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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ORT Board Reshuffle Puts Berezovsky on Top




Billionaire tycoon Boris Berezovsky scored a decisive triumph over Deputy First Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais in their long struggle for control over the ORT television network with the confirmation of a new board of directors sympathetic to his interests, analysts said Friday.


The Thursday night reshuffle at ORT, which saw the number of the company's Directors Council slashed from 19 to 11, likely spells the end of a battle between Berezovsky and Chubais over who would control the nationwide network, observers said.


"This is a complete triumph for Berezovsky," said Andrei Piontkowsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies. "Not a single person is aligned with Chubais. They are either Berezovsky's supporters or they are neutral."


The government controls 51 percent of ORT. Other shareholders include a bank consortium holding 38 percent, Berezovsky's LogoVaz with 8 percent and Gazprom with the remaining 3 percent of shares. The bank consortium, comprised of SBS-Agro, Menatep Group, Alfa Bank and Berezovsky's own Obyedinyony Bank, is widely considered loyal to the Berezovsky camp.


The only person on the reconstituted board from whom Berezovsky is not expected to elicit support is Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev. But even he, observers say, remains neutral.


Control of ORT is important to the government because television wields enormous power in Russian politics. Favorable television coverage was crucial to President Boris Yeltsin's re-election victory last year.


Chubais and Berezovsky had been battling for control of the television station for years. The fight came to a head in August when a government supervisory commission headed by Chubais ally Maxim Boiko tried to reassert state control over the company.


But the private shareholders, led by Berezovsky, held firm. The effort fell apart when Chubais and Boiko were implicated in a scandal in which they were accused of accepting bribes in the form of a book advance. Boiko was dismissed from the government and Chubais' influence waned.


"It is clear that Berezovsky has resisted Chubais' attempts to control ORT," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.


In addition to getting a board to his liking, Berezovsky won approval of his proposal that a two-thirds majority be required for motions to carry, forcing the government to seek alliances with other shareholders.The Russian daily newspaper Kommersant Daily quoted Berezovsky as saying: "the balance of interests so crucial to ORT had been observed."


"Everyone agreed this time," said Grigory Simanovich, spokesman for ORT. "There were no quarrels."


Under the rules passed Thursday, ORT's new deputy chief Badri Patrkatishvili, who is considered to be Berezovsky's right-hand man, will have the sole authority to sign financial documents, Piontkowsky said.


But ORT spokesman Simanovich denied Friday that Berezovsky pulls the strings at the station. "It is just not true that Boris Abramovich [Berezovsky] either directs or influences the company," he said. "He has helped [our company] survive, compete and develop. He has been here since the beginning."


Simanovich said the balance of interests at ORT will be further guaranteed with the creation next month of a watchdog committee. Its several dozen members will be drawn from the ranks of the State Duma and Federation Council, as well as from the scientific, cultural and business communities, he said.


The committee's power will be limited, however, by virtue of its strictly consultative status. It will not be permitted to interfere either in decisions made by the Directors Council or in decisions concerning programming, Simanovich said.


One analyst decried the battle for control of the station and suggested it would be best for the country if the network reflected a greater variety of political voices.


"Those on the left find themselves completely without a voice," said Yelena Kornyeva, director of the ComCon Media Research Center. "The whole country is subject to the influence of a very narrow group of people with a lot of money."