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Friday, 17 November, 2000, 17:12 GMT
Doubts over Russian media's freedom
Russian newspaper coverage of the Kursk disaster
Russian newspapers were critical of the government's handling of the Kursk disaster
By BBC Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel

The Russian media group, Media-Most, has apparently reached an agreement with the country's gas giant, Gazprom, to pay off a debt which it owes to Gazprom's media subsidiary.

But this is unlikely to lead to the rescinding of an arrest warrant issued on Monday against the head of Media-Most, Vladimir Gusinsky, who is currently outside Russia.

It seems that Gazprom has taken advantage of Mr Gusinsky's position to negotiate a more advantageous deal

The reported agreement came as the Moscow offices of a newspaper were raided by Russian Federal security agents, amid continuing doubts over President Vladimir Putin's degree of committment to a free press.

The agreement between Media-Most and Gazprom Media has been on and off all week.

The two sides announced that they had reached a deal on Monday, whereby Media-Most would pay off the $200m it had borrowed.

Arrest warrant

The deal was announced just before the prosecutor-general's office issued an arrest warrant for Mr Gusinsky after he had failed to appear for questioning,

But the next day, the deal was off. It seems that Gazprom has taken advantage of Mr Gusinsky's position - outside the country and under threat of arrest - to negotiate a more advantageous deal.

Media-Most owner Vladimir Gusinksy
Gusinsky has not returned to Russia
Events at the offices of the 'Top Secret' media group are unrelated to these developments, but do raise even more questions about the freedom of Russia's media.

Agents of the state security service, the FSB, searched the offices for information as to where the group had obtained satellite photographs apparently showing a US submarine undergoing repairs at a naval base in Norway.

Preferred explanation

The newspaper said the photographs were taken a few days after the Russian nuclear submarine, the Kursk, sank in August.

The Russian authorities' preferred explanation for the Kursk disaster is that the vessel was in a collision with a foreign submarine, although the US and Britain - who had submarines in the Barents Sea, observing the Russian exercise - have denied this.

A Norwegian naval source dismissed the photographs as being old, pointing out that a Norwegian vessel in one of them sank in 1994.

But Dmitry Filimononv, who wrote the article the photographs accompanied in the 'Versiya' newspaper, said that the actions of the security service showed that the pictures were genuine.

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | Media reports
Russian tycoon 'afraid to return home'
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
07 Nov 00 | Europe
Kursk body search abandoned
24 Aug 00 | Europe
The Kursk disaster: Day by day
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