In a move that Moscow media watchers are calling a publicity ploy, Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has threatened to hand back to the government his stake in Russia's largest broadcaster ORT.
In a letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin that was provided to the press, Berezovsky claimed that he has been put under pressure by the Kremlin for the channel's critical coverage of the Kursk submarine tragedy. He threatened to hand over his alleged 49% stake in the channel to a "committee of journalists and representatives of creative intelligentsia."
It is not clear who these representatives are, but ORT executives Konstantin Ernst and Sergei Dorenko and former Kremlin press chief Igor Shabdurasulov have been tipped as trustees. Berezovsky claimed that the government had threatened he could "follow in the footsteps of Gusinsky", the Media Most chief who was jailed earlier this year for fraud although the charges were subsequently dropped.
But most media observers responded cynically to the announcement labelling it an attempt by Berezovsky to portray himself as a champion of free speech. Russia's press minister said that he doubted this was Berezovsky's "final position" on the subject and that he knew of no such threats being made to the media tycoon.
If is unclear how big a stake Berezovsky actually owns in ORT. Officially Logovaz, a company connected to Berezovsky, owns 11% while OKB Bank, which is said to be backed by him, owns 38%.