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Gessen and Quinn-Judge

Welcome Back

Gessen and Quinn-Judge

Welcome Back
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 14 1998 10:25 AM

Gessen and Quinn-Judge

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A great welcome back you had.

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What do you think is going to be left of the Most media empire, your employers, six months from now? Their TV seems to be fading by the day. I was struck last night, banally perhaps, by the fact that there were hardly any ads during NTV's prime time movie. The film broke for commercials by some sort of primeval reflex every twenty minutes or so but had nothing to show. The collapse of the economy has affected us much less (other than $13 packets of Kellogg's cereal). But it is weird to have to travel to another country every couple of weeks to pick up a bundle of dollars to keep the office running. We bring in relatively small amounts, though more cash than I have ever carried in my life. Some news organizations are carrying in close to $100,000 a time, though, and companies even more. Far more than I want to have lying around my office in this city.

The paper delivery system was in remission today: They were actually here by the time I returned from taking my daughter to school. The sea change in the coverage of Yeltsin's health over the past six months or so is interesting. After denying it was a problem in 1996 and then treading lightly around it for a while thereafter, the media here is now rubbing everyone's nose in it. I'm thinking of the discussions, in the media and elsewhere this week, about whether Yeltsin has Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. The speculation about his health, the hunt for the killer disease, reminds me more of late period Ferdinand Marcos than Brezhnev. Perhaps because the future after Yeltsin is less clear than it was when Brezhnev was foundering.

What I found much more disturbing than the gaga president, though, was a graf buried in an article in Kommersant on Yeltsin's visit to Uzbekistan. Under the terms of an agreement signed this week between Uzbekistan and Russia, Kommersant reports, each country's security organizations will be able to operate on each other's soil. To quote Kommersant, "The Uzbek organs of state security can track down, and with the assistance of their Russian colleagues, detain for example their fellow countrymen whose actions are punishable under the Uzbek criminal code, but are not considered a crime in Russia." Track down dissidents, in other words.

Other nasty signs that the security organs are alive and well, of course, are the trials of Alexander Nikitin in St. Petersburg and Grigory Pasko in Vladivostok. Pasko, our readers might not know, is a military journalist who has been accused of treason, and is currently being held in strict isolation. As the daily Segodnya put it today, Pasko's crime was to tell an international environmental symposium in Japan that atomic waste from the Pacific Fleet's nuclear submarines was being dumped in the open sea, with horrendous consequences for marine life. His big problem, legally speaking, may be that he gave a precise location of the dump site. Pasko's trial could begin this week, but it will probably be closed to the public and press. The betting is that he will get a hefty sentence. Nikitin's case looks slightly more promising, in part because of the publicity he has received. He's a former Navy captain who has also been charged with treason. He was tracking similar problems for the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona. Since was arrested in early 1996, though, his life has been pretty much ruined.

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Talk to you later, P.

Masha Gessen is chief of reporting at the Russian newsmagazine Itogi and author of Dead Again: The Russian Intelligentsia After Communism. Paul Quinn-Judge is Time's Moscow bureau chief.