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Media Matters: June 18, 2004

18 June 2004, Volume 4, Number 11
By Robert Coalson

Video International, the Russian advertising behemoth that was founded by former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin in 1991, will lose its monopoly control over the sale of advertising on state television within the next two years, Russian media reported on 8 June.

State-controlled ORT announced that it has signed a new, five-year contract with Video International that stipulates that the company cannot sell airtime for the state-owned All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) after VGTRK creates its own advertising-sales structure. VGTRK -- which runs RTR, Kultura, Euronews, and Sport television, as well as Radio Rossii and Mayak -- announced the same day that it will create such a service within two years.

"We have a strategic interest in the advertising market," VGTRK Chairman Oleg Dobrodeev told "Kommersant-Daily." He said the new, state-owned advertising-sales structure will compete directly with Video International and NTV-Media, the sales arm of Gazprom-Media's NTV.

ORT and RTR have frequently complained that Video International played the two companies off against one another to its own advantage. "For the last five years, Video International has sold advertising time on ORT and on RTR," Dobrodeev told on 8 June. "At the time, that made sense. The market was emerging from the 1998 [financial] crisis. Now the market has stabilized, and such a concentration of advertising sales in one set of hands is no longer necessary."

Video International currently controls about 70 percent of the country's television-advertising market, selling advertising time on ORT, VGTRK, STS, REN-TV, and others. NTV is the only national network that works directly with advertisers. According to "The Moscow Times" on 9 June, Video International earns about $1 billion in annual revenues. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 June that advertising sales at ORT are worth about $370 million per year, while RTR's amount to about $300 million and NTV's to $215 million. Video International is also reported to be connected with TNS Gallup Media, the company that has controlled the ratings service used to set advertising rates in Russia since 1998.

Although Lesin has said that he has had no connection with Video International since 1994, the company's growth has been widely attributed to Lesin's close connections with the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin. Video International came to prominence handling Yeltsin's successful 1996 re-election campaign, and it was shortly thereafter given monopoly control over advertising sales on state television. Lesin was appointed media minister in June 1999 and left the cabinet when his ministry was dissolved in March. He is now President Vladimir Putin's adviser on media issues.

Media observers were quick to associate Video International's loss with the diminution of Lesin's power. "This just goes to show how much of [Video International's] success depended on its connections to the government," an unidentified media analyst told "The Moscow Times" on 9 June. "A lot of people I talked to predicted Video International would crumble when Lesin stepped down."

Video International's grip on the cash flows of Russia's media sector have long been cited as one of the key ways -- along with expanding state media ownership, increasingly restrictive legislation, the expanding use of libel suits by officials against the media, and others -- that the government has controlled the post-Soviet media sector.

However, it is far from certain that the breaking of Video International's hold through the creation of VGTRK's state-owned advertising-sales firm will actually result in an opening up of the television-advertising market. Analysts had earlier expected that the partially privatized ORT would create an advertising service and VGTRK would remain with Video International. When asked how things turned out exactly the opposite, Video International General Director Sergei Vasilev told "Izvestiya" on 9 June, "This was the result of 18 months of complex consultations and negotiations." Such comments would seem to indicate an uncomfortable degree of collusion in the market.

In the same interview, Vasilev supposed that the executives of ORT and VGTRK "held some sort of consultations" with the government before making the move.

Vasilev, however, also cited a proverb that it is better to have a piece of a large pie than to have all of a small one. He said that under current market conditions it would be a mistake for Video International to control sales at two of the three networks and, therefore, the company will not seek a contract with NTV. "Although doing so would increase company revenues, it would create a strategic threat to the business as a whole and to the development of the market."

By Robert Coalson

Filipp Kirkorov is one of Russia's most high-profile pop stars and the husband of the legendary singer Alla Pugacheva. He has long had a scandalous reputation for arrogant behavior and has had a number of run-ins with journalists, but he has always come out with his popularity intact. So, most likely, he didn't think twice about taking on a young provincial journalist. But perhaps he should have.

At a 20 May press conference in Rostov-na-Donu, "Gazeta Dona" journalist Irina Aroyan asked Kirkorov why he has recorded so many cover songs lately, wondering if he had a shortage of original material. Kirkorov responded with a tirade of obscenities and boorishness that caught everyone present off-guard. Among other things, he insulted Aroyan's professionalism, said that he was "sick of [her] pink sweater," made sexually suggestive comments, and poked fun at her southern accent, telling her that she should "learn to speak Russian" before coming to press conferences with "stars." He then ordered her to leave the hall. As she was leaving, Aroyan said, "And you should learn how to behave, star!"

According to Aroyan, she was then manhandled and threatened by two of Kirkorov's security guards. Immediately following the incident, Aroyan lodged a complaint against the security guards and on 15 June she filed a suit against the singer for insulting the honor and dignity of a journalist.

Local television crews recorded Kirkorov's outburst and the tape was broadcast on Don-TV. There was a strong, negative public outcry, and the tape soon found its way to the Internet (see, for instance, Locals have collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for Kirkorov to be declared persona non grata in Rostov-na-Donu, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 15 June, and the petition was printed in the local media and presented to the city's mayor.

In the past, such cases likely would have ended at this point. The Soviet legacy of state-dominated media and weak, isolated private media would likely have hemmed in such a scandal, unless for some reason one of the national television channels picked it up.

But "Gazeta Dona" is not a typical regional newspaper. It is part of the Provintsiya publishing house (, a leading chain of local newspapers owned by entrepreneur Boris Giller. Provintsiya publishes 30 newspapers in 29 regions of the country and also owns three private newspaper-printing plants. The "Gazeta Dona" report of the Kirkorov press conference and the ensuing outcry was published throughout the chain, sparking a budding national campaign to compel Kirkorov to apologize. In addition, a correspondent for the Rostov-na-Donu edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" was also allegedly assaulted by the security guards when he came to Aroyan's defense, so the national daily picked up his story as well.

On 9 June, the Chelyabinsk broadcasting company Vostochnyi ekspress announced that its journalists had reviewed the tape of the press conference and had decided to no longer cover Kirkorov or broadcast any of his music or videos. "No one, not even stars, has the right to act so boorishly with other people, especially women," Vostochnyi express General Director Yurii Vishnya told on 9 June. Chelyabinsk radio station Studio-1 has joined the boycott, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 15 June, refusing to play Kirkorov even upon request. And several hosts of programs on Chelyabinsk's Nezavisimyi television station have also signed on, according to the daily.

A journalist at "Gazeta Dona" told "Novye izvestiya" that journalists and media outlets from the Rostov Oblast cities of Azov, Taganrog, and Bataisk have joined in the boycott as well. on 11 June published a list of six incidents in the last three years when Kirkorov or his security guards verbally or physically assaulted journalists and fans.

Nonetheless, Aroyan told Regnum on 10 June that she was reluctant to sue Kirkorov. After the incident was publicized, Aroyan said she received threatening and obscene telephone calls at home. In the end, however, she said, a feeling of solidarity with journalists, who are "too often the victims of arbitrary behavior," prompted her to act.

Ironically, Aroyan's cause has also attracted the attention of the Rostov-na-Donu branch of the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together, Regnum reported. The chairman of that organization reportedly telephoned Aroyan and said the boycott fits well into the group's program to combat cursing and to promote public morality. He reportedly offered financial and legal assistance.

This time, Kirkorov might have cause to regret his behavior. According to on 15 June, his unofficial fan sites have been flooded with negative e-mail messages and some of them have even been inaccessible. Kirkorov's official site ( has not recognized the scandal.

In February 2001, Kirkorov was named a UN goodwill ambassador. "Show business," Kirkorov said at the time, according to, "is not just putting out albums and doing concerts. We artists have the possibility to appear on enormous stages and to influence our audiences. Therefore, with my new status, I will try, no matter where I am, to do everything possible so that guns are silenced and music plays."

By Robert Coalson

Russia's embattled liberal community suffered another shock on 2 June when NTV national television summarily dismissed popular journalist Leonid Parfenov and closed down his analytical program "Namedni." NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich made the controversial decision after Parfenov released to the media a written instruction from NTV Deputy General Director for News Aleksandr Gerasimov ordering him to remove from his program an interview with the widow of former acting Chechen leader Zemlikhan Yandarbiev. In the days since, Russia's liberals have been arguing over everything from whether this development signals a clampdown on the media to whether this was really a case of censorship at all and to what extent Parfenov himself is to blame for the unfortunate outcome.

Although Parfenov has claimed that the Kremlin asked Gerasimov to pull the Yandarbieva interview, Gerasimov himself has said publicly only that he made the decision in order not to influence the ongoing trial in Qatar of two Russian secret-service employees charged with the February assassination of Yandarbiev. Leading journalist Vladimir Pozner told "Moskovskie novosti," No. 20: "If the decision was made out of concern for the reaction of the authorities, then that is censorship. If the decision was made not to influence negatively the fate of the Russians [on trial], that is not censorship."

The official explanation for Parfenov's dismissal is that he violated "corporate ethics" by releasing Gerasimov's order to the media. Senkevich has said repeatedly that he had no choice but to fire Parfenov, despite the popularity and profitability of "Namedni," one of NTV's most respected and highly rated programs. Respected independent media figures such as Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov and REN-TV President Irena Lesnevskaya have agreed that Senkevich was correct to dismiss Parfenov for making public Gerasimov's order. However, pundits were quick to point out that Parfenov, together with Tanya Mitkova, was one of the few respected journalists to remain with NTV following its takeover by the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom in 2001. When told of the firing, Mitkova reportedly said, "Now the channel has crashed to the ground," "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 3 June. The impact of the firing on the station's battered reputation could be long lasting indeed.

As a result, the events surrounding Parfenov's dismissal have fuelled long-standing rumors that NTV intends to remake itself in the next few months as a purely entertainment channel, without any significant news programming. It has long been known that Gazprom-Media is working to create a joint media-holding company with Yevrofinans, the investment arm of the Central Bank-created Yevrofinans bank, and that NTV will be the main jewel in the holding company's portfolio. Earlier this year, "Novaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported that part of the strategy for the holding company included the dumbing down of NTV into a purely entertainment channel and the replacement of Senkevich with retired Federal Security Service (FSB) Major General and current All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Deputy Director Aleksandr Zdanovich (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 9 April 2004).

"Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev wrote in his paper, No. 20, "There are rumors that the firing of Parfenov was a clever move by the authorities, that the scandal was provoked with the intention of discrediting and removing the current leadership of NTV."

On 22 March, -- which is owned by VGTRK -- reported on the rumored restructuring in an article entitled "A Radical Reorganization of NTV Is Expected Toward September." That article named "Namedni" and "Lichnyi vklad" as "the main candidates for cutting." An unnamed source at VGTRK told the website that Zdanovich is "a normal deputy director who has worked with journalists for many years" and who is "no worse than Senkevich, who has done absolutely nothing for [NTV]." "The president also came from the FSB and so far no one has died from that," the unnamed source concluded

There have been few dramatic changes in the Russian media environment over the last year, although the media remain in the grip of the "managed democracy" of President Vladimir Putin. As this grip has tightened generally in Russia -- in recent months focusing on political parties and big business, rather than the media -- the media have become increasingly less inclined or less able to act independently.

As a result, experts generally view the media situation in Russia as deteriorating. The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Freedom House, in its annual survey of global press freedom, this year downgraded Russia from "partly free" to "not free," ranking the country 148th among 193 countries surveyed. Likewise, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Russia as one of the 10 most dangerous places to be a journalist. "A shift from blatant pressures to more subtle and covert tactics, such as politicized lawsuits and hostile corporate takeovers by businessmen with close ties to Putin, has allowed the Kremlin to stifle criticism of the president and reports on government corruption and human rights abuses committed by Russian forces in Chechnya," the CPJ report reads.

Russian Union of Journalists General Secretary Igor Yakovenko on 3 May agreed with these assessments. "I think that the conclusions of the Western experts correspond to reality," Yakovenko said. "Over the last few years, we have definitely moved backward both in terms of human rights and of freedom of the press." He said that the print media are more free than broadcast media, but that self-censorship is a major problem. "No one is beating people up, but people are looking over their shoulders," Yakovenko said.

The extent of state control over the media was amply demonstrated during the run-up to the 7 December State Duma elections and the 14 March presidential election. In both cases, the state-controlled national television networks overwhelmingly favored the Kremlin's choices and played a major role in the collapse of the campaigns of the Communist Party, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, the Agrarian Party, and presidential candidates Ivan Rybkin, Sergei Glazev, and Irina Khakamada. The Central Election Commission (TsIK), often backed by Kremlin-friendly courts, routinely ruled according to the Kremlin's wishes regarding media coverage of the campaigns. Western and domestic election monitors cited state control of the media -- especially television -- as among the most important factors contributing to the nondemocratic nature of the elections.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) report following the presidential poll found baldly that state-controlled national television devoted far more airtime to Putin than to any other candidate. "On the state-funded TV channels [Putin] has received coverage far beyond that which was reasonably proportionate to his role as head of state," the OSCE wrote. According to the organization's monitoring, for instance, ORT gave Putin two hours and 38 minutes of "overwhelmingly positive" coverage during the first two weeks of the official campaign period. "All other candidates combined received a total of only 22 minutes," the report stated. "The other two state-funded TV channels adopted a similar approach."

The government's management of the media has changed somewhat as a result of the government restructuring under way since the beginning of the year. The former Media Ministry was abolished and a new Culture and Mass Communications Ministry was set up to replace it, headed by former Moscow State Conservatory Rector Aleksandr Sokolov (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 12 March 2004). In interviews since his appointment, Sokolov has repeatedly stated that he has little expertise in media issues and that his main media-related goal is to implement Putin's information policies. Deputy Culture and Mass Communications Minister Leonid Nadirov, who was formerly the rector of the St. Petersburg Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, similarly has no significant media experience or expertise, but he has been far more outspoken and proactive regarding media policies, repeatedly butting heads with Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Director and former Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii.

The first major media issue to come up following the creation of the new ministry was the debate within the government concerning which agency would be responsible for issuing broadcasting licenses. One of the most widely hailed achievements of former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin was the creation of the Federal Tender Commission (FKK), an advisory body of industry experts that made recommendations concerning licenses. Despite a few highly publicized cases of the political manipulation of the FKK, its work has generally been praised, and it has been viewed as a step toward depoliticizing this important matter. Seslavinskii fought to retain this function under his agency and to maintain a structure similar to the FKK, but Nadirov successfully lobbied to retain this function under the ministry (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 9 April 2004).

Former FKK members have expressed doubt that Sokolov's representatives in the ministry will be able to carry out the licensing function as effectively as the FKK did. "If a machine is working, don't fix it," former FKK member Vladimir Pozner told on 8 April. on 8 April reported that the new ministry intends to invite many former FKK members to continue working in the new licensing department, but that it is also discussing the matter with representatives of the state television and radio companies. "Our commission should be transformed into a completely independent group," Pozner was quoted by the website as saying. "It should not be connected with the ministry or the leading television networks, or with major advertising players."

The first indication that the fears of Pozner and other experts are justified came on 19 April when Yevrofinans financial group Vice President Boris Boyarskov was named to head the new licensing organ (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 23 April 2004). Russian media have characterized Boyarskov as "a creature of the St. Petersburg siloviki" and have noted a suspicious gap in his biography that could indicate a connection with the security agencies. At any rate, Boyarskov can hardly be considered an honest broker, as Yevrofinans is a major media-sector player, one that is reputedly closely connected with the Putin administration (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 23 April 2004).

According to Seslavinskii and other sources within the ministry, a new draft of the law on mass media is being prepared and will be introduced in the Duma in its fall session. Although no information about this bill has yet been released, this will obviously be a major event for the country's media and a significant indication of the direction that the Kremlin will take during Putin's second term.

The Russian government retains it monopoly control of national television broadcasting. It owns RTR and strictly controls ORT. In addition, the "private" NTV is controlled by the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom and by Yevrofinans. Yevrofinans is a creature of the Russian Central Bank and its financing comes from state companies like Gazprom and Unified Energy Systems (EES). Russian television news is uniform and increasingly bland as far as domestic news is concerned. As for CIS affairs and other international news, state-controlled television effectively maintains the Kremlin's line. Both ORT and RTR are implementing aggressive plans to expand their influence throughout the former Soviet Union.

Newspapers have far smaller audiences than television and are largely produced for the urban elites. Although they are private, all are tied to the oligarchs, and most have responded to the current tensions between business and the Kremlin by offering toned-down or even loyal political coverage. The manipulations of the press are periodically clear when "campaigns" appear that are obviously orchestrated. For example, although the national papers generally studiously ignore the Communist Party, Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin, a staunch rival of longtime party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, is regularly offered platforms to denounce the stagnation in the party. Kremlin-favored analysts such as Stanislav Belkovskii opine on every possible topic.

The practice of paying for stories (positive about oneself or negative about one's rivals) continues to be a major problem in Russia. Recently, EES board members moved to force EES CEO Anatolii Chubais to account for the company's public-relations spending after persistent media reports that the company pays for coverage. The oligarchs and other media owners have by no means given up their penchant for using their media outlets to pursue their own political and business agendas. This is equally true of the media outlets controlled by former oligarch Boris Berezovskii -- "Nezavisimaya gazeta," "Kommersant-Daily," and others.

The situation regarding the Internet is similar to that of newspapers. This seemingly vibrant medium is hampered by a large decree of overt and covert state manipulation, as well as by manipulation by business interests. The strict state control over information means that the field for speculation, rumor, and conjecture is very large. While certainly less controlled than other media in Russia, the Internet is also far less influential, forming at times almost an echo chamber for journalists and analysts.

In short, Russia is suffering from a dearth of professional, independent, fact-based journalism worse than it has endured since the early 1980s. Liberal and democratic political figures including Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Khakamada, and Valeriya Novodvorskaya, as well as human rights activists from across the spectrum have decried the current information environment in the country, saying that it is a major contributing factor to the reversal of the hard-won democratic gains of the 1990s. (RFE/RL)

Pressure on media operating in the Russian republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan intensified at the end of last year and the beginning of this year because it was an election year. Radio and television stations that broadcast materials not to the authorities' liking suddenly found themselves experiencing problems with their broadcasting licenses, landlords, and/or buildings' infrastructure. Television viewers in both Tatarstan and Bashkortostan had some access to a non-republican-government points of view, because many residents of both republics have access to cable television or satellite services that provide a wide array of other Russian and non-Russian channels.

In the print media, opposition press and central newspapers often faced lawsuits and difficulties with distribution and printing. The pressure was much greater in Bashkortostan than in Tatarstan. In Bashkortostan, even Internet sites, which have relatively small audiences and therefore are generally ignored by censors in most parts of Russia, were blocked.


Even before the election campaign started, Bashkortostan was singled out as having one of the least-favorable regimes for freedom of speech in Russia by Union of Journalists General Secretary Igor Yakovenko. Yakovenko told reporters in Moscow in August that many articles from central newspapers are eliminated or cut back and replaced with local information at the republican printing plant. In other cases, local distributors fail to distribute them. He called the environment in Bashkortostan a "typical Soviet media regime," where people on average read 4 1/2 times as many newspapers than in Moscow. He charged that the regime is "psychologically and intellectually behind modern communication technologies and is unable to retaliate against websites" that offer alternative views. However, he expressed that view before two opposition websites, and, were shut down late last year.

During the run-up to the 7 December State Duma elections and the 14 March national and republican presidential elections, three independent radio stations in Bashkortostan were pulled off the air. Two stations were forced off the air in one week. The first was Radio Bulgar, which saw its license suspended. On 10 November, unidentified men accompanied by police officers carrying automatic rifles dismantled the station's broadcast antenna. The official reason was that the antenna interfered with the operation of household equipment and was dangerous to local residents. In May 2003, city officials damaged the station's broadcasting tower.

On 11 November, Hit-FM had to vacate its premises. Its landlord severed the lease agreement, and a suspicious device was found in the station's headquarters. It later turned out to be a fake plaster bomb. On 18 November, Retro-Ufa went off the air when its electricity was cut off. Retro-Ufa Editor Esker Fazliev was arrested in Moscow and put on a plane for Ufa. Fazliev is also the former director of TV-6 in Tatarstan. In June, municipal officials in Ufa refused to renew a rental agreement for the site of the station's radio tower.

On 11 December -- between the Duma and presidential elections -- several opposition newspapers were shut down and their print runs destroyed, according to an unidentified editor in chief of a Bashkir opposition newspaper, "Novaya gazeta," No. 94, reported. On 11 December, the license for New Television Channel, which had expressed support for Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov's rival, Sergei Veremeenko, was suspended on orders from the federal Media Ministry, which punished the station for violating rules governing coverage of republican election campaigns.

There are seven television stations in Ufa and, according to the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, all of them are either government-controlled or are heavily influenced by the government. The private station Stolitsa, which had been established by Veremeenko and broadcast on Channel 3, was shut down in late January 2004. Ufa city officials claimed the building that housed the broadcaster caused problems for nearby electricity cables. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, the station's journalists sent a letter to Rakhimov in which they denied working for any of his rivals during the campaign.

With regard to federal publications, Bashkir authorities used a different tactic -- lawsuits. The republican Interior Ministry, for example, filed more than 30 libel suits against federal newspapers such as "Tribuna," "Trud," "Rossiiskaya gazeta," and "Moskovskaya pravda," the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported in November. Of the seven cases heard in local courts as of February 2004, the ministry had won six, according to a republican Interior Ministry spokesman. The ministry also asked the prosecutor's office to pursue a case against ORT television for airing a story about their search of a Mezhprombank office in Ufa. Veremeenko, Rakhimov's chief rival in the presidential election, is a former Mezhprombank executive. The local branch of the State Antinarcotics Committee filed an official protest against an article published on 18 September 2003 in the local opposition weekly "Vybor naroda," in which it was reported that Veremeenko was being watched by committee personnel.

Rakhimov filed a lawsuit of his own against journalist Anver Yumagulov of the opposition newspaper "Russkii obozrevatel." Rakhimov argued that his business reputation had been damaged by an article published on 29 August 2003 and was seeking 10 million rubles ($350,000) in damages, according to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

In August 2003, two unknown assailants threw two bottles containing gasoline into a printing house in Chelyabinsk where publications opposing Rakhimov were being printed.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, there are four independent newspapers operating in the republic: "Nash vybor," "Vedomosti Sterlitamaka," "Vechernii Nefekamsk," and "Novosti Prikamya."


The situation in Tatarstan leading up to the elections was calmer not only because Kazan authorities have long been less heavy-handed in their dealings with the media than their counterparts in Ufa, but also because Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev was not facing a competitive re-election battle.

There were, however, some overt actions taken by authorities to influence media coverage of the election. For example, at the end of November, STV -- the first independent television station in Chally -- was forced off the air until after 7 December. The official reason given was because it was impossible to evacuate people safely from an STV transmitting station, but an STV spokesman said a more likely explanation was that the authorities fear an "objective evaluation of events."

In Tatarstan, the most significant event on the media scene during the past year was the formation of Tatmedia, a holding company that includes all of the republic's state-controlled media, including eight newspapers, 11 magazines, and the Tatarstan-New Century television and radio company. New Century was created in 2001 to counterbalance Moscow's increasing control over the Tatarstan State Television and Radio Company (GTRK). In January 2003, the federal All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) assumed full financial control over Tatarstan's GTRK. (RFE/RL)