Chubais to sell stake in Russia’s TVS web

Move may result in rival Deripaska controlling station

MOSCOW — Ownership structures at Russia’s TVS channel face radical changes, after shareholder Anatoly Chubais announced late Thursday that he will sell his stake in the station.

Move should end a long-running clash of interests that has seen Chubais and allies, who together controlled 45% of the company, locked in conflict with rival Oleg Deripaska, who held a similar stake.

In the year since it first went on air, staffed mainly by veterans of NTV, the station has suffered from both considerable financial problems and lack of clarity over its concept.

Chubais’ announcement came in response to a proposal from Deripaska either to buy the controlling stake or to sell his own stake to Chubais if the latter came through with a bid. The rumored sum was $10 million, plus forgiveness on any share of existing debts.

Though Thursday’s announcement suggested that Chubais would sell his stake to Oleg Kiselyev and Igor Linshits, fellow shareholders from his own camp, the expected end result will be that Deripaska, a metals magnate, will come to own or control the full 90% of station. The remaining 10% stake is divided between its managers and journalists.

Sources within TVS admit that morale has been low for months, with wage arrears leading to threatened walkouts. Many of the top faces who originally followed director general Yevgeny Kiselyev when he walked out of NTV at the end of a bitter political battle are now to be seen on other channels.

More pressing is the need to stop the partial switchoff of the channel’s signal in Moscow that has been ongoing in recent days.

The city-owned cable operator that transmits to the majority of Moscow homes claims that TVS has an outstanding debt of $8.2 million. The channel disputes this.

Business problems aside, the channel faces a hot political year as well. With both presidential and parliamentary elections coming up in Russia in that period, the largely independent –and often critical — political line at TVS looks set to be squarely tested.