|ISCIP Update |
News from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
Volume IV, Number 1 (19 November 2009)
No.1 (8 October 2008) Yushchenko dissolves Ukrainian parliament, exacerbating instability
No.1 (12 May 2008) Personnel changes begin in Kremlin
No.3 (4 June 2007) Lugovoi sheltered by Moscow
No.2 (23 April 2007) Boris Yel'tsin: The last day of an era past
No.1 (2 April 2007) Yushchenko dissolves parliament, new elections May 27
Kremlin cans media maven
By Susan J. Cavan, Deputy Director, ISCIP
On Tuesday evening, November 17, before flying to Stockholm for a special meeting on EU-Russian relations, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made the decision to dismiss one of his most senior advisers. According to the Kremlin website, Medvedev released “Mikhail Lesin from his duties as presidential adviser at his request.” (1)
Mikhail Lesin, the Presidential Adviser on Media Issues, was appointed to Medvedev’s Kremlin apparat in the week following his inauguration as president in May 2008. (2) For many years prior, Lesin had served in President Putin’s administration, both in the government and in the Kremlin advisory offices.
Lesin’s rise to prominence occurred in the midst of the first Putin administration’s struggle to wrest control of media outlets from powerful oligarchs. Some will remember the protests that attended key moments in the battle for what was often characterized as the fight for freedom of speech in Russia. At the time, media outlets in the hands of disparate Russian oligarchs conducted “proxy wars” against rivals by attacking the political officials closely associated with, or at least well-disposed towards, their competitors. While it would be difficult to deny the inherently political actions of the tycoons and their television and print outlets, at the time, there was also a robust political dialogue carried out through the Russian media that seems unimaginable among Russia’s present, more tightly controlled media.
At the height of the campaign against the media oligarchs, the owner of Media-MOST, Vladimir Gusinsky, was arrested. Eventually, Gusinsky was released and he sold his stake in Media-MOST (including the popular television station, NTV, as well as respected newspapers Itogi and Segodnya) to the state, in payment for a debt to Gazprom. (3)
In the midst of “negotiations” over the Media-MOST holdings, Gusinsky reportedly was forced by then Media Minister Mikhail Lesin to sign over his shares in return for a pledge of freedom from prosecution. (4) Gusinsky attempted, from relative safety out of Russia, to have the deal voided. While these attempts failed, he did manage to expose the details of the agreement, which bore Lesin’s signature. According to then Media Minister Lesin, he signed only as a witness to the deal (which he claimed was initiated by Gusinsky), and, in any event, the deal had been vetted by Putin’s government. Despite promises of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the transfer of ownership of one of Russia’s most fiercely independent media outlets, no details (nor even reprimands) followed.
While the Kremlin announcement of Lesin’s departure Tuesday was terse, Kommersant cites an anonymous Kremlin official who claims that Lesin was dismissed for “failure to observe the ethics of behaviors in state service and systematic disciplinary violations.” (5) The language coming from the Kremlin to describe Lesin’s behavior has been characterized as “unprecedentedly sharp formulations.” (6)
For his part, Lesin has declined comment on his dispatch, stating only: “At the present, I'm bound by certain obligations, according to which I cannot comment on the reasons for my resignation," … "And I don't have the moral right to break those obligations." (7)
President Medvedev has appeared reluctant to reshuffle his Kremlin advisers or government personnel, even in the wake of economic crisis. Traditionally, the dismissal of a senior official in the Kremlin entourage would suggest an underlying struggle among apparatchiki factions. It is possible, however, that Lesin fell afoul of a corruption investigation, or perhaps his tactics simply have outworn their welcome in Medvedev’s administration.
A clear indication will develop in coming days, if further personnel tremors shake the Kremlin.
(1) Dmitry Medvedev signed an order releasing Mikhail Lesin from his duties as presidential adviser at his request, 17 Nov 09, 21:50, Russian Federation President’s Website via http://eng.kremlin.ru/text/news/2009/11/222867.shtml.
(2) President Dmitry Medvedev made a number of appointments to the Presidential Executive Office, 14 May 08 via http://eng.kremlin.ru/text/news/2008/05/200690.shtml.
(3) Silenced by the state, (in Russia NTV taken over by Gazprom), By Robert Coalson, The Quill, 01 May 01 via http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-10790083_ITM. (Last accessed 19 Nov 09).
(4) AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, 0450 PDT, 20 Sep 00 via Cemail@example.com), cited in The NIS Observed, Vol V, No 14, 27 Sep 00 via http://www.bu.edu/iscip/digest/vol5/ed0514.html.
(5) Otsovetoval: Mikhail Lesin uvolen za hesoblyudenhie etiki,” gazeta Kommersant, 19 Nov 09, No 216 (4271) via http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1276974&print=true.
(7) Interfax report, 18 Nov 09 as cited in “Kremlin Media Adviser Sacked,” 19 Nov 09 The Moscow Times via http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/kremlin-media-adviser-sacked/389924.html.