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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Pulls Strings At ORT: Former Chief

Former ORT general director Sergei Blagovolin said Tuesday he left his post in Russia's largest television company because of disagreements with business tycoon Boris Berezovsky and the board of directors.


Blagovolin, who resigned earlier this year, indirectly confirmed the broad understanding in Russian media circles that Berezovsky, deputy secretary of the Security Council, plays a crucial role in ORT's decision-making process. ORT officially denies such involvement.


Berezovsky "undoubtedly influences the work of the channel -- sometimes right, sometimes wrong," Blagovolin told a press conference, repeating many of the statements he had made in the Russian media earlier this year, when he spoke about his desire to leave ORT. He praised Berezovsky's role at the channel's inception and said that without him, ORT would not have survived.


In 1995, Berezovsky was deputy chairman of ORT's board of directors and was seen as a principal investor in the venture. After his appointment to the Security Council at the end of 1996, Berezovsky formally relinquished all his posts in private businesses.


The government owns 51 percent of ORT's shares, but the station is widely viewed as promoting Berezovsky's political and business interests.


Blagovolin said he disagreed with Berezovsky when the "mess in news programming" started and Sergei Dorenko returned to Channel 1 as anchor of the weekly analytical show "Vremya."


"With this, Boris got it wrong," said Blagovolin, adding that the invitation to Dorenko was not solely Berezovsky's decision, but one made by a majority of the board of directors.


"I could not agree in principle with the quantity of abuse which started to flow to the airwaves in regard to people that I love -- such as [Moscow Mayor] Yury Luzhkov -- or to whom I am indifferent -- such as [First Deputy Prime Minister] Boris Nemtsov," said Blagovolin.


"I consider this inadmissable, wrong," he said. "I saw the writing on the wall: Leave!"


Dorenko is seen as an aggressive promoter of Berezovsky's line on Russian television. Alexander Timofeyevsky, a commentator for Russky Telegraf, a newspaper owned by rival Uneximbank, wrote in Tuesday's paper that Dorenko, who once accused those who questioned Berezovsky's Israeli citizenship of anti-Semitism, last Saturday attacked Boris Jordan, president of the MFK investment bank, who was recently stripped of his Russian visa. Last Friday, Berezovsky openly supported the retraction of Jordan's visa, a measure criticized by Nemtsov.


"The connection between the American passport of ... Jordan and the theft of Russia's national wealth was undoubtedly established" by Dorenko, wrote Timofeyevsky.


The latest issue of the Profil magazine said that Blagovolin's replacement, Ksenia Ponomareva, is "200 percent Berezovsky's person." The magazine alleged that Berezovsky controls the channel through appointment of loyal people to key positions.


But ORT vehemently denies such charges. The company's spokesman Grigory Simanovich said Tuesday that Blagovolin, who still enjoys respect at ORT, expressed nothing but his personal opinion.


Simanovich said that "to the degree to which Berezovsky is a shareholder [in ORT], he has the right to express his opinion about the work of the channel." He could not disclose the size of Berezovsky's share, but said it was "insignificant."


"I have never witnessed Berezovsky giving direct orders to anybody," said Simanovich