Trying to read Russia's power struggle

Rob Schaap rws at
Fri Aug 25 23:03:09 PDT 2000

G'day Observers,

Today's *Australian* puts a typically formal-liberal freedom-of-the-press spin on this story, but for those of us who've been keeping a wary eye on vicious power struggles around the Kremlin (ya there, Chris?) might discern a certain intensification of proceedings in the Kursk fall-out (hope that was a 'figurative 'fall-out', btw). Certainly, Russia's media have had a lot to do with western perceptions of the story. We've all seen the syringe beat-up by now, but everything else I've heard since those 118 lads died is (a) Russia's unprofessional, unpaid maintenance and on-board crews; (b) Russia's useless rescue technology; (c) Russia's people-killing obsession with cold-war-level secrecy; (d) Putin's heartless holiday; (e) Putin changes his story all the time; (e) Putin changes his mind all the time; (f) Putin has not shown sufficient resolve against those nasty Dagestani crewmen who sabotaged the Kursk; (f) Putin hates servicemen and their parents.

Yet, for all we know, a sub unluckily hit an old mine, and, due to extensive damage and a 60-degree lie, proved harder to enter than had been expected!

I don't have any time for Putin, but Gusinsky's robber-baron movement and Berezovsky's goose-stepper contingent have well and truly shown their hand this time, and Putin has duly removed the gloves. An ugly and fairly imminent reckoning seems indicated, doncha think?

Cheers, Rob.

Putin bares teeth at watchdog media

To the Kremlin's dismay, the Russian media have been fearlessly investigating the Kursk tragedy. But Vladimir Putin is fighting back, writes Europe correspondent




FACING the sternest test of his short presidency, Russia's Vladimir Putin has turned viciously on the local media, accusing them of profiteering and undermining the armed forces through their coverage of the Kursk disaster.

Mr Putin has been buffeted by blanket criticism of his refusal to break his summer holiday to take personal charge of the unsuccessful bid to rescue the crew of the sunken submarine and, now, the hamfisted handling of the relatives' grief.

Reports emerged last night of his attempt to deflect blame to the media during his emotional encounter with the grieving families earlier this week.

Contrary to the calm and orderly exchanges recorded in video excerpts released by the Kremlin, Mr Putin was confronted on Tuesday by widows howling for an explanation of why they were fed so much contradictory information about their husbands' survival prospects.

Early bulletins from the navy had suggested all 118 on board the submarine were alive, when in fact there was only a remote possibility that anyone had lived through the devastating explosions that ripped through the nuclear submarine two weeks ago.

Mr Putin blamed the media in what Russian journalists who infiltrated the closed meeting described as his fiercest attack on press freedom since his election five months ago.

They quoted Mr Putin as saying: "They are liars. The television has people who have been destroying the state for 10 years.

"They have been thieving money and buying up absolutely everything. Now they are trying to discredit the country so that the army gets even worse."

Mr Putin lashed out again at the media in a television interview on Wednesday night, threatening to punish two key proprietors who had formerly numbered among his staunchest supporters.

While he failed to refer by name to Boris Berezovsky, who controls the main state channel, ORT, and Valdimir Gusinsky, head of the biggest private station, NTV, Mr Putin sent a powerful signal that he had broken with the so-called oligarchs.

In a clear reference to the pair, he said: "They had better sell their villas on the Mediterranean coast of France or Spain. Then they might have to explain why all this property is registered in false names under front law firms.

"Perhaps we would ask them where they got the money."

Much to the Kremlin's dismay, the Russian media have been energetically exploring the Kursk tragedy, exposing navy hypocrisy and Kremlin cover-ups, providing the names of the dead when the authorities refused to do so, criticising the delay in accepting offers of international assistance and frustrating official attempts to control the coverage.

To compound Mr Putin's woes, a British member of the Anglo-Norwegian rescue team that arrived too late to help went public with criticism yesterday that the Russians had frustrated their efforts.

"Any arrangement or proposed operation that they spoke about was rescinded, gone back on, altered or countermanded," said Paddy Heron, a British crewman on the mother ship, Norman Pioneer.

The leader of the Norwegian diving contingent, Rear Admiral Einar Skorgen, said he was so frustrated with the Russians that he had at one point threatened to call off the operation.

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