Bank Rossiya co-owner Oleg Rudnov has taken control of Komsomolskaya Pravda, a step seen as concentrating the popular media in the hands of Kremlin loyalists ahead of the presidential election.
Rudnov, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin’s, bought a majority stake in the mass-circulation tabloid from Grigory Beryozkin’s ESN Group, a holding believed to be allied with Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin.
The buyout comes a week after Kommersant reported that a majority stake in another leading pro-Kremlin daily, Izvestia, was being sold by Gazprom-Media to Bank Rossiya’s insurance unit, Sogaz.
“We had a meeting yesterday and we elected the board of directors. We are yet to elect the board chairman, but I’m sure that this will be Rudnov,” Vladimir Sungorkin, editor of KP, the country’s largest-circulation daily, said by telephone Thursday. “This is only a formality.”
Sungorkin said the paper’s editorial policy was unlikely to change. “Everything will stay the way it is,” he said.
Rudnov heads The Baltic Media Group, a holding that includes regional newspapers, a radio station and television channel in St. Petersburg. His main interests are in Bank Rossiya, which he owns jointly with business partner Yury Kovalchuk, who is also a Putin ally.
Kovaluchuk’s brother Mikhail, the director of the Kurchatov Institute, is head of the State Nanotechnology Corporation. Yury Kovalchuk also has media assets, including a controlling stake in Ren-TV and a 35 percent stake in the St. Petersburg TV and Radio Company. “It would have been impossible for a paper that loves Putin so much to end up in the hands of someone who didn’t love him,” said Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations. “The Kremlin never would have allowed a paper with such a circulation to be bought by someone who was not loyal.”
In July, the ESN Group increased its share of KP, buying a 25.05 percent stake from Norway’s A-pressen, Interfax reported. Representatives of ESN Group could not be reached for comment. Last year, Gazprom-Media held a series of talks with Prof-Media, KP’s previous owner, fueling speculation of a buyout.
But after months of intensive negotiations, Gazprom’s representatives said they were negotiating on behalf of the ESN Group. ESN has close ties with Yakunin, who is also a longtime ally of Putin’s, RBK Daily reported in January.
Yevgeny Kiselyov, a political talk show host on Ekho Moskvy radio, linked the decision to sell the paper with the aftermath of the realignment of forces in the presidential race.
“People like Yakunin have bought media to use them as a tool during a potential presidential campaign,” Kiselyov said. “They might have decided to sell the paper to someone else close to Putin because the political configuration of the country has changed.”
Now that it is clear that Putin’s protege Dmitry Medvedev will probably be the next president, Yakunin does not need the paper anymore, Kiselyov said.
ESN Group announced plans this fall to create a regional radio network on the basis of Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Tai Adelaja and Francesca Mereu