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Financial Times (UK)
28 February 2001
Russian TV chief to fight closure ruling
By Andrew Jack in Moscow

The head of one of Russia's leading privately held television channels on Tuesday pledged to fight a court order threatening its imminent closure, which he said was politically motivated.

Yevgenny Kiselyov, general director of the TV6 network and its star commentator, claimed that President Vladimir Putin was personally aware of the judicial decision, which he said had been made "not in the courtroom but in the Kremlin".

His comments came after the Moscow arbitration court on Monday upheld an earlier ruling in favour of winding up the network following a petition launched this summer by Lukoil Garant, the pension fund of the Lukoil oil group, a 15 per cent minority shareholder.

The move comes at a time when media attention is largely focused on the war in Afghanistan and western countries have taken a more sympathetic line towards Russia in the wake of its co-operation. It follows widespread concern over freedom of the media following the takeover this spring of another television channel, NTV, by state-backed Gazprom.

Lukoil argued that it had been excluded from decision-making at the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation, the holding company for TV6, after top management changes imposed by Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled business "oligarch" who controls 75 per cent.

Mr Berezovsky offered Mr Kiselyov the post as general director of TV6 and allowed him to take many of his former colleagues and some programmes.

Mr Berezovsky, who claims to have been instrumental in the election of Mr Putin as president, broke with him last year and left Russia. He has since made no secret of his desire to use TV6 as a vehicle for provocation, and recently launched an opposition political party.

Mr Kiselyov has maintained the periodically critical line towards the Kremlin administration adopted during his time at NTV, although TV6's prominence in recent weeks has largely been the result of a racy "reality show" called Behind the glass.

TV6 has long made losses and has failed in past efforts to find a foreign investor, although Pavel Korchagin, executive director, said on Tuesday that it should break even this year on a turnover of $40m, and had $36m in assets compared with $34m in liabilities.

Mr Kiselyov said that even if TV6 were profitable, the court decision would have been identical. He said the company would appeal against this week's ruling, but said the chances of success were "not very great".

Lukoil, which also holds a minority stake in the daily newspaper Izvestiya, refused to comment, although Mr Berezovsky has claimed that Vagit Alekperov, the oil company's head, had come under Kremlin pressure to launch the legal action, and spurned his offer to buy out Lukoil's stake.

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