#17 - JRL 7027
Financial Times (UK)
January 21, 2003
Exiled oligarch plans coalition against Kremlin
By Andrew Jack
Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian "oligarch", plans to finance a coalition of leftwing and rightwing anti-Kremlin forces in this December's parliamentary elections in an effort to create a new political opposition.
In an interview with the FT, Mr Berezovsky, who is based in London, outlined plans designed to forge an alliance to prevent Kremlin supporters winning a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which could be enough to modify the Russian constitution.
His comments came as the pro-Kremlin Unity party, which he was instrumental in creating, held discussions over a change in its leadership in the build-up to the elections, following the recent appointment of Boris Gryzlov, the interior minister, as the head of its organisational committee. Mr Berezovsky said he had identified potential leaders among both communist and liberal parties - whom he refused to name - and was developing the techniques to bring them together around issues of common concern with current policy, including constitutional change, economic reform, and the conflict in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.
He said he wanted to ensure the coalition would win at least 150 seats in the parliament, preventing constitutional changes which could allow the extension of the presidential term from four to seven year or more.
President Vladimir Putin has previously ruled out an extension of the presidential term, although a number of opinion polls have suggested it could be favourably received and the regional parliament of Magadan in Russia's far east voted a motion of support for the change last year.
Mr Berezovsky, once dubbed the "grey cardinal" to former president Boris Yeltsin, has sought to maintain influence in Russia since he fled in late 2000 after falling out with Mr Putin, whom he helped elect president.
A continuing role within the country has been dismissed by Mr Putin.
He has been the subject of several corruption allegations by state prosecutors, relating to his previous roles at the airline Aeroflot and businesses linked to the car company Avtovaz. He continues to follow domestic politics and to criticise the Kremlin from France and more recently the UK.
He launched the Liberal Russia party after going into exile, and funds a variety of organisations, including recent support for the legal fees to defend Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen who is facing an extradition request by Moscow from London as an alleged terrorist.
In 1999, Mr Berezovsky was instrumental in creating in just a few months the Unity party with no ideology other than its support for Mr Putin. Its surprisingly high score in the parliamentary elections of that year paved the way to Mr Putin's election victory in spring 2000.
Mr Berezovsky said he believed precedents existed for creating a coalition even of parties with very different ideologies.