PUTIN AGAIN ASKED TO INTERVENE IN NTV CONTROVERSY
NTV's Public Council, which is headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, issued a statement on 4 April asking Russian President Vladimir Putin "to intervene in the conflict" over the embattled television station NTV, since Putin has declared more than once "his responsibility for all that happens in the country." The statement said that Gazprom's attempt to seize the company "affects the interests not only of the journalists' collective but all of society." Also on 4 April, a number of members of Russia's intelligentsia, including Sergei Filatov, chairman of the organizational committee of the Congress of the Russian Intelligentsia, and poet Rimma Kazakova sent an open letter to Putin regarding NTV. The letter-writers praised Putin's address to the Federal Assembly the previous day and called on him "to create the necessary conditions for the normal work of independent creative collectives." On 7 April, the Union of Journalists plans to release one of the special editions of "Obshchaya gazeta" that traditionally appear whenever press freedom is under threat, Interfax reported. JAC
TURNER CONFIRMS DEAL WITH GUSINSKY...
Following a report in "The Washington Post" on 4 April and again on April 5 that U.S. media magnate Ted Turner has concluded a deal with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Gusinsky for the purchase of Gusinsky's Media-MOST group, Turner's company, Turner Venture International confirmed that an agreement had been reached, Interfax reported that day. According to "The Washington Post," Turner, participating in a consortium with international financier George Soros, offered Gusinsky $225 million for his company. According to the newspaper, Turner commented a few weeks ago: "You know, I never got a broadcast network. The bad news is, the one I'm about to get is in Russia." According to a press release from his company, the Turner-Soros consortium has reached an agreement with Gazprom that "neither side would try to acquire full control over NTV." JAC
...AS MEDIA-MOST ASKS FOR 3-MONTH REPRIEVE...
Meanwhile, Media-MOST has suggested that Gazprom and Gazprom-Media introduce a three-month moratorium on making any creative or technical managerial changes at NTV. According to a Media-MOST press release, the moratorium is necessary in connection with the fact that "a group of foreign investors led by Ted Turner" has achieved an agreement on obtaining a package of shares in NTV. To protest what they feel was an illegal takeover by Gazprom-Media, journalists at NTV announced on 4 April that the station will be broadcasting only news shows instead of its regular program mix of news and entertainment. JAC
... AND SPLIT EMERGES AT GAZPROM-MEDIA?
"Izvestiya" reported on 5 April that one member of Gazprom-Media's board of directors, attorney Anatolii Blinov, has resigned in protest over the company's actions regarding NTV. Blinov told the newspaper that he believes "everything was done by the book" at the 3 April NTV shareholders' meeting; however, "Gazprom-Media's PR campaign is a dismal failure. If it comes to the worst, the whole thing could end in mass protests -- not against what was done, but against how it was done." Blinov further predicted that a "takeover by force" lies in store at NTV. JAC
DUMA REJECTS PROPOSAL TO CONSIDER RESOLUTION SUPPORTING NTV...
Deputies rejected on 4 April a proposal by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky to place a draft resolution supporting NTV's staff on the legislative agenda. The first time around, only 108 deputies of the 226 needed supported the proposal. According to ITAR-TASS, a spokesman for the Agro-Industrial group stated that "NTV has nothing to do either with freedom of speech or Russia's national interests." On the same day, Federation Council members rejected a similar proposal proffered by Science and Culture Committee Chairman Valerii Sudarenkov. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev commented that "such a company as NTV, with such a talented group, should be preserved and given the opportunity to work and create." For his part, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov advised NTV journalists to seek redress in a court of law. He added that he does not approve of acts of civil disobedience until all legal means have been exhausted. JAC
...TRIMS PRESIDENTIAL POWERS DURING STATE OF EMERGENCY...
State Duma deputies approved a law on states of emergency in its second reading on 4 April. The vote was 315 in favor to 30 opposed. The bill establishes procedures for imposing a state of emergency. The bill was approved in its first reading in June of last year and has been amended significantly, according to Duma deputy (Russian Regions) Nikolai Shaklein, ITAR-TASS reported. Shaklein said that the amendments, among other things, limit the power of the president during the state of emergency to fire heads of state agencies. Also eliminated was a clause giving the president the right to issue emergency decrees that would have the same status as a law. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, under the bill a state of emergency can last only 30 days nationwide; however, it can be imposed for as long as two months in certain regions. JAC
...AND APPROVES ELEMENT OF TAX-REFORM PACKAGE
Deputies also approved in its first reading on 4 April a bill setting a tax on enterprise profits at 35 percent. According to Interfax-AFI, revenues from the tax will be shared at different levels of the government with 10 percent going to the federal budget, 20 percent to regional budgets, and 5 percent to municipal or local budgets. Budget Committee Chairman (Russian Regions) Aleksandr Zhukov said that the bill corresponds to the principles of tax reform and will improve the situation for taxpayers. Deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) Gennadii Kulik explained that under the bill, enterprises can reduce their taxable profits by directing resources toward investment. He added that while the government and Duma agreed on the bill, he expects a great number of amendments to be introduced during the its second reading. JAC
RUSSIAN, ALGERIAN PRESIDENTS EXCHANGE VIEWS
President Putin and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika signed a declaration calling for a strategic partnership between their two countries at a meeting in Moscow on 4 April. According to ITAR-TASS, the document calls for the development of long-term "large-scale" cooperation in the field of defense, and support for trade, economic, scientific, and technical ties. After their meeting, Putin told reporters that the two leaders discussed the Middle East peace process, the United Nations' role in resolving international conflicts, and bilateral issues such as trade and economic links. "Izvestiya" reported the same day that the two leaders were also likely to discuss the issue of Algeria's debt to Russia, which amounts to some $4 billion. JAC
GOVERNMENT ACHIEVES SMALL BUDGET SURPLUS IN MARCH
Budget revenues in March totaled 118.3 billion rubles, while expenditures were 109.4 billion rubles ($3.8 billion), leaving a small surplus of 8.9 billion rubles, Interfax-AFI reported on 4 April, citing the Ministry of Finance's website. For the first quarter as a whole, revenues totaled 318.8 billion rubles while expenditures were 326.1 billion rubles. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 4 April that the Tax Ministry collected 195.3 billion rubles during the first quarter, while the Customs Committee gathered some 111.9 billion rubles. JAC
RUSSIAN COMPANIES INVESTED HEAVILY ABROAD
Washington-based PlanEcon reported in its most recent monthly that preliminary Central Bank of Russia data shows that not only did Russia pay its foreign debts last year, but it also purchased fixed assets in other countries. In 2000, Russia recorded a $350 million net foreign direct investment (FDI) outflow or $3.1 billion in gross FDI outflow. This was nearly double the amount of outward FDI reported in 1999. The large outflow, according to the report, was mostly the result of Russia's largest companies investing in non-CIS countries, although Russian FDI in other CIS countries was up 24 percent compared with the previous year. JAC
PROSECUTOR ASKS PUTIN TO DISCIPLINE THE REPUBLICS?
Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has appealed to President Putin asking him to issue a warning to the governments of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Ingushetia for their failure to bring their constitutions into conformity with the federal one, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported citing the pro-Kremlin website strana.ru. Ustinov reportedly said that if the republics' governments do not respond quickly, then the State Duma should consider dissolving the governments involved. JAC
NEW LARGER MILITARY DISTRICT TO EMERGE BY FALL
The merger of the Urals and Volga military districts will be completed by 1 September, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 April, citing the press service of the Urals district. The new district will be called the Volga-Urals district and will encompass the administrative borders of the republics of Bashkortostan, Marii El, Mordovia, Tatarstan, and Udmurtia. In addition, the oblasts of Chuvashia, Samara, Kirov, Kurgan, Orenburg, Penza, Perm, Saratov, Sverdlovsk, Tyumen, Ulyanovsk, and Chelyabinsk will be integrated into the new district, along with the Komi-Permyak, Khanty-Mansii, and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous okrugs. JAC
PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS PURSUE RELIGIOUS ANGLE
Presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, met with Orthodox Russian leaders in Sochi on 4 April to discuss problems in his district and ways of strengthening friendly relationships between regions in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Kazantsev's meeting follows a similar meeting he held recently with muftis in his district and together they are part of preparations for a congress of all peoples of the south to be held in June of this year. In a recent interview, a deputy presidential envoy to the Volga district revealed that his office has also been actively engaged in talks with local religious groups there (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). JAC
RUSSIAN COMMAND SAYS SITUATION IN CHECHNYA DETERIORATING
Russian officers at the Grozny commandant's office told ITAR-TASS on 4 April that the situation in Chechnya is deteriorating with the coming of spring. Meanwhile, presidential envoy Kazantsev told the agency that Russian secret services have information about the precise whereabouts of Chechen field commanders Khattab and Shamil Basaev, and that Russian citizens will soon be convinced of that fact. PG
RUSSIAN ENVOY SAYS UNHCR MUST END CRITICISM OF MOSCOW OVER CHECHNYA
Vladimir Kalamanov, the Russian human rights envoy for Chechnya, said on 3 April that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson must either end her criticism of Russia's policies in Chechnya or Russia will no longer cooperate with her, Interfax reported. Kalamanov added that the Council of Europe has played a far more positive role in dealing with the situation than the United Nations. PG
UP TO 340,000 CHECHEN REFUGEES PREDICTED IN 2001
Aleksandr Blokhin, the Russian minister for federation affairs, nationalities and migration policy, told the Duma on 4 April that the number of forced migrants from Chechnya may reach 300,000 to 340,000 in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the main task now is to "create conditions for their return" to their permanent place of residence. PG
ARMENIAN-AZERBAIJANI TALKS CONTINUE IN KEY WEST
Talks between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev continued in Key West on 4 April, Western agencies reported. But there were no reported breakthroughs, although the head of the U.S. negotiating team, Ambassador Carry Cavanaugh, suggested to the press that progress has been made. PG
ARMENIA'S KOCHARIAN UNDECIDED ON SECOND TERM
President Kocharian has not decided whether he will seek a second term in office, Noyan Tapan reported on 4 April. Kocharian made his comments in an interview published in "Golos Armenii" on the occasion of his third full year in office. PG
MOSCOW WANTS CHECHEN OFFICE IN AZERBAIJAN
Igor Zadvornov, the representative of the Russian Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationalities and Migration Policy, on 4 April called for the opening of "an official representation of the Chechen Republic in Azerbaijan" to facilitate the return of refugees who migrated to Azerbaijan from the war-torn republic, Turan reported. PG
IRAN REJECTS AZERBAIJANI CHARGES ON PKK CAMPS
The Iranian Embassy in Baku said that a statement by Azerbaijan's State Security Ministry that Iran hosts Kurdish PKK training camps is totally groundless, the Trend news agency reported on 4 April. Baku had said that two Kurds, two Russians, and a Kazakh had undergone training at camps for Kurdish militants in Iran before being apprehended by Azerbaijani border guards. PG
GEORGIAN LEADER SAYS EVEN 'STOLEN' FUNDS CAN HELP PROMOTE TOURISM
President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 4 April that promoting tourism is so important that he is prepared to see "stolen money" used to build tourist facilities, Prime-News reported. Shevardnadze said that those who legalize illegal funds in this way may even be given state decorations. PG
GEORGIA WARNED RUSSIA ABOUT CAUCASUS BLASTS
A spokesman for the Georgian State Security Ministry on 4 April told Prime-News that Tbilisi had warned Russian officials in advance about bombings in Mineralnie Vody, Yessentuki, and Karachai-Cherkessia on 24 March. And consequently, he said, the Russian side has only itself to blame for failing to act on that information. Meanwhile, Georgian security officials again denied Russian claims that Chechen fighters are now on Georgian territory, the news agency said, but the officials acknowledged that there were approximately 1,000 men of military age among the 7,000 Chechen refugees now in Georgia. PG
GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN VISA REGIME AFFECTS PRISONERS TOO
The newly established visa regime between Georgia and Russia has led to the return of some Georgians who were incarcerated in Russian prisons, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. The returnees said the transfer from Russian prisons to Georgian ones was like going from "hell" to "heaven" because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their Russian jailers. PG
GEORGIAN BUDGET IMPLEMENTATION WORRIES IMF
The International Monetary Fund expressed its concern in a letter to the Georgian Tax Ministry about what it described as the nonimplementation of the Georgian budget during the first quarter of 2001, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. Georgian officials said that the budget deficit seen so far this year will be made up in the second quarter. PG
KAZAKH WORKERS BLOCK ROUTE OF PRIME MINISTER
More than 1,000 Kazakh workers blocked the motorcade of Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Tokaev in western Kazakhstan on 3 April to protest what they said was discrimination against them by foreign companies, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Tokaev said he would help them and issued a ban on the hiring of foreign workers at a gas complex in the region. PG
NO BOMB FOUND AT U.S. EMBASSY IN KAZAKHSTAN
Information that a bomb had been placed in the U.S. Embassy in Almaty did not prove to be true, city police officials told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 4 April. PG
KAZAKHSTAN PROBED 311 CORRUPTION CASES IN 2000
Kozykorpesh Karbuzov, head of the Kazakh National Security committee's investigations department, told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 4 April that his agency investigated 311 cases of corruption during 2000. He said that over the same period, 141 officials were convicted of various offenses. PG
KAZAKH PRESIDENT IN NORWAY, LITHUANIA
President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 3 April signed a friendship accord with Norway before departing for Lithuania, Interfax-Central Asia reported. In Lithuania, Nazarbaev cancelled a visit to Kaunas because of an unspecified illness, but his aides said that he will complete the official part of his visit, including talks with President Valdas Adamkus, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. PG
WATER-SUPPLY PROBLEMS CAUSE ILLNESSES IN KAZAKHSTAN
Kazakh health officials told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 4 April that more than 40 percent of the water-supply system in that country is broken or has been contaminated, and as a result many people are suffering from intestinal diseases. PG
KYRGYZSTAN SPENT 13 PERCENT OF BUDGET FIGHTING INSURGENTS
The Kyrgyz parliamentary Security Committee on 4 April said Bishkek spent $30 million, or 13 percent, of its annual budget over the last year fighting insurgents, AP reported. Anticipating even more attacks this year, the parliament increased allocations to defense from $17.5 million last year, to $20 million. PG
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OPPOSES END TO INSULT LAWS
Prosecutors and the Supreme Court oppose an effort by parliamentarians to repeal the insult laws that are often used by officials to attack media outlets, deputy Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 4 April. The judicial and executive branch officials said that it is "too early" to eliminate these laws, Beknazarov said. PG
KYRGYZSTAN TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OVER RELIGION
The Kyrgyz cabinet on 3 April ordered the creation of a special council to devise expanded control over religious missionaries and sectarian groups, Kyrgyz-Press reported. Among the tasks assigned to the Interior Ministry by the cabinet in support of that council is to investigate the source of funds for the construction of mosques in Kyrgyzstan. PG
TAJIKISTAN TO TIGHTEN MIGRATION CONTROL
President Emomali Rakhmonov issued a decree calling for the establishment of tighter migration controls at the border, Asia-Plus reported on 4 April. Meanwhile, the same agency reported that the number of Tajiks seeking to serve in Russian army units in that country has tripled over the last year, largely because of relatively high pay and access to food in those units, Tajik officials said. PG
TURKMEN PRESIDENT MEETS TURKISH, IRANIAN OFFICIALS
President Saparmurat Niyazov met with visiting Turkish parliament speaker Omer Izgi on 4 April to discuss expanding cooperation, especially in the area of historical research, Interfax-Central Asia reported. On the same day, Niyazov also met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Akhani to discuss the status of the Caspian Sea, the Russian agency said. PG
TURKMEN PRESIDENT CREATES MEDIA COUNCIL
President Saparmurat Niyazov on 4 April set up a coordinating television and radio broadcasting council, "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" reported according to Interfax. The council is to supervise electronic media in Turkmenistan in place of the now-dismantled Turkmenia National TV and Radio company. Niyazov said that the formation of new television and radio challenges "will add lively competition to them, bring in a spirit of renovation and new creative energy." PG
UZBEK PRESIDENT VISITS GERMANY
President Islam Karimov met with German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder and other senior German officials on the third day of Karimov's visit to that country, Uzbek television reported on 4 April. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund on 4 April said that it will continue to cooperate with Tashkent following a declaration by Karimov that his government will continue to liberalize the national economy. PG
ANOTHER BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED FOR 15 DAYS
A Minsk court on 4 April sentenced Yuras Belenki to 15 days in jail for his alleged role in the organization of an unauthorized demonstration to mark Freedom Day on 25 March, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Belenki, who is acting head of the opposition Conservative Christian Party (its leader, Zyanon Paznyak, is currently in exile), denied his guilt. Previously, the same court jailed Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka for 15 days and human rights activist Ales Byalatski for 10 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March and 3 April 2001). Next on the judicial conveyor belt is Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets, who was to go on trial on 5 April on the same charges as Belenki, Vyachorka, and Byalatski. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY COUNTS ITSELF
The leadership of the pro-government parliamentary majority has decided to reregister its members, Interfax reported on 4 April. According to Oleksandr Volkov, leader of the Revival of Regions parliamentary group, the reregistered majority will consist of the same parliamentary groups that formed it in January 2000, except for the Fatherland Party caucus. If Volkov's expectation proves true, the majority in the 449-strong legislature will number 282 lawmakers from the Rukh (Udovenko), Greens, Popular Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party (United), Reforms-Congress, Rukh (Kostenko), Yabluko, Revival of Regions, Labor Ukraine, Solidarnist, and Ukraine's Regions parliamentary groups. President Leonid Kuchma on 3 April demanded that the parliamentary majority be counted anew, commenting sarcastically that "half the current majority walks the streets with placards 'Down with the president!'" JM
ANTI-KUCHMA LAWMAKER ENLISTS IN PRO-KUCHMA MAJORITY
Volodymyr Filenko, a leader of the antipresidential Forum of National Salvation, has signed up for the pro-government parliamentary majority, Interfax reported on 4 April. Filenko commented that both he and his parliamentary group, Reforms-Congress, remain true to the original agreement on parliamentary majority that was signed in 2000. Asked how he can reconcile his activity in both the pro-government majority and the opposition Forum of National Salvation, Filenko said: "Normally. As we have done so far, we will also do [in the future]." JM
KUCHMA MEETS REPRESENTATIVES OF POLITICAL PARTIES
President Kuchma on 4 April said he was happy about his meeting with representatives of political parties that took place the same day, Interfax reported. Kuchma told journalists that participants in the meeting "did not make conclusions but listened to one another." He added: "And those hard of hearing left." He was apparently commenting on the exit of several opposition politicians after a representative of the Socialist Party was not allowed to address the meeting. Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said four opposition politicians were allowed to speak at the gathering, noting that their speeches boiled down to demanding Kuchma's dismissal. Valeriy Pustovoytenko, head of the Popular Democratic Party, said representatives from 76 parties out of the 104 registered in Ukraine attended the meeting. JM
TYMOSHENKO PROMISES TO STAY IN KYIV
The Prosecutor-General's Office has taken a precautionary measure regarding former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko by making her sign a pledge that she will not leave Kyiv, Tymoshenko's lawyer Viktor Shvets told Interfax on 4 April. Shvets added that Tymoshenko has left her two passports with the Prosecutor-General's Office. Tymoshenko, who was recently released from jail, is charged by prosecutors with bribery, tax evasion, smuggling, and document forgery. JM
ESTONIA, DENMARK SIGN MILITARY INFORMATION PROTECTION AGREEMENT
Defense ministers Juri Luik and Jan Troejborg signed an agreement on 4 April in Tallinn that will allow the countries to exchange confidential military information and improve defense cooperation, ETA reported. Estonia signed similar information protection agreements earlier with the U.S., Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, and Finland. In a meeting with members of the parliament's National Defense Committee, Troejborg stressed that Denmark will firmly support the candidacy of the Baltic states at the 2002 NATO summit in Prague. Denmark is the main coordinator of the donor countries for the joint Baltic peacekeeping battalion Baltbat and was one of the main supporters of the Baltic Defense College in Tartu, which is headed by Brigadier General Michael Clemmesen of Denmark. During his one-day visit, Troejborg also met with Estonian President Lennart Meri and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves. SG
WORLD BANK TO FOCUS MAINLY ON SOCIAL SECTOR IN LATVIA
World Bank Polish and Baltic states Regional Director Michael Carter told a news conference on 4 April that a World Bank mission would visit Latvia for two weeks following Easter to discuss the granting of a second $40 million loan as part of its structural reform program, BNS reported. He praised Latvia for achieving significant economic growth and maintaining a generally stable macroeconomic situation. He noted that cooperation between Latvia and the World Bank will be very close in the coming years as the country strives for EU membership. Latvia will have a lot of work to do on legislative amendments, improving state institution processes, pension reforms, and social issues. During his first visit to Latvia since assuming the post in late January, Carter also met government officials and visited the eastern city of Daugavpils. SG
RUSSIA HANDED REQUIREMENTS ON KALININGRAD TO THE EU AND LITHUANIA
Prior to a recent visit to Moscow by President Valdas Adamkus, Russia sent the European Union and Lithuania a list of requirements intending to protect Kaliningrad against isolation should Lithuania join the EU, BNS reported on 4 April. The list included many measures regarding transport, transit, visa policy, energy, fisheries, and other areas. It also called for granting yearly Schengen visas to permanent Kaliningrad residents for trips to Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia as well as giving Russia the right to ship cargo by road and rail through these countries without border checks. A request was also made for the right to lay oil and gas pipelines and electricity grids in the three countries, and for Kaliningrad fishermen to be allowed to fish in the EU zone of the Baltic Sea. Other documents requested that no visas would be required for people traveling between Russia and Kaliningrad by fixed bus or train routes, and for establishing a special permit system for travel by automobile. Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis confirmed that he had received the set of requirements from his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, but refused to comment on them. SG
EU REJECTS POLISH PROTEST OF BSE RATING
The European Commission (EC) said on 4 April that putting Poland on a list of countries endangered with mad cow disease (BSE) was not a political decision, as alleged by Polish Agricultural Minister Artur Balazs earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2001), PAP reported. EC spokeswoman Beate Gminder noted that the decision on Poland's BSE risk rating was made by an EU scientific committee that is completely independent of the EC. Gminder remarked that Spain, Italy, and Germany were also outraged when they were put on the list of BSE-threatened countries last year. She added that the opinion of experts soon proved right and the first BSE cases were uncovered in those countries. JM
CZECH ARMY TO DECENTRALIZE ACQUISITION SYSTEM...
Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy announced 4 April that the ministry leadership has approved a plan suggested by his deputy for economic affairs, Jaroslav Tvrdik, to abolish the ministry's Acquisitions Office and increase internal control over acquisitions, CTK reported. Tvrdik called the previous system "unbelievably incompetent" and said that the current acquisition staff would not be part of the new system. He said the new system will not include people "suspected of having been involved in suspicious transactions and operations." Tvrdik added that orders were previously inspected only after delivery, but now the ministry's Economic Audit Section will check purchases up to 100 million crowns ($2.6 million) and an independent auditor will monitor larger orders. DW
...AS OPPOSITION CALLS FOR DELAY IN JET PURCHASE
The shadow defense minister for the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Petr Necas, has called on the government to delay by three to five years a proposed purchase of up to 36 supersonic fighter-jets, CTK reported on 4 April. Necas said there are more important priorities in less popular areas. He added that the purchase of the fighters, which could cost up to 100 billion crowns ($2.7 billion), would swallow up all defense funding for 10 to 15 years. At the same time, problems with the delivery of 72 L-159 subsonic planes from the Czech company Aero Vodochody continue, and Necas added that successfully introducing two new types of aircraft is almost impossible. The air force was supposed to have received 21 of the Czech planes by the end of 2000, by which time it had taken delivery of only two, and as of March began training with the 12 planes it has received to date. DW
SENATE PASSES BILL ON PARTY FINANCING DESPITE COURT RULING
The Senate decided not to discuss a bill on party financing already passed by the lower house, effectively approving it despite a very similar law already having been rejected by the Constitutional Court, CTK reported 4 April. The proposal was backed by all the senators from the ODS and the Social Democrats, as well as six senators from the Four Party Coalition. The proposed law raises the state subsidy to parties from 500,000 to 900,000 crowns ($13,000-$23,000) per parliament seat. The court, in deciding on a complaint filed by President Vaclav Havel, previously rejected a law raising the subsidy to 1 million crowns, ruling that it favored larger parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). Four Party Coalition Senator Josef Zieleniec has already announced plans to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court, saying that parties had "outvoted the Constitutional Court...without responsibility toward voters." He added that the fact that some senators from his coalition allowed the proposal to pass is "a bad sign." DW
CZECH RESOLUTION ON CUBA 'SHOULD BE ACCEPTABLE' TO U.S.
Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous told CTK that the wording of the Czech Republic's proposed resolution on the human rights situation in Cuba should be acceptable to the U.S. The U.S. has criticized a passage calling economic sanctions against Cuba ineffective. Palous said it was "a difficult task" to find wording acceptable to the U.S., the EU, and democratic Latin American countries. Also, presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek confirmed that the resolution has been a point of disagreement between President Havel and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, but that the participation of Havel's representative at a recent UN Commission for Human Rights meeting in Geneva had not been. Palous said that Havel, as a renowned protector of human rights, needs to be kept informed. DW
SLOVAKIA'S MAIN PARTY SAID TO HAVE SHRUNK BY HALF
Lawmaker Olga Keltosova from former Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) told the 5 April "Pravda" that the HZDS has decreased by about one-half since it went to the opposition in 1998. Keltosova noted, however, that the HZDS still continues to be the country's strongest political entity. According to polls, the HZDS is Slovakia's most popular party, with voter support fluctuating between 20 and 25 percent. Keltosova criticized the HZDS statute for providing HZDS Chairman Vladimir Meciar with extensive powers in running the party and forming a cabinet in the event of an election victory. CTK said there are speculations that some HZDS activists would like to get rid of Meciar, whom they see as an obstacle to the HZDS's ambitions to find a coalition partner and take over after the next elections, which are scheduled for 2002. JM
ROMANIA WORRIES ABOUT HUNGARIAN STATUS BILL
Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told reporters in Budapest on 4 April that Romania was not informed in a timely fashion about Hungary's plans to grant special status to ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries. "This is potentially a very sensitive domestic issue," Geoana said, adding that "we know nothing about this so-called status law." His Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi said that a Hungarian delegation will soon visit Bucharest for talks on the proposed legislation, which is expected to be ratified by the Hungarian parliament next month. Martonyi said Hungary does not intend to introduce visas for Romanian citizens and will urge the EU to drop visa requirements for Romanians. "We hope that by the time Hungary is admitted to the EU, Romania will be removed [from that list]," Martonyi concluded. During his trip to Budapest, Geoana also met Prime Minister Viktor Orban and opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs. MSZ
PRODI, VERHEUGEN PREDICT HUNGARY'S EU ACCESSION IN 2004
Visiting EU President Romano Prodi and EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said in Budapest on 4 April that Hungary will be admitted into the EU in 2004, Hungarian media reported. Prodi said Hungary "is at the vanguard of EU accession," but difficult tasks need to be solved regarding the country's environmental protection, agricultural and regional policies, as well as with border checks and the free flow of labor and capital. MSZ
HUNGARY, BELGIUM SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne and his Hungarian counterpart Sandor Pinter signed a cooperation agreement in Budapest on 4 April under which Hungary is to participate in a series of EU tests to evaluate the security of the union's external borders. Pinter said he hopes the test will prove that Hungary's admission to the EU will not constitute a security risk. MSZ
HAGUE TRIBUNAL DELIVERS MILOSEVIC ARREST WARRANT IN SERBIA
Hans Holthuis, who is registrar of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, presented the indictment of, and arrest warrant for, former President Slobodan Milosevic to Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2001). Speaking to reporters in Belgrade on 5 April, Holthuis said: "I want to be sure [that the documents] are served to Mr. Milosevic." Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale told Reuters that "Milosevic is now in custody, he is under [the Belgrade authorities'] control, so they will be obliged to present the warrant to him with due diligence, without undue delay." Landale added that "the tribunal has primacy over national proceedings. If we perceive time-wasting, the tribunal...can take appropriate measures. But we are not at that stage. We are here to push the process of cooperation forward in legal and technical ways." PM
COOK: WEST EXPECTS SERBIAN RECIPROCITY FOR AID
Yugoslav Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said in Belgrade on 4 April that the law on cooperating with The Hague contains 33 articles and will be ready by the end of May, "Danas" reported. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook spoke with his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Svilanovic and said that the projected international donors' conference should go ahead despite U.S. reservations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2001). Cook added that "the donors' conference should proceed and we should assist in reconstruction. But this is a parallel process. There is a limit to the extent we can proceed in our assistance if that partnership is not reciprocated." PM
WHERE IS SERBIA'S IVAN STAMBOLIC?
The Belgrade daily "Danas" reminded its readers on 5 April that it has been 223 days since the disappearance of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic (see www.gdejestambolic.org). He is widely believed to have been kidnapped by Milosevic loyalists and killed. The new Belgrade authorities pledged to give the case priority but do not appear to have made any progress thus far (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001). PM
MILOSEVIC BACKERS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE PRISON
Some 200 supporters of Milosevic demanded his release at a demonstration outside Belgrade's Central Prison on 4 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Their slogans included: "Slobo, come back" and "To arrest Slobo is to arrest all Serbs." PM
AID FOR PRESEVO
U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic signed an agreement in Bujanovac on 4 April providing for $400,000 in U.S. assistance for village infrastructure projects in the Bujanovac area. NATO representative Pieter Feith announced that the OSCE will soon open a police academy in Bujanovac to train 400 members of the projected multiethnic local police force, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Feith said that the arrangement was agreed on at a meeting of Serbian and local Albanian representatives in Lucane, the third in a series. Covic told AP that he will "hold [Feith] to his word" that the five Serb hostages held by Albanian fighters will be freed by 10 April. PM
ROLE FOR BELGRADE IN KOSOVA ELECTIONS?
Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 4 April that he will seek the involvement of the Belgrade authorities in organizing the Kosova general elections widely expected later in the year. He added that he hopes that the Belgrade authorities will help convince local Serbs to take part in the elections and in Kosova-wide institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The political representatives of the ethnic Albanian majority believe that Belgrade has no role to play in Kosova. PM
INTERNATIONAL AID FOR MACEDONIA
Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told his visiting Macedonian counterpart Srdjan Kerim in Rome on 4 April that Italy will give Macedonia $470 million in direct emergency aid and an additional $940 million through the UN to help displaced women and children, Reuters reported. Dini called on the Macedonian authorities to promote the full political, economic, and cultural integration of the Albanian minority, which makes up 23 percent of the population. Speaking in Skopje, British Foreign Secretary Cook said his country will give Macedonia an unspecified quantity of body armor, mine- and bomb-clearing equipment, and global positioning systems. He urged the Macedonian authorities to "address the legitimate aspirations" of the Albanian minority. On 5 April, the Bulgarian parliament voted 137-0 to make a gift of an unspecified quantity of military equipment to Macedonia, AP reported. Macedonia will be asked to pay only for munitions and weapons. The Defense Ministry provided no details. PM
REFUGEES, DISPLACED PERSONS GO HOME IN MACEDONIA
Kerim said in Rome on 5 April that "in Tetovo, people are going back to their homes, businesses, and schools. In the surrounding villages the security forces are still inspecting buildings and de-mining the area, but in the next few weeks people will return there too." AP reported that some 20,000 people are believed to have fled their homes to avoid the recent violence. Kerim added that a census originally slated for April may be postponed for an unspecified time. PM
COOK: MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM WILL BE RESPECTED
Cook said in Podgorica on 4 April that Britain, like the EU, prefers that Montenegro and Serbia retain their common state. He added, however, that London will not call into question the results of any referendum the Montenegrins may hold on their political future, "Vijesti" reported. PM
MONTENEGRIN BANK: SERBIA IS FOREIGN COUNTRY
The Montenegrin Central Bank announced on 4 April that money transactions with Serbia are now subject to those rules and regulations affecting such dealings with foreign countries, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Montenegro's legal tender is the German mark, whereas Serbia uses the dinar. PM
ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER: THERE IS NO 'ALBANIAN QUESTION'
Ilir Meta told his Serbian counterpart Zoran Djindjic in Athens on 4 April that there is no "Albanian question" or a program for a Greater Albania. Meta stressed that Albanians in Macedonia, Kosova, and elsewhere must solve their problems within their own respective states, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He ruled out any border changes and said that the future of all peoples in the region lies in Europe. Djindjic said that Meta's statement was the clearest one he has heard from any Albanian prime minister on the subject. PM
POWELL TO THE BALKANS
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will begin a trip to the Balkans on 12 April. He will participate in a meeting of the international Contact Group in Paris and visit Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 4 April. PM
UN FIRES CROAT POLICE
The UN mission in Mostar announced on 4 April the sacking of a group of ethnic Croatian police officials who said recently that they no longer recognize the Bosnian federal authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2001). Douglas Coffman, who is the UN spokesman in Bosnia, said that any violation of the rules and regulations governing police work will be punished, "Jutarnje novine" reported from Sarajevo. Elsewhere, the UNHCR condemned the recent bomb attack that destroyed a newly rebuilt school in Crni Lug. Some 58 Serbian families had returned to the area, which is under Croatian control, Reuters reported. PM
BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS MAKE HAGUE DEBUT
Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik appeared together in The Hague's war crimes court for the first time on 4 April. Lawyers are seeking the temporary release of the two pending their trial. Both have been indicted on all nine counts of war crimes within the tribunal's jurisdiction, Reuters reported. The trial marks a shift in the tribunal's attention from dealing primarily with those who carried out other people's orders to those who helped draw up the grand strategy of ethnic cleansing. Plavsic's lawyer said that it will take him 34 years working 365 days per year and 8 hours per day to read the estimated 3 million pages of documents regarding the case against Plavsic, who would be 104 at the end of that time. PM
HAGUE OFFICIALS ARRIVE FOR CROATIAN INVESTIGATION
A group of experts from The Hague has arrived in Sibenik to carry out investigations of alleged war crimes committed by Croatian forces during the "Oluja" (Storm) offensive against Serbian rebels in the Krajina region in 1995, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 5 April. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO SEND CONTROVERSIAL LAW BACK TO PARLIAMENT...
President Ion Iliescu will not promulgate the controversial State Secrets Law recently approved by the parliament and intends to send the law back to legislators for reconsideration, Romanian Radio reported on 5 April, citing Mediafax. Iliescu believes the law must be "correlated" with pending legislation on free access to information. The president says "more clarity" is needed in defining which information should be considered as "classified" or constituting a "state secret" and is "concerned" that the law may infringe on the constitutional right of free access to information. He says he has consulted several NATO states on the matter and has received "a number of suggestions" on how the law should be improved. The government had justified the law on NATO's demand that legislation be passed ensuring that NATO secrets are safeguarded if and when Romania joins the organization. MS
...AFTER U.S. EXPRESSES 'CONCERN' ABOUT THE LAW
In a letter sent to the parliament on 4 April, the Foreign Ministry said the legislation might negatively impact Romania's image and efforts to join Euro-Atlantic structures, Mediafax and AP reported. The ministry says the U.S. State Department is concerned about the possible "abusive limitation of the right to free access to information" and about infringements of "the right to privacy." The latter refers to the provision in the law obliging citizens to report to police the presence of foreign visitors staying with them for longer than 15 days. According to AP, the U.S. and other foreign diplomats are "angered" by the appointment of Ristea Priboi, a former Securitate official alleged to have been in charge of communist operations against RFE/RL, as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service. MS
ROMANIA TO DEMILITARIZE POLICE
The government on 4 April approved the final version of a draft bill on the status of people serving with the police and a draft bill on the organization and functioning of the police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Police are defined in the law as being "civil servants with special status." The Romanian police force is thus undergoing demilitarization. Governmental spokesman Claudiu Lucaci said the law will be sent to the parliament to be debated in "urgency procedure." Lucaci also said the legislation is in line with "international and European legislation specific to countries with a democratic tradition." MS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CRITICIZE JUSTICE MINISTER
The National Liberal Party (PNL), the Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania on 4 April criticized Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu, accusing her of infringing on the independence of the judiciary, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The criticism was prompted by a recent letter sent by Stanoiu to judges, in which she calls on them to give priority in their rulings to the rights of tenants when owners appeal to courts to have tenants evacuated from recently restituted properties. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 3 April rejected accusations that the government and Stanoiu are infringing on the independence of the judiciary, saying the letter only draws attention to existing legislation. Viorica Costiniu, chairwoman of the Romanian Magistrates' Association, said the letter questions the impartiality of judges. MS
ROMANIAN MINISTER FAILS TO BRIDGE DIFFERENCES IN RESITA...
Protests were renewed in Resita on 5 April, after the failure of Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musatescu to bridge difference between the unions and representatives of the U.S.-based Noble Ventures company, which owns the local CSR steelmaker. Although an agreement was reached on 4 April between the sides on the payment of wage arrears and of the debts owned by Noble Ventures to Romanian electricity and gas companies -- which would have made possible the resumption of production -- the unions insisted on the dismissal of the company's management. Musatescu said this was "not within the government's prerogatives" and that the unions "must now assume responsibility [not only] for the continuation of negotiations, but also for the fate of their members and for salaries that are not paid." MS
AND PROTESTS BEGIN IN BRASOV. Meanwhile, in Brasov, a large protest by workers of the local Tractorul company against the government's agricultural policies started on 5 April. The protesters accuse the government of failing to encourage acquisition of Romanian-made agricultural equipment locally, which could lead to the company's closure. Some 9,000 workers are marching on Brasov's streets. The protest is backed by some 60 Romanian unions, and workers from the local Roman truckmaker said they may join the labor action. MS
VORONIN ELECTED MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...
The parliament elected Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) leader Vladimir Voronin as the country's next president as expected on 4 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. All 71 PCM deputies apparently endorsed Voronin in the secret ballot, while the PCM's second presidential candidate, Valerian Cristea, received three votes, apparently from deputies representing the Braghis Alliance. Dumitru Braghis was endorsed by 15 deputies from his own party, while the 11 deputies representing the Popular Party Christian Democratic did not participate in the ballot, although they were present in the parliament. MS
...PROMISES TO ABOLISH PRESIDENCY
Voronin said after his election that he intends to strengthen the prerogatives of the president in the short run in order to quickly solve the country's problems, but pledged to introduce a constitutional change abolishing the "bourgeois" post of president, AP reported. He said he regards solving the Transdniester problem as one of his main priorities and invited the leadership and the parliaments of the separatist region and of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region to Chisinau for negotiations. He also said Moldova will "cooperate" with Bucharest to bring about the liberation of Romanian Senator-elect Ilie Ilascu and the other members of his group, who are being detained in Tiraspol. The new president also said he plans to nominate the country's new premier next week, promising "a surprise." MS
RUSSIA, ROMANIA REACT TO THE ELECTION
Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Voronin and congratulated him on his election. Putin invited Voronin to visit Russia later this month and the invitation was accepted, ITAR-TASS reported. In Bucharest, presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu said President Iliescu has "no official statement to make" but added that "nothing changed" in Romania's position after Voronin's election and Bucharest continues to view the relations with Moldova as being "special." The Romanian Senate's Judicial and Foreign Relations commissions on the same day announced that they have drafted a declaration calling on the government to give "priority treatment" to the efforts to bring about Ilascu's liberation and on the Foreign Ministry to call on the Russian and Moldovan governments to "intervene" in order to facilitate his release from detention. MS
MOLDOVA'S NATO REPRESENTATIVE 'DISAPPEARS' FROM BRUSSELS
Colonel Nicolae Turtureanu, Moldova's representative at the NATO Partnership for Peace Program in Brussels, has left his post voluntarily and "disappeared," Infotag reported on 4 April, citing "well-informed diplomatic sources." Turtureanu, who was appointed to his post by former President Petru Lucinschi, ended his mandate in January but was not replaced due to the political situation in Moldova. He disappeared last week, after leaving documents in his office in order and turning the office key and his car over to Moldovan Embassy officials. Infotag said it was unclear whether he sought political asylum in a Western country or is in Ukraine, where his wife was born. Defense Minister Boris Gamurari refused to comment. MS
KING SIMEON RETURNS TO BULGARIA TO ANNOUNCE POLITICAL PLANS
Former Bulgarian King Simeon II arrived in Sofia on 4 March, saying that he will make a "very interesting" statement about his political future in the country, Reuters reported. King Simeon II, who was exiled in 1946 and has since made his home in Madrid, said the announcement will be made on 6 March. The recently formed Conservative Union, also known as Ekip (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2001), is hoping to gain the king's support ahead of the 17 June parliamentary elections. Opinion polls show the opposition Socialists running slightly behind the ruling Union of Democratic Forces coalition, with the next most popular party perhaps being a necessary factor in forming a coalition government. Commenting on the Macedonian crisis, King Simeon II said the situation is "extremely complicated" but that the recent NATO-Bulgarian agreement was helpful and "very timely," the daily "Novinar" reported. PB
BULGARIAN COURT VOIDS ELECTION OF STATE RADIO CHIEF
Bulgaria's Supreme Administrative Court invalidated the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as head of state radio, Reuters reported, citing BTA. More than 500 radio employees began nearly two months of protests when Borislavov was named to the position in early February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Employees said that Borislavov -- who had worked for Bulgarian Radio for nearly 20 years as a translator and poet -- was not qualified to head the station. Alexander Tomov, the director of the National Radio and TV Council, the panel that selected Borislavov, said it will appeal the court ruling. PB
PREMIER SAYS MACEDONIAN CONFLICT NO THREAT TO BULGARIA
Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told a group of foreign investors in Sofia on 4 April that there is no risk of Bulgaria becoming involved in the violent conflict in neighboring Macedonia, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported, citing the newspaper "Demokratsiya." Kostov said he called the meeting, which included executives from 40 Western companies and banks, because of erroneous reports in the media that Bulgaria could become involved in the conflict. Kostov said he wanted to assure the investors that "there is no threat to Bulgaria's security and no risk for it to be involved in Macedonia's conflict." Deputy Premier Petar Jotev said that sustaining macroeconomic stability and encouraging growth are the government's top economic priorities. PB
DECLARING WAR ON THE MEDIA
By Paul Goble
The move by the state-controlled Gazprom gas company to take over NTV, Russia's only independent television network, this week has been described by that network's defenders as the most serious challenge yet to freedom of speech in Russia.
Gazprom, the energy monopoly that is partially owned by the state, on 3 April moved to take control of NTV, a step the Russian government insists that it has nothing to do with but one that both journalists at the network and other media organizations say is clearly intended to rein in the most independent and critical television network in Russia today.
Kremlin officials continue to insist that the dispute between Gazprom and embattled media magnate and former NTV owner Vladimir Gusinsky that has now led to Gazprom taking control of the NTV board is a private financial dispute about the debt that Gusinsky, now facing extradition from Spain, owes Gazprom. But many Russians, journalists and non-journalists alike, view Gazprom's assumption of ownership as yet another effort by the Kremlin to silence public criticism of its actions.
When the transfer of ownership was announced, NTV journalists dropped normal programming and featured the following message on an otherwise blank screen: "In protest at the illegal attempt to change the board of NTV, only news programs will be broadcast." And the NTV journalists spent the night at the station's headquarters out of concern that Gazprom's media group would seek to impose a new management by force.
Even as that confrontation was taking place, journalists and others in Russia and around the world spoke out against this action. NTV General Manager Yevgenii Kiselev directly blamed President Vladimir Putin for Gazprom's action. "Putin unleashed this war against NTV and now makes out as if he has nothing to do with it," Kiselev said.
Another Russian journalist, Kseniya Ponomareva, said that "Putin is not an opponent of free speech -- it just strikes him as absurd that someone should have the right to publicly judge his actions." And Oleg Panfilov, the director of Moscow's Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, raised the specter of a return to a Soviet-style past.
"It is difficult to say what could happen if there is no NTV," Panfilov said. "In Russia, you will have a return to Central Television of the Soviet Union, which will show only propaganda and which will only talk about the president and say that everything is fine."
And former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced that he will continue to try to intervene with Putin on this issue, noting that when he called on 4 April, Putin's aides said that the president was occupied.
All of these statements come on the heels of a protest last weekend organized by Yabloko and other democratic parties and groups last weekend in defense of NTV and against government attempts to gain editorial control of that independent network. And they reflect the conjunction of two developments.
On the one hand, ever more Russians depend on the electronic media and especially on television as their primary or even only source for news. Except for NTV, the other channels have kept to the government line on critical issues such as the war in Chechnya and human rights. In the absence of alternative sources of information, ordinary Russians are less likely to adopt positions critical of the government, and consequently the population is less likely to have an impact on the actions of the government itself.
And on the other hand, this Gazprom move to take over NTV appears to be part of an effort by the Russian government to use nominally private enterprises such as Gazprom to do its bidding. Such an arrangement inevitably tends to deflect outside criticism because it gives those in the government the ability to plausibly deny that they are in fact behind such moves.
The fight over NTV is certainly far from over, but the battle that the Kremlin and its allies appear to have won this week means that the backers of a free media in Russia face an uphill struggle in the future.