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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Berezovsky's ORT Talk a PR Stunt

Boris Berezovsky says he has half a mind to return his 49 percent stake in ORT television to the state. Not, of course, forever. Only "in trust."

Why? Berezovsky says he thinks the state, which holds the remaining 51 percent of the nation's No. 1 television station, should cough up more budget money. "I don't want to spend a lot of money on [ORT]," Berezovsky explained this week in a Radio Liberty interview. "I have never received economic profits from ORT. Political [profits]? Unlimited. Economic? None."

So in other words, Berezovsky wants the state to underwrite his political profits. He wants to keep the station as his personal Ministry of Truth f but he also wants the public to pay more for the privilege of being manipulated.

On Berezovsky's watch at ORT, his pet anchorman, Sergei Dorenko, has advocated genocide in Chechnya while Kremlin opponents have been smeared with outrageous propaganda, including unflattering associations with gays, Jews and prostitutes.

Those urging President Vladimir Putin to clean up the country might have expected him to start with ORT. It's privatization has always been murky: We have no idea how Berezovsky came to control 49 percent of the station, for example. (In fact, the Radio Liberty interview marks the first confirmation we know of that Berezovsky actually controls the entire 49 percent that's in private hands).

But of course, Putin was plucked from obscurity by the Yeltsin/Berezovsky "family" and then elected on the back of ORT propaganda. Berezovsky has said Putin always returns his calls and has touchingly recounted how Putin came to the birthday party of Berezovsky's wife to pay respects. Putin has never challenged such claims. So only the most stubborn wishful thinkers should have been surprised last month when Berezovsky easily installed his alliesf including his daughter f on the ORT board.

Now Berezovsky is again counting on the power of such wishful thinking. He frankly offers the other reason he wants to loan the Kremlin back his 49 percent stake: "So that no one will be saying, 'What has Dorenko said there? Did Berezovsky prompt him to this? f I don't want to explain anything to anyone anymore. Let [Kremlin Chief of Staff Alexander] Voloshin explain."

This is reminiscent of Berezovsky's unwelcome takeover of Kommersant last year: Within days, Kommersant was announcing fire inspectors had shut it down, for a day, at Mayor Yury Luzhkov's evil orders. Berezovsky is a master of such PR stunts f turning his tools overnight into "embattled free media." His next trick? To win more state money for ORT and revive its credibility by making a public exit f if only for a while.