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Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 06:11 GMT
Russia TV saga rumbles on
Russian media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky
Gusinsky says he is a victim of political persecution
By Russian affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel

The struggle for survival of Russia's only national independent television station is becoming even more dramatic than the Latin American soap operas which are an essential part of its daily output.


It's no exaggerration to say that on NTV's survival hangs the survival of the free media in Russia

The past week has seen NTV's bank raided by the Russian prosecutor, its main debtor make a public appeal for its takeover, and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirm his commitment to its independence.

Vladimir Gusinsky, NTV's founder and the chairman of its parent company Media-Most, remains under house arrest in Spain, awaiting the result of an extradition request from Russia's Prosecutor-General.

Media-Most's problems revolve around its huge debts to the state gas company, Gazprom.

Gazprom chairman Lev Vyakhirev took out a full page advertisement in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal urging NTV's shareholders to sell him their shares, saying that his patience had run out with Mr Gusinsky.

President Vladimir Putin
President Putin insists NTV will remain independent
The midnight raid on the offices of Image Bank was the 29th such raid in the past year on firms linked to Mr Gusinsky.

The bank's operations were paralysed and according to its director, Vladimir Morsin, all information about business and personal accounts was seized.

And yet, despite all of these developments which have led many to believe that NTV's independence is seriously under threat, Mr Putin has once again stated that the government will not take it over.

On Tuesday, Mr Putin met the former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, who is now head of NTV's advisory council.

Whatever the financial position of NTV, as Russia's only national independent television station, it's no exaggerration to say that on its survival hangs the survival of the free media in Russia.

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See also:

29 Jan 01 | Europe
TV journalists in Kremlin talks
17 Dec 00 | Media reports
Russian media war hots up
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
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