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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cultural Figures Join ORT Board

Cultural figures including film director Nikita Mikhalkov and Hermitage museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky replaced people like Boris Berezovsky's daughter Yekaterina and most-trusted journalist, Sergei Dorenko, on the board of directors of the nation's biggest television channel, ORT, at its general shareholders meeting Friday.

The meeting was originally scheduled for June 29 but was postponed because the proposed board made up entirely of government officials "did not reflect the essence of public television," Press Minister Mikhail Lesin said at the time. Last week, sources in the ministry floated the idea of having no government officials on the board.

The new board consists of President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Alexei Gromov, First Deputy Property Minister Alexander Braverman, North Ossetia President Alexander Dzasokhov, First Deputy Press Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky, ORT general director Konstantin Ernst, his first deputy Alexander Lyubimov, former editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta Vitaly Tretyakov, Mikhalkov, Piotrovsky, lyricist Ilya Reznik and composer Alexander Chaikovsky.

"For the first time since ORT [or Public Russian Television] was created, its public status is confirmed not in name alone, but on paper," Lyubimov was quoted by Kommersant newspaper as saying Friday.

The company's ownership structure, however, has remained nontransparent, and the government is set to call the shots at the 51 percent state-owned television station.

Traditionally, ORT's board had little influence on the channel's operations but was seen as an indicator of the balance of forces between the Kremlin and Berezovsky. Earlier this year, Roman Abramovich, oil tycoon and Chukotka governor, reportedly bought out Berezovsky's 49 percent on behalf of the government.

Radio Liberty media analyst Anna Kachkayeva said in a telephone interview Sunday that it was still unclear who was behind the privately held 49 percent.

"So far, it only looks like a cosmetic observance of democratic procedure," she said.

Instead of Berezovsky's LogoVAZ, ORT's charter now shows a mysterious OOO Betos with 11 percent. Radio Liberty reported that the company is registered in an offshore zone in Kalmykia. Thirty-eight percent is still held by a company called ORT-Consortium of Banks, whose ownership structure has never been revealed.

Ernst said Friday that ORT plans to refinance its $100 million debt from Vneshekonombank, granted in 1999. "We will take a loan from another bank and are currently negotiating with several companies," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Kommersant reported Saturday that under the debt refinancing scheme, ORT is likely to put up as much as 80 percent of its shares as collateral. At present, only 13 percent of the company's shares are held as collateral by Vneshekonombank.