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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Saddam, Gusinsky and Berezovsky

Washington's relationship with Saddam Hussein strongly resembles the relationship between Russia's leaders and the media empires of Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky.

The United States backed the Iraqi dictator while he fought a bloody war with neighboring Iran. The Gusinsky and Berezovsky empires were built largely with government money for the purpose of providing democratic cover for Boris Yeltsin's bid to hold on to power. The United States turned a blind eye to Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction (specifically, chemical weapons) against Iran. Russian authorities encouraged, or at the very least did not discourage, Gusinsky's and Berezovsky's use of a weapon of mass destruction -- the power of television -- in the election campaigns of 1996, 1999 and 2000. At some point all three -- Hussein, Gusinsky and Berezovsky -- stopped obeying their patrons and began scheming against them. From that moment on, the United States and Russia declared war on their former clients.

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The goals of these wars are clear and noble. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, no U.S. president could countenance the continued existence of an unpredictable, bloodthirsty dictator who had already demonstrated his willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, no Russian president with the stated goal of creating a transparent, liberal economy could accept the existence of powerful media empires that made their living by attacking and shaking down the state and pretty much every major player in the Russian economy. But the means employed to achieve these goals, as well as their possible consequences, raise some important questions.

Did the United States really need to go to war with Iraq, falling out with its European allies and Russia in the process, when the United Nations was slowly but effectively forcing Iraq to disarm? Did the Russian authorities really need to raise the ire of Europe and the United States by sending masked men with machine guns into Gusinsky's office and throwing Gusinsky himself into prison when Media-MOST's enormous debts made the takeover by Gazprom inevitable in any case? The U.S. attack on Iraq has dealt a huge blow to the entire system of international law. Will the world after Hussein be any safer as a result? Will the Russian media become more independent and responsible now that Gusinsky and Berezovsky have been forced into exile? No one has the answers to these questions. Only time will tell.

In any case, now that U.S. President George W. Bush has resorted to the use of force, he would do well to learn the lessons of Vladimir Putin's attempts to restore order after the fighting is done.

Having neutralized Gusinsky and Berezovsky, the Kremlin clearly felt a sense of guilt toward the journalists, in particular toward the so-called Yevgeny Kiselyov team. One year ago, the Kremlin gave Kiselyov a broadcasting license, forced a large group of oligarchs to back him financially and assigned "political officers" to monitor both the journalists and their backers. Not a month had gone by before the new station, TVS, was rocked by scandal. The oligarchs began to fight among themselves. In its first year, the station has had three general directors. The oligarchs say the journalists want too much money, and the journalists say the oligarchs aren't putting enough money into the station.

The journalists are also fighting among themselves. A number of freedom-loving news anchors sent a collective letter to Kiselyov demanding that Grigory Krichevsky be removed from his post as the head of news programming. Kiselyov duly removed him. This "conflict" was hotly debated last week in the Moscow press. The Kremlin was to blame yet again. If Putin were to offer Bush one piece of advice, it could well be: Don't lose your nerve. It's not enough to destroy Hussein and his sons. Take no prisoners from among their cronies, either.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (www.sreda-mag.ru)