2. How the Kremlin got ORT
I have already mentioned the fight between the media empires of Gusinsky and Berezovsky on the eve of the parliamentary elections of 1999, the TV killer Sergey Dorenko, the victory of ORT, and the fact that Berezovsky accumulated a media empire in his hands. Berezovsky started to accumulate it in 1993. It is in the end of 1993 that Berezovsky has created his advertising agency LogoVAZ-Press and the contacts with the former leader of the TV company A. Yakovlev helped him to organize his airtime. In April 1994 Berezovsky expressed his desire to initiate the creation of a “popular television”, obviously he was orienting himself on the initiative of his eternal enemy-friend Gusinsky who has registered NTV in July 1993. In November 1994 Berezovsky obtained the president’s order about the creation of ORT. With that he concentrated the direction of the financial side of the company in his hands.
At this time Berezovsky became the holder of 8% of ORT from the name of the United Bank while LogoVAZ also had 8% of ORT. These 16% allowed him to become first deputy chairman of the ORT board of directors. In 1995 Berezovsky became chairman of the ORT directors board. Since he practically headed a group of businessmen who controlled about half of the ORT shares. (16% of shares were supposedly acquired for $320 thousand. After the death of Vladislav Listiev Berezovsky became the owner of 36% of the actions. Berezovsky’s business partner Boris Fedorov had 2% of the shares and Oleg Boyko 5%.)
According to most political experts the entire project of the ORT creation was directed at the ideological provision of B. Yeltsin’s future presidential campaign, however Berezovsky also pursued a concrete business profit – after Listiev’s death he tried to seize the advertisement on ORT. He appointed his partner Sergey Lisovsky general director of ORT-advertisement and his other partner and friend Badri Patarkatzishvili chairman of the Board of directors.
In October 1997 Xenia Ponomareva became the ORT general director. This appointment was the confirmation of Berezovsky’s solid positions on the channel, which Anatoly Chubais tried to “nationalize”. Berezovsky even managed to organize a meeting between Ponomareva and president Yeltsin. It was Berezovsky who proposed the new formula “ORT with the transfer of 51 percent shares to the State” and he acquired the rest share holding at a low price.
Apart from ORT Berezovsky tried to acquire other channels as well. In 1995 he acquired 26% of shares of TV-6 Moscow. According to Berezovsky it was Edward Sagalaev who did all the work for him (“an absolutely professional man”), Berezovsky trusted him. Subsequently, when he lost ORT Berezovsky used TV-6 as a mean of his further promotion as the leader of a political movement. It is on TV-6 that Kisilev’s team went when they left NTV.
Also Berezovsky had a certain influence on Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He supported NG financially from the name of United Bank. Together with his partner Oleg Boyko Berezovsky sponsored the Ogonek journal. Actually its editor-in-chief was the former head of Yeltsin’s administration V. Yumashev. In 1997 Berezovsky did not refute the information that he supported financially Igor Golembiovsk’s Izvestia. Then when I. Golembiovsk, O. Latzis and others who have left Izvestia have created Novye Izvestia Berezovsky became its principal sponsor. When the founder of Kommersant Vladimir Yakovlev decided to sell his publication Berezovsky acquired 15% of Kommersant’s shares. The company American Capital started to control 85% of the shares. Presently Berezovsky’s media holding has shrunk like shagreen leather and the rests were united into Logovaz News Corporation. In the present case we want to know how Berezovsky lost ORT. This is how it happened.
Despite the fact that Berezovsky and his channel ORT occupied a pro-Putin position on the March 2000 presidential elections, the attempts to take away the channel from him began in summer 2000 and coincide with the attacks on Gusinsky. If Gusinsky was against Putin’s candidacy Berezovsky supported him. However it turned out that Putin does not have gratitude feelings. On September 4th BBC announced: “The famous Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky told that he intends to transfer his share holding of the ORT television company to journalists and other representatives of the artistic intelligentsia. Berezovsky said this in a letter to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin entitled: ‘About freedom of speech and ORT share’ and published by several media.”
“ The president wants to direct ORT himself’ supposedly said some ‘high representative of the Kremlin’ to the businessman. According to Berezovsky he was presented with an ultimatum – either to give away ORT or to ‘follow Gusinsky’.
According to him the cause of such a situation is Vladimir Putin’s discontent with ORT’s coverage of the Kursk crisis. Like Berezovsky said in his letter, the ultimatum he was presented with puts under question the existence of independent mass media in Russia. ‘If I accept the ultimatum there will be no more televised information in Russia, it will be replaced with televised propaganda’, the businessman writes. ‘Despite all the shortcomings and problems that Russia suffers there are some undisputable achievements and the most important of them is that millions of people ceased to fear the power and the power is forced to be accountable to the people in some way. This became possible first of all thanks to the mass media independent from the power. For the first time in decades people have found justice against the policeman, the bureaucrat and the boss.”
Addressing president Putin Berezovsky writes: “ By putting the mass media under administrative control you will return fear into our life. We will be afraid of the house manager again.” He also proposed the government to follow his example so that the Public Russian television “corresponds to its name”: “Release ORT!”
Russia’s government controls 51% of ORT shares. The businessman has 49%.
The Kremlin’s press service refused to comment the information that Berezovsky gives away his shareholding. In June Boris Berezovsky left the State Duma and a little later he announced his plans to create a new political movement oppositional to the Kremlin.”
It was supposed that Berezovsky’s shares would be transferred to the General Director of the company, Konstantin Ernst, the journalist Sergey Dorenko and the former ORT General Director Igor Shabdurasulov. Commenting this decision Shabdurasulov said on Echo of Moscow that the rest of ORT shares could be transferred not only to ORT employees and media controlled by Berezovsky but also to other persons: “This can be the most surprising figures from the journalistic community”.
The speaker of Moscow’s Duma Platonov called Berezovsky’s decision “a small ruse”. But the Kremlin was not satisfied with such an ORT. Putin wanted to have everything. Further I give the floor to Badri Patarkatzishvili. I cite his interview in Kommersant on 07.04.01. I remind that Patarkatzishvili is Berezovsky’s business partner. Here is how the events unfolded according to Patarkatzishvili:
“The power decided to pressure Berezovsky using pressure on his close people. And on December 7th 2000 the former deputy general director of Aeroflot and our common friend Nikolay Glushkov was arrested without any visible grounds. A bit later it became clear that they are not able to make Glushkov give false testimonies and the Aeroflot case started to crumble. The accusations Glushkov was charged with were rapidly changing. Why all this fuss if you have a consistent accusation?” The Kommersant journalist asks: “You have mentioned attempts to pressure Berezovsky. Why did they pressure him? What is their goal?”
– Before and after Nikolay’s arrest they were pressuring Boris and me in order to “exchange” the closing of the Aeroflot case for ORT shares. And when Glushkov was arrested we agreed to this. We sold our ORT shares. Alexander Voloshin promised that they would release Glushkov. He lied.
– To whom he promised that?
– To me.
– Personally, by phone?
– Through a person both Voloshin and I trust.