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State Gas Monopoly Aims to Buy One of Last Independent Papers in Russia — Sources

Mos News | April 4 2006

Russia’s state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom is considering buying the influential liberal newspaper Kommersant, sources close to the monopoly and the current paper’s owner, told the Vedomosti business daily.

Negotiations between a subsidiary of Gazprom, which has already built up a wide-ranging media empire, “have already begun” with Kommersant’s owner, Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.

If confirmed, the deal would extend Kremlin influence over one of the last major media outlets in Russia not already owned by Gazprom or the state ahead of parliamentary elections in 2007 and a presidential election in 2008, when President Vladimir Putin is due to step down, AFX points out.

Patarkatsishvili, an associate of fugitive Russian businessman and fierce Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky, is himself wanted by Russian investigators and is conducting negotiations through an intermediary.

Vedomosti said that Patarkatsishvili wanted $350 million for the newspaper.

Gazprom-media already owns the NTV television channel, a controlling stake in Ekho Moskvy radio and also the nation’s longest established daily newspaper, Izvestia.

Ekho Moskvy and Izvestia still retain a degree of editorial independence, but have limited impact, while NTV’s coverage of controversial issues differs little from that of fully state-owned, pro-Putin national channels.

Otherwise, Russia’s opposition media has been reduced to a handful of small-circulation Moscow dailies and internet sites such as Gazeta.ru.

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