They did not go quietly. The journalists moved down the street to the studios of TNT, a low-powered station that is also part of the Media-Most group, NTV's parent. There they immediately broadcast their version of the night's events. The new management of NTV confidently announced that its first news program would air at 8 a.m. A bulletin appeared, but not the one Jordan and his staff expected. Instead, viewers were treated to a little guerrilla TV: two rumpled "rebel" journalists reporting their version of the proceedings from TNT. This was quickly replaced by the adventures of Vinnie the Alligator, a children's program, and game-show reruns.
NTV's last prime-time newscast before the raid neatly highlighted the chasm between the smooth theory and the turbulent reality of Putin's Russia. NTV has shone a spotlight on this divide, while state networks feign not to see it. The Kremlin would clearly like to turn NTV's spotlight off. The first news item was the return home from a Swiss jail of Pavel Borodin, the high-ranking Russian official who a few years ago found a Kremlin job for the then out-of-work Vladimir Putin. Borodin, who is being investigated in Switzerland on money-laundering charges, had been released on $3 million bail. The other main item was the assassination of the second-ranking member of the pro-Russian government in Chechnya, blown up while giving a TV interview in his home town. The attack once again demonstrated that Putin's confident promise a year ago to "rub out" Chechen leaders wherever they could be found "in the latrine if necessary" was little more than rhetoric.
The Kremlin and its allies have portrayed the campaign to close NTV as purely a financial affair: an aggrieved shareholder, the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom, demanding its money back from a feckless and allegedly dishonest tycoon. In fact the move was born of Putin's deep dislike for that tycoon, NTV's owner and founder Vladimir Gusinsky, who could use his station for vendettas but also created a news operation highly critical of Putin's policies in places like Chechnya. Gazprom, meanwhile, is state-controlled and highly dependent on the Kremlin's graces. Moreover, the seizure was accompanied by an action that most shareholders could not have arranged: the respected news radio station Ekho Moskvy went off the air for a few minutes as guards moved into the NTV studios. (Ekho Moskvy is part of the Media-Most group but not the subject of any disputes.) The seizure of the studios and the walkout by the journalists may also have diminished American TV magnate Ted Turner's prospects of acquiring a substantial minority interest in NTV.
Immediately after the raid, Putin unexpectedly flew to Chechnya to discuss reconstruction and other issues. The President has commented only sparingly on the NTV case, and he did not deviate from that practice in Chechnya. Indeed, if Putin's past behavior is any guide, the trip was intended to distance him as far as possible from the NTV crisis. Tellingly, a correspondent for the new NTV who accompanied the President did not ask him about it.
Ironically, the raid was so clumsily timed that it hardened resistance among NTV journalists just as they were showing signs of ending their occupation of the studios. The main friction was caused by editor-in-chief Yevgeny Kiselev, idolized by some colleagues and seen by others as imperious and abrasive. Some top journalists had been trying to reach a compromise with the government. One, popular presenter Svetlana Sorokina, thought the talks were going well. Instead came the raid, which left even some of NTV's enemies wondering whether the President had silenced a critic or created a new opposition force.