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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oligarchs Just Come And Go

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Almost seven years ago now, shortly after Boris Yeltsin had managed to win election to a second term, thanks in large part to the men who would soon become known as the oligarchs, Independent Media sold a 10 percent stake to Menatep.

The deal caused a fuss in The Moscow Times newsroom at the time, as journalists feared they might be pressured to soften their coverage of Menatep and Yukos -- in which Menatep had just won a controlling stake during the rigged loans-for-shares auctions -- or that what they did write might be read with suspicion.

Even our own story announcing the deal quoted the dean of MGU's journalism faculty warning that it could infringe on our independence.

Those fears were soon put to rest. We continued to produce critical and objective coverage of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his companies, while fending off the occasional phone call from our new shareholder, who seemed to understand in principle if not always in practice the concept of an independent press.

Vladimir Potanin can have no illusions that we will write any differently now about Interros and Norilsk Nickel. He has only to look back through our stories over the years about his predecessor.

One particularly memorable one, written by Jeanne Whalen, now of The Wall Street Journal, and published on Aug. 25, 1998, tells of the troubles in a Siberian oil town after the local oil producer was acquired by Yukos. It describes Khodorkovsky as "the most vilified representative of Yukos" and ends with a quote from a local businessman saying "if Khodorkovsky walked out onto the main square, people would throw stones at him."

Khodorkovsky and his fellow banker-oligarchs also get no sympathy in a Dec. 29, 1998, story summing up that year of financial collapse: "They accumulated billions on currency speculation, handling budget funds, 'winning' inside privatizations, and speculating on the domestic T-bill market, only to watch much of it vanish when the government announced it would default on domestic debt. Justice was served."

Even in recent years, The Moscow Times has not blindly jumped on the Western PR bandwagon for the new, transparent Yukos.

Our new 35 percent shareholder, Prof-Media, has bought into Independent Media with the understanding that it will have no influence over the editorial policy of its two newspapers. And we know it will not.

We at The Moscow Times are all for minority shareholder rights when it comes to running a business, but in our newsroom the majority shareholder's journalistic team makes all the decisions.