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NTV Moves to Set Up A Channel In Ukraine

NTV television will team up with Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich to launch NTV-Ukraine, a Ukrainian version of the Russian television channel, within weeks, company officials said.

Broadcast is to begin before the end of the year with the help of Rabinovich's company Aiti, NTV said in a statement.

NTV spokesman Oleg Sapozhnikov said that NTV-Ukraine, like other foreign NTV projects in the making, will offer a mix of NTV programming with local programming.

Rabinovich confirmed the plans in a telephone interview but refused to specify the date the broadcast is to begin or which Ukrainian channel NTV-Ukraine will be aired on. He said the details will be disclosed Monday.

Rabinovich said he is currently forming a team for NTV-Ukraine, which will be a new company not based on any existing Ukrainian channel.

"They will be wonderful guys, a wonderful team," Rabinovich said. "It will be a completely new channel."

Russian television broadcasting is a sensitive issue in Ukraine. During the first post-independence years, Russian channels dominated the television market and nationalist politicians repeatedly complained that Russia dominated the information market.

As Ukrainian television developed, pirated broadcasts of Russian television channels sprang up on numerous cable networks, where they until recently had a combined share of about 25 percent of Ukraine's viewership -- almost the same as that of each of the market leaders, U.S.-owned 1+1 and ORT's partner Inter, which boast about 30 percent each, according to 1+1 estimates.

But then Ukrainian television stations mounted a drive demanding that cable operators remove pirated Russian programs from their broadcast, leading a number of them to stop broadcasting Russian channels altogether over the past two months.

"I still can not understand why NTV broadcasts in Ukraine via cable the 'Den Rozhdeniya Burzhuya' series that I produced and own the rights to in Ukraine," 1+1 president Oleksandr Rodnyansky said Monday in a telephone interview.

Rodnyansky once worked with Rabinovich in Ukrainian television, but they had a falling out and parted ways.

Rodnyansky said he doubted the NTV-Ukraine would pan out, adding that the project looked like an attempt by NTV management "to show a success after a long list of failures."

"Not a single person in Kiev's television community is being invited to work anywhere," Rodnyansky said. "From what I know, the tiny television company Simon in Kharkov is the only broadcaster Rabinovich can count on."

Rabinovich is a colorful businessman who holds Ukrainian and Israeli citizenship, served 10 years in prison during Soviet times and has alleged ties to both the Ukrainian government and organized crime. The last time he made headlines in Russia was in the spring when he said he was talking to NTV founder Vladimir Gusinsky about buying his stake of NTV and its sister companies -- an announcement that industry sources called a bluff.

On Monday, State Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, citing Russian secret services, accused Rabinovich and another Ukrainian businessman, Semyon Mogilevich, of selling tanks, armored personnel carriers and light planes to Chechnya and the Taliban regime. Rabinovich denied the allegations and said he would challenge Ilyukhin "to a duel."

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