Vladimir Putin has taken Channel One. What was already clear became obvious. Indeed, it was clear that Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev divided television up fairly, in line with the tandem nature of their relationship. Putin got Channel One, and Medvedev – Channel Two. In particular, this arrangement manifested itself by the coverage of former Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s resignation: while Channel Two was pouring dirt on the ill-fated Moscow Mayor, Channel One took a more reserved approach: this was Medvedev’s bone to pick, not Putin’s, so why meddle in it.
Moral authority, however, is one thing, while tangible power is another. On the eve of the 50th birthday of Channel One General Director Konstantin Ernst, Putin paid a visit to the channel’s office. He came not as prime minister but as the owner. By that time, a deal had already been cleared to take a controlling interest in Channel One from Putin’s friend Roman Abramovich and give it to another of Putin’s friends, Yuri Kovalchuk – a transaction that left Putin with a 100% stake in Channel One, including a government stake of 51% (under the tandem arrangement), 25% from one friend (Kovalchuk) and 24% – from another (Abramovich). So why would you need to divide 49% between friends? It is just safer that way. Abramovich is the sole owner of his stake, while Kovalchuk’s also includes several other friends: Putin’s fellow classmate runs RastrKom-2002, the nominal shareholder, while her deputy co-owns another company together with Putin’s judo coach. And the deputy’s father is no stranger to Putin, either. Another one of Putin’s classmates runs a company registered at the same address as RastrKom-2002… In other words, two of Putin’s friends are directly related to the 25% stake in Channel One, while a group of his pals is linked indirectly.
And now the big wig comes to visit his channel, and you want reporters ask him substantive, hard-hitting questions? Don’t kid yourself. Do you make your boss sweat often? Do you walk all over him and shake your fists at him? Come on, let Channel One reporters do their job quietly and get off their backs. To celebrate their having acquired new shareholders, I would like to give them the idea of a new television sit-com called “Friends”. What? You say this sit-com already exists? No problem, this could be a Russian remake.
In the American movie, characters include Monica, Rachel, Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe. The Russians could be Volodya (Putin), Yura (Kovalchuk), Gena (Timchenko), Nikolai (Shamalov), and Roma (Abramovich). The American Monica, as described by Wikipedia, has some strange fantasies: she is obsessed with cleanliness, she cannot trust anyone, and she always wants to come out on top. Her friends, however, get used to her odd manners and don’t pay any attention to them. Monica is an excellent cook and makes a good career for herself, becoming a chef in a prestigious restaurant. How could this not be a prototype for Volodya in the Russian spin-off Friend?
And here’s another story from the American Friends: Christmas is coming, and Monica and Rachel are low on cash. Then they decide to make cookies and give them as Christmas gifts. Joey and Chandler, however, take things a step further. Running out of time to buy gifts, they make a last-minute visit to a gas station where they buy all sorts of junk and give it them to their friends. For example, Monica gets car wiper blades. “I don't even have a car,” she protests, and then the two guys give her a car air freshener that she can go around spraying as if she owned a car.
This is how it could be reworked for the Russian version of Friends. Yura Kovalchuk wants to give Volodya a modest Christmas gift – a 25% stake in Channel One. “But you don’t have a stake in Channel One!” says Volodya. Then Roma Abramovich comes to help, giving some of his shares to Yura, so that he could present them to Volodya. And Yura does! Though, due to some stupid obstacles, the shares have to stay with Yura formally, but what’s the difference? Volodya treats them as his own!
And another idea: Volodya and Nikolai want to build a palace, but they are out of cash, just like Monica and Rachel. Then they set up a construction fund and invite other friends to participate, including Roma. Volodya also asks his company to help with roads and utilities. His company also allocates him land on the seashore. And there you have it, a palace! The real kicker, though, is that Volodya cannot own the palace due to the same stupid obstacles that keep him from owning stock in television channels! Therefore, Nikolai becomes the nominal palace owner. One day, when Volodya has better luck, Nikolai will give him the palace. They are friends, aren’t they?
Finally, the American Phoebe inherits an old taxi from her grandmother, and drives her friends around for free. While in the Russian version, Gena has a plane he uses to fly all of Volodya’s friends around for free!
Are you hankering to take this on? Ready! Set! Go!
Reporter with Radio Svoboda,
Article written for Novaya Gazeta.
P.S. The author asks to transfer the royalties for this article to the fund for producing the Russian spin-off of Friends.