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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
putin puppet
NTV has a satirical show with a puppet of Putin
Media magnate, Vladimir Gusinsky has been at the centre of the tumultuous changes in Russia over the past decade.

Sometimes compared to Western media barons like Rupert Murdoch, he has championed liberal, pro-Western ideas through his Media-Most company.

The company is the centre of Russia's only independent media empire - outlets include NTV television, Ekho Moskvy radio and the Sevodnya and Itogi newspapers.

His media once strongly backed Boris Yeltsin as president, notably in the 1996 election, but has become increasingly critical of the Kremlin over the past year.

gusinsky on release
Gusinsky says he has no political aspirations

Several weeks ago, Media-Most was raided by masked, armed tax police, in a move which Russian liberals and Western commentators said was to clamp down on democratic freedoms.

A Moscow court later cast doubt on the legality of the raid and told the authorities to return documents seized at the time.

Mr Gusinsky described the raid as a blatant attack on media freedom and said it should encourage people not to take at face value the pledges of support for free speech and democracy made by President Vladimir Putin, who was elected in March.

Old enemy

The raid was far from the first attack on the media tycoon.

In 1994, security forces controlled by Boris Yeltsin's powerful chief bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov raided Vladimir Gusinsky's offices and held his men for hours lying in the snow.


Mass media is a way of making money, good money

Media-Most Magnate, Vladimir Gusinsky

Many said at the time the attack had dealt a death blow to his career in a country where good ties with the Kremlin are paramount.

But he showed an amazing ability to survive and soon switched back to the Kremlin camp.

In 1996, he was one of the seven so-called "oligarchs" - politically influential businessmen - to rally behind the visibly ailing and unpopular Boris Yeltsin and help him beat off a strong Communist challenge to win a second term in office.

But he later split with the other oligarchs, most notably with Boris Berezovsky, a key member of the Kremlin inner circle which became known in the Russian media as the "Family".

Crash

After Russia's 1998 financial crash, his media empire fell on hard times.

Media-Most officials valued it in the spring of 1999 at about $1.5 b to $1.8 b, down from around $2.5 billion before the crisis.

Mr Gusinsky himself said he discussed Chechnya with Mr Putin last October and tried to persuade him that military force alone could not solve the region's problems.

"We understood that we spoke different languages. (It was) a conversation of the deaf and dumb," he later said.

His media have also homed in on signs that Mr Putin, a former KGB spy, may be less tolerant towards dissent than Boris Yeltsin, giving full and critical coverage of events like the temporary detention of journalist Andrei Babitsky in Chechnya.

Making money

Mr Gusinsky has dismissed reports that by concentrating his business interests he wanted to boost his political influence.

"For us, mass media is a way of making money, good money," he said.

Vladimir Gusinsky was born in 1952.

He studied the gas and oil industries, worked as a theatre director and even drove a private taxi before launching his Most empire.

He is married and has two sons.

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See also:

16 Jun 00 | Europe
Media mogul freed after charges
13 Jun 00 | Europe
Russian media mogul arrested
05 Jun 00 | Media reports
Kremlin pulls strings on TV puppets
28 Mar 00 | Business
Russia's new oligarchs
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