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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oligarchs Join SPS in Bid For TV6

For MTAnatoly Chubais
A businessman who is part of a consortium negotiating with ousted TV6 journalists to make a bid for the station's broadcast license has announced the names of the other participants, some of the wealthiest and best-connected businessmen in the country.

The Union of Right Forces, or SPS, is said to be behind the consortium negotiations, which appear to have the Kremlin's support. The consortium could be a convenient way out of a public relations problem for a Kremlin fending off accusations of stifling press freedom, because it would allow the old TV6 team to stay afloat while separating it from its previous financial backers -- Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky -- who were Kremlin opponents.

After more than a week of speculation, Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, an SPS leader, confirmed on Tuesday that he is taking part. He said he is participating as a private individual.

Oleg Kiselyov, in an interview with Kommersant newspaper published Wednesday, named the others: Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich, former MDM Bank chairman Alexander Mamut, Russian Aluminum director Oleg Deripaska, United Heavy Machinery head Kakha Bendukidze, Vimpelcom mobile operator president Yevgeny Zimin, MDM Bank head Andrei Melnichenko, AFK Sistema holding company chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov and Siberian-Urals Aluminum Co. president Viktor Vekselberg. Others were still welcome to join, Kiselyov said.

He could not be reached Wednesday, but a spokesman said Kiselyov stepped down from his position as chairman of metals holding Metalloinvest on Wednesday in part to work on the TV6 deal.

In the Kommersant interview, Kiselyov said the talks between the consortium of potential investors and the group of former TV6 journalists headed by Yevgeny Kiselyov were reaching final stages ahead of a tender on March 27. A formal agreement could be reached next week, he said.

Yevgeny Kiselyov, speaking Tuesday on Ekho Moskvy radio, had refused to name members of the consortium, but said the TV6 team has held serious talks with two groups of investors.

He outlined five principles he said his team would not violate. The journalists would not be influenced by any political parties, politicians or business interests, he said, and would uphold "liberal democratic values."

"We will be a mirror in which the authorities will be able to see how they appear in the eyes of the electorate," Yevgeny Kiselyov added.

Oleg Kiselyov responded in the Kommersant interview by saying the potential investors fully support those principles.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, and Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center agreed that SPS was behind the initiative, seeing it as a way to demonstrate its liberal credentials.

"SPS is trying to save face," Panfilov said. "They supported the Kremlin too much in the past, especially during the takeover of NTV."

Ryabov said the consortium appears to have won the backing of President Vladimir Putin, despite some objections from the group of security and intelligence officials close to him. "[Oleg] Kiselyov's interview in Kommersant isn't a coincidence," Ryabov said. "It shows they [the consortium members] feel bolder and don't have to obscure their intentions."

Oleg Kiselyov said he did not know whether the Kremlin approved of the consortium. "I didn't hold negotiations with the Kremlin," he said, adding, "I don't have any information about whether they [the consortium's other participants] coordinated their positions with the Kremlin."

Consortium members have agreed that no one investor would be able to hold a controlling stake, according to Kommersant, which is owned by Berezovsky. Journalists and management of the old TV6 will also hold shares, which the paper said likely will not exceed 10 percent.

Panfilov said that would not be enough to ensure the station's independence from Kremlin pressure. "If the investors together own more than 50 percent, the Kremlin might come to an agreement with them," he said.

Ryabov said that while the consortium members would probably try to preserve friendly relations with the Kremlin, they might push for increasing independence in the long term.

Panfilov disagreed. "It's clear the investors are close to the Kremlin in varying degrees," he said. "There's no doubt that Roman Abramovich, for instance, would not have become governor without the Kremlin's acquiescence."

Yevgeny Kiselyov and a core group of journalists left Gusinsky's NTV television last April when it was forcibly taken over by gas monopoly Gazprom, a shareholder. The journalists found refuge at TV6, 75 percent owned by Berezovsky, a onetime Kremlin insider who became an outspoken denouncer of Putin.

TV6's broadcast license was revoked last month after a politically charged court battle. Its shutdown left all remaining national television stations under Kremlin control.

When the first reports about a Chubais consortium appeared a week and a half ago, former Gazprom-Media director Alfred Kokh, who led the takeover of NTV, was listed among the investors. He has since pulled out, Kommersant reported Wednesday.