MOSCOW, April 23 A Russian businessman reported
to have close ties to President Vladimir Putin is in talks to
buy one of the country's biggest cable operators in a deal worth
over $1 billion, Kommersant newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The newspaper quoted sources close to the shareholders of
National Media Group, who include Yuri Kovalchuk, as saying the
group was negotiating the purchase of a 51 percent stake in the
National Telecommunications company.
The firm owns the cable networks in Moscow and other big
cities used to carry Internet and cable television traffic. It
is owned by oil-to-metals magnate Suleiman Kerimov.
Kommersant said steelmaker Severstal (CHMF.MM) and oil
company Surgutneftegas (SNGS.MM) were also taking part in the
deal with each firm negotiating the purchase of 12 percent
The National Media Group said no one was available for
comment. A spokeswoman for Surgutneftegas declined to comment. A
source familiar with the situation said Severstal was not
involved in the deal, but that it may be a private project of
Severstal main shareholder Alexei Mordashov.
Under Putin's eight-year rule, ownership of the Russia's
biggest television stations and newspapers has been concentrated
in the hands of state corporations or Kremlin-friendly
At the same time, major media have become deferential in
their coverage of the Kremlin and the opposition alleges it is
almost excluded from the airwaves.
Free speech campaigners say the Internet is the last bastion
for political debate still outside the state's control. Some
campaigners warn that this sector of the media is now in the
Putin is to step down on May 7 when his protege Dmitry
Medvedev will be sworn in as president. Putin will stay on as
prime minister and is expected to keep his grip on the levers of
The Russian edition of Forbes magazine for the first time
this year included Kovalchuk in its list of the country's 100
richest people, estimating his wealth at $1.9 billion.
Kovalchuk's Bank of Russia is the main shareholder in the
National Media Group, Kommersant reported. National Media Group
already owns two second-tier national television stations,
Ren-TV and Fifth channel.
(Reporting by Anastasia Teterevleva, Alexander Gelogayev and
Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Louise