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Moscow Times
December 5, 2001
Berezovsky Urges 'Family' to Rebel
By Oksana Yablokova
Staff Writer

Boris Berezovsky, once a key figure in former President Boris Yeltsin's inner circle -- widely known as "the Family" -- came out Tuesday calling on those Family members still in power to step down and start building a liberal opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

In an open letter published in his Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, Berezovsky advised Unified Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais, presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and other Yeltsin-era officials to resign rather than wait to be pushed out by the powerful team of military and intelligence officers who have received high posts under Putin.

"Show some courage, don't wait to be shown the door. Hand in your resignations voluntarily. Doing so is the most effective way you can help the president realize his mistakes and ... retain your authority," wrote Berezovsky, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Europe since last year.

"Do not quit politics. If you really care about Russia ... help Russia create a truly powerful liberal opposition," the letter said.

Berezovsky, who benefitted greatly from cozy relations with the Kremlin as a businessman in the early 1990s, used to brag that he had brought Putin to power. But last year he began speaking out against the new president, criticizing Putin's moves to limit the power of regional governors and establish "a dictatorship of law."

Speaking by telephone from London, Berezovsky said he was not so naive as to think that his letter would convince anyone to resign. "I just thought that those remaining from the previous team, Yeltsin's team, are very important for society. The authority and experience they have can help in creating a liberal opposition," Berezovsky said.

Public reaction from Kasyanov and Voloshin was not immediately available Tuesday. But Chubais brushed away the letter as nothing serious.

"It is surprising how a brief absence from Russia makes a clever man lose any idea of what is going on in the country," Chubais said in a statement. "Therefore, I do not see any point in giving any kind of assessment of his statement."

Berezovsky's letter appeared on the heels of several probes launched by the Prosecutor General's Office into a number of federal agencies headed by people associated with the former Yeltsin elite.

On Oct. 22, a criminal investigation was opened into Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko, considered one of the most influential Cabinet members. The minister was charged with abuse of office and prosecutors said his misconduct has cost the government 70 million rubles ($2.3 million).

Both Kasyanov and Chubais have come out in Aksyoneko's defense, despite months of strained relations between UES and the Railways Ministry over mutual debts, and general animosity between Aksyonenko and Chubais.

Last week also saw a renewed round of rumors that Voloshin would lose his spot as head of Putin's administration as a result of the battle between the two clans flanking Putin, the Yeltisn-era elites and the so-called siloviki.

"It is clear that they [the Yeltsin-era officials] cannot defeat the secret services. Their days in power are numbered," Berezovsky said in the telephone interview.

However, political analysts were skeptical about Berezovsky's reformist zeal. Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said the oligarch's influence on the political scene has been waning steadily as of last year, when he first announced plans to create a "constructive opposition."

He interpreted Berezovsky's latest public appeals as an articulation of the main objective of the Yeltsin-era elites: to maintain the status quo and, thereby, to retain their privileges and clout. "These people have no ideology. Their ideology is where their stomach is," he said. "The only objective is to defend the positions they've won previously."

The closest Berezovsky has come to forming an opposition is providing financial and moral support for the Liberal Russia group, which splintered off from the Union of Right Forces. His attempts to win the backing of powerful governors have fallen flat -- in part because people are afraid to be associated with the controversial tycoon.

Ryabov said that any significant opponent to Putin must create an alternative myth, while Berezovsky's statements merely signify a conservative return to the Yeltsin era of post-Soviet "feudal relations."

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