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DATE=5/30/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / MEDIA NUMBER=5-46404 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: An independent Russian television station has temporarily removed a puppet depicting President Vladimir Putin from a political satire program. Station officials say they made the move after being pressured by the Kremlin. VOA Moscow correspondent Peter Heinlein reports Russia's government is increasingly using intimidation and threats in an attempt to silence opposition voices. TEXT: ///sound of puppets talking, fades /// "Kukly", or "Puppets," has for years been one of Russia's most popular television shows. It is a staple of the privately owned N-T-V's Sunday night schedule, a political satire that has millions of Russians laughing at their leaders. /// opt /// But top Kremlin officials are not always amused. In 1995, Russia's prosecutor-general launched a criminal investigation after a "Kukly" episode portrayed former President Boris Yeltsin as a drunken tramp. The charges were eventually dropped, Mr. Yeltsin fired the prosecutor, and the program flourished. But President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin appears to be more sensitive to "Kukly's" barbs. /// end opt /// Last Sunday night, N-T-V anchorman Evgeny Kiselyov introduced the program with an announcement that the puppet showing President Putin would not appear. He called the move an experiment prompted by government pressure. ///Kiselyov act in Russian, then fade under/// He says, "the management of N-T-V and its parent company, Media-Most, were given conditions under which the authorities would leave us alone. Foremost is that President Putin should not be the hero of "Kukly." But what viewers saw next was an episode in which the Putin puppet was not shown, but was referred to throughout as an invisible god on a mountaintop, striking terror into his underlings. A controversial Kremlin insider - depicted as Moses - was shown coming down from the mountain with messages from the master. ///Puppets talking, then under/// The Moses puppet says, "I was told that you cannot see him, and must not use his name in vain". A second puppet asks, "What can we call him?" And Moses replies, "Only Gospod Bog, or G-B for short." "Gospod Bog" is a phrase commonly used in Russian to refer to god, but everyone in the audience understood the connection between G-B and Mr. Putin's past with the Soviet K-G-B. Kukly's creator Viktor Shenderovich, who wrote Sunday's script, told VOA he hopes the program sends a message to the Kremlin that pressuring N-T-V will not work. ///Shenderovich act in Russian, then fade to./// He says "we made a joke, and let the authorities know that first of all we are not so afraid of them, and second that it's not necessary to have the Putin puppet to speak about him and his power." /// opt /// Still, Mr. Shenderovich says he is concerned about what he sees as the growing influence of the secret police under the former K-G-B agent who is now running the Kremlin. ///Shenderovich act in Russian, fade under/// He says, "We will see if Mr. Putin understands that the state is not `G-B", and it is impossible to rule Russia the way he ran the K-G-B." Mr. Shenderovich says he finds comfort in knowing that even though security services have taken power in the Kremlin, it would be impossible in today's Russia to lock up dissenters and send them to asylums. /// end opt /// But despite such bravado, officials of the Media-Most group warn that the Kremlin's list of "conditions" is only the latest in a disturbing chain of events pointing to a clampdown on press freedom. Three weeks ago, heavily armed and masked tax police staged a raid on the company's headquarters. Authorities said the raid was part of an investigation into illegal wiretapping. N-T-V called it an attempt at intimidation. Nevertheless, the Putin puppet is expected to be back at the center of "Kukly" next Sunday. Mr. Shenderovich promises a sketch based on Mr. Putin's summit meeting with President Clinton. (Signed) NEB/PFH/GE/KBK 30-May-2000 14:54 PM EDT (30-May-2000 1854 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .