Putin's Media Blitz

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Last Wednesday was deliverance day for Vladimir Gusinsky. When a Madrid court turned down Russia's request to extradite the 48-year-old media magnate on fraud charges — ending his 10-month tussle with Kremlin prosecutors — Gusinsky savored his redemption. Fielding congratulatory calls on three phones at his villa in Sotogrande, he told one well-wisher, "This isn't the end of anything. It's the beginning."

But of what? Even as he basked poolside, Gusinsky knew that the few remaining properties in his once-sprawling Media-Most empire were being liquidated, part of an assault on Russia's independent press carried out by the...