Mikhail Lesin

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Mikhail Lesin (left) with Vladimir Putin

Mikhail Yuriyevich Lesin (Russian: Михаил Юрьевич Лесин; July 11, 1958 – November 5, 2015) was a Russian political figure, media executive and an adviser to president Vladimir Putin.[1] In 2006 he was awarded the Order "For Merit to the Fatherland", one of Russia's highest state decoration for civilians. Mikhail Lesin was nicknamed the Bulldozer (Russian: Бульдозер) because of his ability to get virtually all Russian media outlets under The Kremlin's control.[2]

Biography

Mikhail was born in Moscow to a family involved in military construction.[1][3] He spent childhood years in Mongolia while his father, Yuri, worked on military construction projects.[3]

From 1976 to 1978, he was in military service with the Soviet Army and Soviet Naval Infantry (Marines Corps) of the USSR Armed Forces.[1][3][4] In 1984, he graduated from the Moscow Engineering and Construction Institute[lower-alpha 1] in Yaroslavsky as a civil engineer.[1][3][4] From 1982 to 1987, he worked in engineering positions at Minpromstroy (Industrial construction ministry) in Moscow and in Ulan Bator.[4] During 1988-89, he was Deputy Director for Production of television programs of the Creative Production Association "Game Appliances".[4] From 1990 to 1993, he was Director of Youth creative production association of the TV company RTV, Российское телевидение (РТВ).[4] In the late 1980s, he directed the television show Funny Guys (Весёлые ребята).[1]

In the early 1990s, Lesin set up Video International, which became a multibillion-dollar advertising agency with exclusive advertising rights on NTV, and, in 2015, is still one of Russia's biggest.[5][6][7] In 1994, he left Video International.[7] From 1993 to 1996, he was Head of Commercial Department, Deputy General Director and General Director of RIA Novosti.[4] At this position in Novosti, he was pivotal in the Russian parliamentary elections of 1995 and, especially, the re-election of Yeltsin in the 1996 Russian presidential elections.[6] He began the slogan "Voice of the Heart", authored "I believe I do, I hope," and "Save and Protect", and provided the president's weekly radio address to the country.[6][7] From September 1996 until February 1997, he was head of Public Relations for the President of Russia under Yeltsin.[4][6][7]

From 1997 to 1999, he was first deputy chairman of the VGTRK (ВГТРК), which essentially brought state run television under one roof and follows the designs of Vladislav Surkov. This counters a more Western approach, which would have ended state owned media by promoting a more liberal media that is not state owned and operated.[1][4][6]

On June 6, 1999, and largely from Mikhail's background among Video International, Novosti, and VGTRK, Prime Minister Stepashin appointed Lesin to head the Ministry of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation. After Stepashin's brief tenure, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin maintained Lesin as minister and allowed Lesin to be a key figure in the 1999 Russian parliamentary elections and the 2000 Russian presidential election. Through Mikhail's support, the pro-Kremlin Unity block gained power and the incoming Prime Minister Putin succeeded Yeltsin as the Russian president.[1][4][6]

Continuing under President Putin from 1999 until March 9, 2004, as Ministry of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation, Lesin essentially merged a private advertising agency, Video International which controlled 65–70% of the television advertising market, with the state owned media companies, and, thus, brought tremendous wealth to Video International.[1][4][6]

During Putin's first term as Russian president with Lesin as Minister of the Press, Vladimir Gusinsky's private media holdings, "Media Most", came under intense scrutiny causing numerous charges to filled against Gusinsky.[6] In an agreement for the numerous charges to be dropped, Gusinsky's immense private media holdings, "Media Most", were to be transferred to Gazprom-Media, which, at the time, had recently acquired NTV, the only nationwide state-independent television in Russia and a highly critical opponent of the War in Chechnya, Vladimir Putin, and the Unity block.[6][8] Gusinsky subsequently was brought under arrest as a fugitive from Russia and, while incarcerated, refused to agree to the terms for the transfer. However, in 2001 with Lesin acting as mediator, "Media Most" assets were transferred to Gazprom-Media under the terms of Protocol No. 6, which allowed oligarchs to escape prosecution and be given the freedom to leave the country if they turned over their assets to the state.[6][9]

In the 2002 Telegrand (Russian: Телегранд), the Expert Council of the National Research Center of Television and Radio[lower-alpha 2] named Lesin as "the most influential person of Russian television and radio".[3]

Under Putin from April 6, 2004, until November 18, 2009, he became adviser to the President of the Russian Federation for mass media relations.[1][4][6] During his tenure and beginning in 2005, Lesin helped conceive and create the RT (Russia Today) television news network, he said, "to establish a news channel that would counter CNN and BBC with a Moscow spin. It's been a long time since I was scared by the word propaganda. We need to promote Russia internationally. Otherwise, we'd just look like roaring bears on the prowl."[6][10]

From 2010 to 2011, Lesin was on the board of directors for National Telecommunications (NTC)[lower-alpha 3], which at the time belonged to the National Media Group.[6]

In 2011, he moved to Beverly Hills, California, and enjoyed ocean fishing, being with his family, and helping his son Anton in the Hollywood movie business.[6][11][12][13] Lesin's old friend, Alexander Shapiro, a former vice president of Warner Bros.,[14] is a co-producer with Anton in several films.[13][14][15]

In 2013, he returned to Russia and from October 1, 2013, until January 12, 2015, he was head of Gazprom-Media, a state-controlled media giant that describes itself as one of the largest media groups in Russia and Europe.[16][17] He resigned in December 2014, citing family reasons.[16] After retiring, he spent several months in Switzerland for treatments to a spinal injury that he received while skiing and then returned to his home in California.[6][13]

Accusations

Lesin led the Kremlin's efforts to censor Russia's independent television outlets, according to accusations by Senator Roger Wicker (Republican of Mississippi) in 2014.[16] Wicker called on the Justice Department to launch an investigation into Lesin and his immediate family over allegations of corruption and money laundering.[16][18] In a July 29, 2014, letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder, Wicker wrote Lesin and his immediate family had "acquired multi-million dollar assets" in Europe and the United States "during his tenure as a civil servant," including multiple residences in Los Angeles worth $28 million.[16][18][19] On December 3, 2014, Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik replied to Senator Wicker's letter by stating the Justice Department's Criminal Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have been referred for appropriate disposition of Mikhail Lesin and "similarly situated Russian individuals and companies with assets in the United States that may be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Statutes."[20][21] The properties are located at

It's unclear if the FBI ever initiated a probe.[16][26]

Death

Lesin was found dead on November 5, 2015, in The Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C.[16] RT reported the next day that the cause of death was a heart attack.[27] Washington's Metropolitan Police Department opened a "death investigation".[5] An autopsy had been conducted, but according to Beverly Fields, the Washington, D.C. medical examiner public information officer, no ruling about the cause of death will be made until February 2016.[28][29][30] Russian officials were working with U.S. authorities to determine the circumstances of the death.[31] He is buried in Los Angeles.[32][33][34]

On November 7, 2015, the Kremlin released official condolences from president Vladimir Putin: "The president appreciates the enormous contribution made by Mikhail Lesin to the formation of modern Russian media."[lower-alpha 9][35]

Family

Lesin was of Jewish descent.[36] Lesin was married to Valentina Ivanova and had a daughter, Catherine, from his first marriage in 1979; and a son, Anton, from his second marriage in 1983. Mikhail Lesin had five grandchildren at the time of his death.

Catherine led the RT bureau in the United States.

Anton attended a Swiss university and is a producing graduate of the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles. Since 2012, Anton has been a Hollywood film producer, with credits including Rage (originally Tokarev), Haunt, Sabotage, Fading Gigolo, Fury, Rock the Kasbah, The Family Fang, and Dirty Grandpa.[15] With Bill Block's 2015 departure as CEO from QED International and following Paul Hanson's 2015 departure from Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, Anton and Sasha Shapiro operate QED Holdings as its principal financiers through the global media fund, Media Content Capital (MCC), and formed Covert Media in 2014, adding Paul Hanson as CEO in 2015, to make three to four $10 million to $50 million films a year.[15][37][38][39][40][41] He is often credited as "Anton Lessine". Anton and Swiss wife, Carole, have two children.[13][23][24][42][43]

During 2015, Mikhail, had a daughter with Victoria Rakhimbayeva (Russian: Виктория Рахимбаева; born 1986), a former Maxim model with whom he had been close since mid 2014.[2][44] According to her social media site, she and Lesin had planned to reside in New York City.[2] At online sites, Victoria refers to Lesin as her husband.[2] Upon Mikhail's death, Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov posted, "My condolences to the baby and her mother, his family, his son, daughter, Valentina [Ivanova], his wife."[2]

Awards and honours

Notes

  1. Since June 15, 1993, the Moscow Engineering and Construction Institute (Russian: Московский инженерно-строительный институт им. В.В. Куйбышева (МИСИ им. В.В. Куйбышева)) is known as the Moscow State Construction University (Russian: Национальный исследовательский университе́т Московский государственный строительный университет (НИУ МГСУ).
  2. Expert Council of the National Research Center of Television and Radio (Russian: экспертного совета Национального исследовательского центра (НИЦ) телевидения и радио (телерадио))
  3. National Telecommunications (NTC) (Russian: Национальных телекоммуникаций (НТК))
  4. Purchased in August 2011 by the British Virgin Islands incorporated Dastel Corporation, which Mikhail Lesin is the sole owner.[20][21][22][23][24]
  5. Purchased in 2012 by the British Virgin Islands incorporated Dastel Corporation, of which Mikhail Lesin was the sole owner.[20][21][22]
  6. Purchased by HFC Management, of which Mikhail Lesin's daughter, Catherine Lesin, is an employee.[22]
  7. Purchased in 2009 by Java Drive Inc. and where Mikhail Lesin's son, Anton Lessine resided.[20][21][22][23][24]
  8. Purchased November 17, 2015, by Mikhail Lesin's son, Anton Lessine.[25]
  9. "Президент высоко ценит огромный вклад, который внес Михаил Лесин в становление современных российских средств массовой информации."

References

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