Kremlin plot `to blackmail top editors'

EDITORS FROM four of Russia's top news outlets are accusing the Kremlin of covertly orchestrating a campaign to stifle their organisations. Their allegations, spelt out in an open letter to the President, Boris Yeltsin, come amid an increasingly venomous struggle for control over the Russian media in the run-up to December's parliamentary elections and next year's race for the supreme prize - the presidency.

The editors from NTV television, Ekho Moskvy radio station, Itogi magazine and the Sevodnya newspapers - big hitters in the Russian media world - allege that Kremlin officials have instigated "systematic persecution and blackmail" by the tax authorities.

They depict this tactic as a challenge to media freedom, which is often - legitimately - hailed as one of the broad achievements of Mr Yeltsin's rule, although the Kremlin manipulated the press during the 1996 election.

"For the first time in the history of the new Russia, we are witnessing crude and open pressure on one of the main triumphs of Russian democracy: freedom of speech," said the letter, released by Ekho Moskvy. It claimed that the President's aides, including his chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, ordered the tax police to open criminal cases against them "on any pretext".

Underlying the conflict - which coincides with a flurry of corruption allegations aimed at the Kremlin inner circle - is a pre-election power struggle between two media barons, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky. In 1996, they teamed up to help ensure the return to office of a deeply unpopular Mr Yeltsin and to keep out the lacklustre Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov. Now the former allies are at each other's throats.

All four news organisations which complain of Kremlin bullying belong to Mr Gusinsky's Media-Most publishing empire. Over the last week, both sides have been trading blows with sufficient ferocity to attract a public rebuke from the Russian Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin.

One important beneficiary of the mud-slinging is beginning to emerge in the burly form of the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, one of the top contenders for the presidency who is also at odds with Mr Yeltsin - a former ally - and his team. The powerful and canny mayor has already taken the precaution of acquiring extensive media properties. Now Mr Gusinsky's media empire, happy to goad the Kremlin, seems to be giving the mayor its support. A formidable alliance could be in the making.

As the manoeuvring gathers pace, suspicions abound among Russian journalists that when the election race heats up, press freedom will suffer as the political elite, with the Kremlin to the fore, strive to use the media for their own ends. Although this is no different from many other countries during election season, the Russians point ominously to a new ministry set up last month by Mr Yeltsin to oversee the media.

The new minister, Mikhail Lesin, has made an unpromising start. He energetically denied any intention to act as a censor. But this did not square with comments he made to Kommersant newspaper (perhaps the most respected in Russia, it has itself just been covertly swept into Mr Berezovsky's empire),which included his announcement that "protecting the state from a free mass media is a very pressing issue".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?