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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: Stripper Scandal Fizzles Out




The media's ultimate goal, a visionary might argue, is to bring people together in our small world. In that case, there is cause for celebration in the new alliance between Alexander Korzhakov and Boris Berezovsky, who have come together thanks to their media interests.


Korzhakov, until 1996 Russia's most powerful man as President Boris Yeltsin's chief bodyguard, close friend and confidant, seems to have no personal affection for Berezovsky, who made the bulk of his fortune during Korzhakov's years in power.


"He used to come into my office sideways with a scuffed briefcase under his arm ... and beg for some tea and sandwiches. Naturally, they brought him a whole tray, and he quietly ate everything on it. I resented the waste of my time, but I was sorry for the hungry man," Korzhakov once reminisced about the tycoon.


But Berezovsky and Korzhakov have two things in common -- a great gift for intrigue and a consuming hatred for the "young reformers," first deputy prime ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. For the last couple of weeks the former bodyguard and the magnate have cooperated in creating a sex scandal involving Nemtsov. They have not been particularly successful, but not for lack of trying.


One or the other of the two seemed to test the waters two weeks ago when the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a story about Nemtsov at a striptease show at a country retreat owned by Vladimir Potanin's Uneximbank. The story was based on an interview with one of the strippers, Tamara Barilo, who allegedly decided to spill the beans when she failed to receive the promised payment for taking part in the show.


The implications of the story are quite serious. It's not just that Nemtsov is married -- politicians and men in general are more easily forgiven for infidelity in Russia than, say, in the United States. But what is the first deputy prime minister doing watching exotic dancers at Potanin's country house? What else does Potanin do for Nemtsov besides entertaining him in this fashion? And how does Nemtsov show his gratitude to Potanin?


My guess is that it was Korzhakov's people who put the stripper in touch with Moskovsky Komsomolets. The former bodyguard had made exclusive anti-Chubais kompromat available to the daily before.


However, the story did not spread. More serious journalists than those who work for MK must have balked at trusting an embittered stripper. Besides, the article did not suggest that Nemtsov did anything really improper. According to Barilo, he just sat and watched.


Then came the major onslaught. The monthly Lyudi printed a long piece on Potanin's country place, called Luzhki, the frequent erotic shows that are supposedly staged there and Nemtsov's alleged attendance at these shows.


The issue of Lyudi was sent to a lot of non-subscribers, including me and other Moscow editors. Lyudi editor Yelena Erikssen said she was in possession of a tape of the strip show, and that Nemtsov was on the tape. Erikssen, it should be noted, is believed to be the ghost-writer of Korzhakov's tell-all memoir, "Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Dusk." Erikssen denies this, but not her acquaintance with Korzhakov -- in fact, she calls herself his "close personal friend." Korzhakov is said to have helped finance the start-up of Lyudi.


Last Saturday, Berezovsky used his own heavy artillery. Sergei Dorenko interviewed some strippers on his weekly current affairs program Vremya, which airs on ORT, the television network Berezovsky controls as his own fiefdom.


The attacks forced Nemtsov to issue a strangely worded denial. "There are no revealing materials concerning any striptease, nothing that could serve as grounds for accusing me of immoral behavior," Nemtsov said, according to Interfax. Well, was there a strip show at Luzhki, and did he attend it? These questions were left unanswered.


The scandal, however, fizzled after Dorenko's program. Serious journalists were still wary of the sexy, but shaky, story. Even Berezovsky's own papers were not impressed -- Nezavisimaya Gazeta ignored the scandal, and Noviye Izvestia only mentioned it in passing. Berezovsky's major ally in the media war on Chubais and Nemtsov, Vladimir Gusinsky, is an old Korzhakov enemy, so Gusinsky's NTV gave the story no play except on the rarely-watched Media Rating program, whose host accused Erikssen of blackmail and doubted she had a tape of Nemtsov with the strippers.


So, this was a defeat for the Korzhakov-Berezovsky duo. What will they come up with now?