given to them for free because they are the power."
But Malashenko argued that the harassment of independent media is not a policy of Putin alone. He said the battle against the press is the natural consequence of having a political class that comes from the secret services. The situation would have been much the same if Yevgeny Primakov, former counter-intelligence chief and a longstanding presidential favorite before Putin's emergence last fall, had become president. Only the targets of harassment would have changed, Malashenko said.
"I'm convinced that [Primakov] would have tried in the same way to get media outlets to submit to his authority. I think that [the pro-Putin] ORT would have gotten the whole works, that Primakov wouldn't have held back. He comes from the same special services as Putin, so I don't see why his behavior should be different."
Malashenko said the Soviet precedent proved that a state run by KGB officers is doomed to fail. Such men, he said, are not capable of meeting the challenges of a modern economy.