Putin’s regime, having set out to build its notorious “power vertical,” could not afford the luxury of independent television station free from all state controls and broadcasting to the entire country. The government campaign to take over the network lasted almost two years, with the state bringing all of its resources and leverage to bear: courts, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the FSB, the Federal Tax Service, state-controlled media, propagandists and political consultants.
It is telling that thousands of Russians were outraged at the brazen attack on Russia’s freedom of speech, something that Boris Yeltsin worked so hard to achieve during the 1990s as the country’s first president. The government seizure of NTV prompted unprecedented street demonstrations. To this day, people argue about exactly how many took to the streets in protest — first on Pushkin Square and then at the Ostankino television center. Some say 10,000, others say 20,000, but whatever the case, since the NTV protest there have been very few opposition causes in Russia that have driven so many people to the streets.