Berezovsky says he wants to overthrow Putin – by force

Boris Berezovsky hit the headlines again today, claiming in an interview with a British newspaper that he was actively “plotting a new Russian revolution” – using force, if necessary.

Apparently, he also told the Guardian newspaper that he was: 

bankrolling people close to the president who are conspiring to mount a palace coup.

Hmmm.  Not so sure about that one – how many coup plotters do you know who say to their intended victim: “Look out behind you, old chap, there’s a man with dagger creeping up on you”.

Anyway, the Russian government is predictably up in arms.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hinted that an extradition request may be on its way:

“I think there are enough competent lawyers in Britain who know that sedition with regard to a foreign country constitutes sufficient grounds for launching legal action.”

The problem, though, is that everyone – including the headline writers at the Guardian* – seems to have forgotten that Berezovsky’s being calling for a (violent) overthrow of Putin for years now.  And that the Russian government have already tried to extradite him – they were knocked back by a British district judge.  I don’t see much chance that the decision is likely to be any different this time – particularly in the light of this year’s somewhat frostier Anglo-Russian relations.

As for me, I’m beginning to wonder if Berezovsky is little more than a bored, slightly deluded oligarch with a penchant for thrill seeking, rather than the heroic exiled rebel, about to ride to the aid of his oppressed countrymen that others would prefer to portray him as. 

Update: Europhobia has more.

* Although, to be fair, they do note in the article itself that Berezovsky has been banging this particular drum for quite a while.

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Comments

  1. GER O'BRIEN

    You’re dead right. Russians absolutely despise him and always have and would never vote for anyone he backs. He’s also been a very naughty boy, long before Putin told him clear off.

    He made a very funny statement today – I think he said ”there cannot be a change in government in Russia using the democratic process”. For a man banging on about totalitarianism in Russia and it being a police state, it was a bit of an ironic thing to say) Does it mean that the democrats in Russia e.g. Kasyanov cannot win legitimately?
    Doesnt that tell the opposition anything? That the people of Russia -shock horror -dont actually want to change government? That seems to be totally lost on them. I know that Russia is by no means a free state but if the people were actually fed up, the majority of people, then neither Putin nor anyone else could prevent a change of government. The simple fact is they dont seem to actually want a change.
    The Beeb are posting todays rant as major world news. Maybe it should be called the Berezovsky Broadcasting Company)?

  2. ReluctantMuscovite

    You are missing the even bigger revelation in his article, namely the one how the Litvinenko poisoning has changed things and now he’s sure that he can’t be extradited…..

    Honi soit qui mal y pense. Mais oui, suis honi.

  3. Tim Newman

    And I am still having trouble with the British press being completely infatuated with a man who likely stole his way to wealth.

    Remember that this is the same British press which, when Roman Abramovich suddenly turned up in London from nowhere with a few billion pounds in his pocket and bought Chelsea, they only articles they could think of printing were ones excitedly speculating as to which players he would buy.

  4. Tim Newman

    Russians absolutely despise him and always have and would never vote for anyone he backs.

    This is indoubtedly true. I have never bothered to learn why, though. He was exceptionally successful in setting up his TV stations, and there is no doubt they were popular. What made him so unpopular?

    I don’t believe for one minute it is because he ripped off the country’s money and made himself staggeringly rich, because lots of people did that and aren’t despised like Berezovsky. Or maybe he was the most successful at it, and hence the most despised?

    Or was he merely disliked, and then Putin’s campaign against him succeeded in turning that dislike to hatred?

  5. GER O'BRIEN

    I think you’re right in the last paragraph Tim. I’ve also read before he’s had murky involvement with Chechen rebels, which as you can imagine wouldnt go down well with the Russians. Throw in the fact that he’s Jewish -sorry, only stating a fact here -and Russians have another reason to dislike him. His ranting from London for the past few years has only increased Russian hatred toward him.

    RM – that wasnt a revelation, that was just an opinion from Berezovsky. There isnt anything new in that at all. I hope the Russian prosecutors at least attempt to test the courts again. I wonder are the British government tiring of this actually. They must realise that they’ve been taken for a ride by this guy.

  6. Lyndon

    I have never bothered to learn why, though.

    I think there are a few reasons:

    1. Berezovsky (BAB) is like Chubais in that he was right in the midst of all the shadiness of both the political life and the business life of Yeltsin’s Russia. You don’t see Chubais talked about as a political figure anymore (a powerful businessman and maybe involved in politics behind the scenes, but still hated by too many). For that matter, look at other political figures from the Yeltsin era of national standing – where are they now? Kas’yanov? Hounded out of office and then publicly shamed about a dacha deal that can’t have been very unusual. Lebed? Marginalized because of his peacemaking in Chechnya and then dead (though I don’t believe the conspiracy theories). Chernomyrdin? Don’t hear much about him anymore. A couple of the prime ministers of the revolving-door era around ’98 have respectable jobs (Kiriyenko, Stepashin) but are not on anyone’s political map anymore. Young hopeful Nemtsov is probably wondering what happened. The people who were part of the circus, like Yeltsin’s daughter Dyachenko and his bodyguard-turned-politician Korzhakov? Long gone from public view. My point is that I can’t think of a single person who was in Yeltsin’s inner circle at any point and is still a high-visibility political figure and positively regarded in Russia today – with the exception of VVP.

    2. Other influential people from this era have simply vanished from view and/or have the sense to keep their politics to themselves – e.g. (from least to most shady, in my view) Gaidar (ok, he was from a bit earlier), Gusinsky (exiled – was as prominent as BAB back in the day), Smolensky, Pal Palych Borodin. Seems to me that others who have survived from that era like Aven and Boris Jordan have stayed in business in Russia because they are apolitical or deal with politics only behind-the-scenes. And of course the one who stayed in Russia AND trumpeted his thoughts about influencing the political process (because heaven forbid a rich man would want to do that) is now in the pokey – probably closer to Tim than to Moscow, though my geography may be off. Maybe this point is the same as #1. I guess you could combine the two by saying – he was involved in the political disaster that was the Yeltsin Administration (that’s how it’s seen in Russia today) AND he was involved in the financial scandals of that era. Having been involved in either of those two spheres has generally been a ticket to nowhere good (and certainly not to public admiration) in the Putin era; being involved in both and trying to keep your finger in the political pie from overseas…well, I think you get the picture.

    Or was he merely disliked, and then Putin’s campaign against him succeeded in turning that dislike to hatred?

    That’s probably the best summary of things – he would have been disliked for his ill-gotten wealth anyway, but if he’d kept quiet he might have avoided having 100% negative coverage in the state-run media for the past 5 years and thus avoided the hatred part. But Putin did have some good material to work with for the campaign:

    3. Links to Chechens – I think this started off as BAB ostensibly wanting to help broker a peace deal and then continued with him paying ransom amounts for some people kidnapped in Chechnya. This was the subject of some negative allegations once things soured between BAB and the authorities. Later, he funded a film purporting to document that the FSB was behind the apartment bombings that helped Russia down the road to the Second Chechen War. Nowadays, he’s often mentioned by Russian authorities in the same breath as Zakayev, because they’re both in the UK, of course, but it helps to perpetuate the idea of a link.

    4. He’s Jewish. I don’t believe that’s a huge factor, but it is used at times in demonizing him and it definitely works among a certain segment of the Russian population.

    5. There were other shady business deals in the ’90′s which included a public promise to resurrect the Russian auto-building sector but wound up looking more like some kind of organized crime racket.

    Or maybe he was the most successful at it, and hence the most despised?

    Depends on your definition of success, I guess. I’d say that if he had been the most successful he would have wound up in charge of Sibneft instead of his pal Roma. This makes me think of an appropriate #6 – seemed to like the public spotlight and delight in being the grey cardinal of the Kremlin while he was doing it.

    And 7. of course, being staggeringly rich helps.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on for far too long. I may be missing some factors or misremembering some things from the ’90′s, in which case I hope the kollektiv of SL commenters will correct or add to this list.

  7. Lyndon

    Ger, there you go. While I was writing a ridiculously long comment, you hit the most relevant points.

    I don’t think BAB will ever let himself get extradited to Russia unless it’s part of some crazy publicity stunt. If he thinks there’s a threat of an unwanted return home, I’m guessing he’ll have a jet gassed up and waiting to take him somewhere where the Russians can’t get him.

  8. Tim Newman

    Thanks very much, Lyndon and Ger. I was hoping somebody would take the trouble to explain what is obviously a complex answer.

    I wonder are the British government tiring of this actually. They must realise that they’ve been taken for a ride by this guy.

    I’m sure the British government can intervene behind the scenes in some way, but extradition falls under the British courts not the British government, and thus is judged against the law and not somebody’s personal preferences. A lot of the people in Russia who moan about Berezovsky not being extradited don’t seem to appreciate this. They think that, as it probably is in Russia, someone can be extradited from the UK at the whim of the government. The number of bearded idiots preaching violence outside mosques should tell them that this isn’t the case.

  9. GER O'BRIEN

    Well said Lyndon and Tim. You’ve filled me in as well.

    You’ve touched on a very important point Tim. Russians cant get their head around the fact that western leaders like Blair cant simply give the order to, for example, allow an extradition. This is a funadmental difference between Russians and westerners -Russians believe(quite rightly in Russia’s case)in the superiority of the government over institution. I find it very heartwarming when I hear an Irish or British judge overturn a government decision or throw out government cases. It means the country is working properly to some extent. Russians cant get their head around this, and it makes them furious towards Blair, when the situation isnt his fault at all.

  10. GER O'BRIEN

    Actually Lyndon what you said wasnt long winded at all, it was spot on and filled me in, my knowledge is rudimentary enough and is also coloured by having a Putin-loving wife at home, for whom Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky are devils! I think he has used Britain very cynically though. It’d be hilarious if a judge granted extradition)

  11. Tim Newman

    I think he has used Britain very cynically though.

    List him down as Foreigner Who Exploits Britain’s Adherence To The Rule Of Law To Do Things Which He Could Only Dream Of Back Home # 58363578

  12. Russophile.com

    Being one of the first and most successful Oligarchs burns Berezovsky in people’s minds. Everyone knows who Bill Gates is. Anyone know who David Thompson is? He is the 10th richest man in the world (per Forbes) and almost no one knows who the guy is. So Berezovsky’s reputation may be somewhat unfair. I have a good feeling that there are many people who stole their way to millions that we never heard of and never will. Berezovsky represents all those people to many Russians.

    Wow, Lyndon, to prove your point, that was a list of political names that I never thought that I would see again outside of a thick textbook or an internet search. Kiriyenko and Stepashin… Please tell me you had to look those names up. Kiriyenko was only PM for five months and that was nine years ago! One other Yeltsin name you missed is Primakov. ;) Here is a nice time line of the Yeltsin government for anyone who cares. The time line points out that Berezovsky had an arrest warrant hanging over him before Putin was ever elected.

  13. Lyndon

    Russophile – frighteningly enough, I wrote that all from memory, except for the link about BAB. I was in a Russian studies MA program in 1998-2000, so that era is locked in my memory like some kind of time capsule. Guess I am showing my age.

    Another name I recalled later was Rem Vyakhirev – another one-time oligarch (arguably) now out to pasture. It’s funny, just now I was reading something offline that mentioned Primakov – a review of his recent book – and his turn at the PM wheel in ’98, and I remembered that I hadn’t mentioned him. But I think he also makes the point. Sure, he has a(nother) book of memoirs out and he drops a quotable soundbite every now and then, but he is too old to be a major player at this point. Anyway, it was kind of a fun trip down memory lane.

    The journalists and the ossified opposition (Zyuganov & Zhirik) are the only people who remain from that era…

  14. ReluctantMuscovite

    Rurrik, good pictures. I got up too late to see the action, wanted to go, but when I arrived at Tverskaya, there was just OMON.

    From the pictures, I take it that the crack-down was very massive, but I am surprised you got that close. Your pictures make it look a lot more disciplined and quiet than your run-of-the-mill anti-globalization march.

    I am also surprised that the people around the metro had not bolnaz flags, and i was rather disappointed that there were bolnaz further down…. too bad the opposition cannot manage to keep their distance from those people.

    No sympathy with Kasparov, by the way, I think the guy is a nutter.

  15. Aleks

    All good points above.

    Regarding Putin et al not fathoming how the UK can’t just kick BAB out, I think it is also that there is no history of long and deep political finesse, especially in a world where PR rules.

    The Kremlin administration is still learning the ropes.

    OTOH, any bets as to whether BAB will be ‘quietly pressured’ to leave (much more the UK style, by way of a ‘chat’ down the pub or in a gentleman’s club)? And where would he go, the US???

    On the jewish question, I distinctly remember having a very strong feeling that the NYT (mostly) tried to imply that Putin and co. were secretly anti-semitic, though the innuendo’s petered out (considering some of his big cheeses are at least partly of the faith)….

  16. Michael Averko

    Aleks

    Actually, I recall a NYT Sunday Magazine article noting Putin being pro-Jewish.

    There’s a certain crackpot by the name of Stephen Schwartz who ridiculously wrote about Putin’s iner circle being anti-Jewish without any substantiation.

  17. ReluctantMuscovite

    I actually wonder why the radical fringe in Russia hasn’t caught on to the fact that the current government seems to be run by dudes with Germanic and Jewish sounding names;) IF anything, Putin is a philo-semite. Which just proves again how smart he is.

  18. Michael Averko

    Maybe Russia’s radical fringe isn’t so radical.

    This relates to my view that anti-Russian bigotry gets sugar coated unlike Russian bigotry. The way the Captive Nations Committee or Captive Nations Week is treated at venues like Johnson’s Russia List is a prime example.

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