Magazine article Newsweek

A Kremlin Crackdown: A Raid on a Media Empire Raises Some Old Fears

Magazine article Newsweek

A Kremlin Crackdown: A Raid on a Media Empire Raises Some Old Fears

Article excerpt

Vladimir Putin, who was sworn in as Russia's new president early last week, gets along well with most of the "oligarchs" who dominate the nation's economy. One exception is Vladimir Gusinsky, the founder of Russia's largest private media empire. Gusinsky's flagship television station, NTV, and his leading newspaper, Sevodnya, have severely criticized Putin and his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, denouncing the war in Chechnya and pursuing stories of top-level corruption in the Kremlin. And just four days after Putin took an oath promising to uphold the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press, masked government agents toting automatic weapons stormed into the offices of Gusinsky's company, Media-Most. "When I protested," an employee said later, "a man in a mask told me: 'You have a choice--you can either wait in the cafeteria or lie on the floor in handcuffs'."

The assault team, including investigators from the FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet KGB, searched the premises for documents and videotapes. First they said they were seeking evidence on the alleged misdeeds of a former Finance Ministry official. Then they said they were investigating Media-Most itself, looking into charges of privacy violations and possible tax irregularities. Gusinsky, who flew back from Israel to manage the crisis, accused Putin of using Soviet-era tactics. "It looks like everything is going backwards--the same masks, the same special services, the same witch hunting," he said. …

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