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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Escalates Its War On NTV

The presidential administration lashed out Tuesday against the media empire of Vladimir Gusinsky, saying President Boris Yeltsin was "alarmed" by its "impermissible" pressure on the government.

The Kremlin and its surrogates have been fighting a propaganda war with Gusinsky, owner of independent NTV television, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who is out of favor with the Kremlin but has been given a bully pulpit by NTV.

Gusinsky's Media-MOST on Friday accused Yeltsin's chief of staff, Alexander Voloshin, of trying to badger the company with investigations of its finances by the tax authorities.

In response, Voloshin said the president "was alarmed by the continuing pressure on the government by such an influential and respected media channel as the NTV broadcasting company and other media controlled by Media-MOST holding," Interfax reported. The aide was careful to add that Yeltsin remains a "believer in the freedom of the press."

Stepping up his attacks against the independent television station, Voloshin said NTV had received extensive government financial help, "more than the financing given to all government media taken together," Interfax reported.

It wasn't clear what support Voloshin was talking about. Yeltsin has given NTV guarantees that allow it to send its signal on government transmission facilities at the same rates that are enjoyed by ORT and RTR - both government stations. It also got a government loan to help launch its own independent satellite.

Voloshin accused NTV of wanting more government help, and of running an "information racket" to get it. This is an "impermissible" way of solving the company's financial troubles, he said.

Yeltsin himself did not appear on television to comment on the matter, which appeared to be as much Voloshin's personal answer to Gusinsky as it was a response from the president. Media-MOST responded to Voloshin's attack with a statement carried on NTV. "Mr. Voloshin is lying," the statement read. "Media-MOST has never received financial help from the government. Mr. Voloshin is using methods of political racketeering and blackmail."

Media-MOST controls NTV, radio station Ekho Moskvy, the Itogi news weekly and the Segodnya daily newspaper. The Sem Dnei publishing house, parent company of Itogi and Segodnya, has been visited by the tax authorities, Segodnya reported last week under the headline, "Hello from the Kremlin."

With presidential elections approaching next year, Yeltsin and his advisers are seeking to tighten control of the essential sources of power and money - among them, the large state-owned enterprises and the news media. Voloshin, for instance, chairs the board of the national electricity utility UES and sits on the board of ORT government television.

It was ORT that two weeks ago reported that NTV was heavily in debt. NTV responded with a scathing report about what it called Voloshin's fraudulent business activities before he went to work in the Kremlin. ORT, though nominally government owned, is believed to be heavily influenced by minority shareholder Boris Berezovsky, a financial mogul with close Kremlin ties.

NTV, on the other hand, has given extensive air time to likely presidential contender Luzhkov, who is viewed with distrust by the Kremlin. Even though Yeltsin is legally barred from running again in 2000, he and his inner circle - including Voloshin - are expected to seek a deciding say in who succeeds them.

An unfriendly successor could mean the cancellation of sweetheart privatizations that have enriched Yeltsin's supporters - and even lead to politically charged corruption proceedings against Yeltsin or his entourage.

Luzhkov has criticized Voloshin for allegedly sending security agents to examine bank accounts belonging to a company run by Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, aspart of a wider investigation of suspected illegal hard currency export. Voloshin denies that.

The attack against Voloshin moved on to one of his family members Tuesday, when the weekly Versiya published an article reporting that Voloshin's son, Ilya, 23, had confessed to taking part in an Internet scam in which goods were ordered using stolen credit card numbers.

The newspaper said that Ilya, though he resembled his father, at least lacked the senior Voloshin's "uneven and unattractive bald spot," as Versiya put it.

The report carried a copy of what purported to be the younger Voloshin's handwritten statement to investigators. Police and prosecutors were not available Tuesday to confirm or deny the report.