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Media Mogul's Arrest Raises Doubts About Putin's Commitment to Civil Freedoms

Aired June 14, 2000 - 2:37 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In Russia, the arrest of a major media mogul is raising questions about the new president, Vladimir Putin, and his position on civil freedoms. That story from CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Russian president again steps out on the international stage on a European tour, Moscow is again under scrutiny: not for conflict in Chechnya this time, but for media freedom and the Kremlin's record since Vladimir Putin was elected to power.

Mr. Putin denies it, but the guests on this late-night Russian talk show are convinced he is behind the arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky, a media baron who owns this national independent television channel and other media companies critical of the Russian government. The authorities say Mr. Gusinsky is being investigated for the alleged embezzlement of state-owned properties worth millions of dollars. But here there is anger and concern, and talk of more sinister motives.

EVGENYA ALBATS, JOURNALIST: I'm very much afraid that we are on the eve of very harsh events in Russia, and definitely there is no reason. Definitely, press will be the first victim of the new Russian administration.

CHANCE: Vladimir Gusinsky is himself not a journalist, but a prominent and wealthy Russian businessman, one of the powerful oligarchs with connections and great influence in modern Russia. But the critical stance of his media companies has placed him increasingly at odds with the Russian leadership.

In April, there was alarm in Russia and abroad as tax police, heavily armed and wearing black masks, raided the offices of Media- Most, the company Gusinsky runs. It was, the authorities said, part of an ongoing investigation into the financial affairs of the company.

But there were protests and accusations of government heavy- handedness. Vladimir Putin moved to assure Russians, and later visiting dignitaries, like President Clinton, that the country's independent media was safe in his hands.

(on camera): But safe is not how many independent Russian journalists now feel. And detaining Vladimir Gusinsky, whether or not he is involved in financial misdealing, has done little to ease their concerns.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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