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#15 - JRL 7226
Argumenty i Fakty
June 20, 2003
Author: Andrei Uglanov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]



Not one of us, formerly homo-soveticus, is ever satisfied with the powers-that-be. We grow disillusioned with all recent idols - Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin - as soon as they step down or even before that. It has not been true of Putin yet. It will be nice if this tendency terminates with him. On the other hand, we do not always choose our idols and dethrone them afterwards... Speculations on some corrections of the political system can be heard in Russian provinces nowadays. Among other things, the future of the presidency is discussed. It is impossible to say whether these leaks are meant to harm Putin himself. Let us, however, try and find it out.

We will consider the "history of the question" first. Presidency in Russia is homage to tradition. There should be only one tsar. Yeltsin in his time did everything to elevate himself above the multifaceted Congress of People's Deputies. This elevation resulted in the split of state property and assets and the president found himself playing the role of the instrument of said split wielded by all sorts of groups of influence. Boris Berezovsky became the first one to understand the importance of the role of advisor to Yeltsin who did not know the first thing about free market economy. Berezovsky began with an innocent gift to Yeltsin's daughter (a Niva car). After that he invented Sibneft and became a deputy secretary of the Security Council, the first Russian oligarch. Eventually Berezovsky came to dislike the cautious and correct role of "a smart Jew under the governor", and he became a public politician. His might and self- conceit grew accordingly, and Berezovsky even went to all sorts of extremes in a restaurant near the Kremlin. He was compared with Rasputin. First doubts were voiced - does Russia need a president controlled by the men who manipulate him?

All of that worries Berezovsky himself nowadays. I recently met him in London, hiding from Russian justice. His monologue was extremely pessimistic. Berezovsky was particularly hostile towards the president. Not as a person, but rather as an institution of power: This criticism contemporized with public disputes over reorganization of the presidency and parliamentary in Russia. In short, Berezovsky might have been behind the process, the way it had been under Yeltsin. Hence the question: does the adept of intrigues have a chance to actively participate in the game? The answer to this question is important because a lot of men in Russia are firmly convinced that Berezovsky through his agents of influence is still fishing in the muddy waters of Russian politics.

Yes, the London exile does have a lot of assistants in Russia. Not, however, in high places. They are remnants of a once huge army that served Berezovsky for money. He resembles King Lire nowadays - he is still thinking of the men whose careers he once promoted. Do they need him?

As before, what everybody needs is Berezovsky's money. There are rumors that Yeltsin's circle thoroughly liked Berezovsky's idea to persuade General Alexander Lebed to run for president in 1996. He was supposed to get Gennadi Zyuganov's votes in the first round and urge his supporters to back up Yeltsin in the second. It was precisely what happened. Participants of these events recall that Yeltsin was happy that it was Berezovsky himself who financed Lebed's campaign (about $20 million in all). The general himself did not like it that his connection with Berezovsky was public knowledge. He hoped to disassociate himself from Berezovsky afterwards.

Almost all of Berezovsky's beneficiaries thought so.

Berezovsky went out of control after Yeltsin's election in 1996. He began boasting to the Western media that he had arranged Yeltsin's triumph with his own money. Damage to the Russian presidency and its image was considerable. Yeltsin swallowed the insult. He and his circle still needed Berezovsky.

Similar boast were made with regard to Putin's presidency. The situation changed, however, and men like Berezovsky and Gusinsky were forced to flee the country. The regime decided to disassociate itself from oligarchs, putting them at some distance from the federal center.

Berezovsky was put farther from the federal center than anybody else. Naturally enough, he was offended. Steps were taken to commandeer his assets in Russia. He was driven from his TV channels. He may be forced eventually to sell Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He was bought out of Sibneft...

What does it mean? Oligarchs - Politburo we would have said in the past - are fed up with Berezovsky. He knows too much and talks too much. Moreover, all territory is already split, political territory too. This is where oligarchs and the regime agree. Moreover, even the so called Family and Kremlin survivors have turned the page and opened the era sans Berezovsky.

Does it mean that so active a man will calm down and keep a low profile? No, it does not. He knows everything there is to know about major Russian businesses' plans regarding correction of the political system.

The next Duma will play an important role in implementation of all these plans. Hence the persistence with which Berezovsky has been fighting to retain control over Liberal Russia. Hence his cynical contacts with communist hard-liners. Berezovsky needs as many men on the next Duma as he can promote so as to have some clout with the process of correction from within. What are his chances? Not bad at all. It is hardly a coincidence that two Liberal Russia leaders were assassinated. Somebody is sending a message to whoever relies on Berezovsky's money in domestic politics.

Will communists decide to make use of the oligarch's finances? They may. When the time comes, however, they will become disgusted again and disavow him. New oligarchs have come to the scene, making the old one unnecessary. Berezovsky is ousted from Russian politics. We can only expect some cheap tricks from him now. Reorganization of the political system in the country has been charted and will be implemented by others.

(Translated by A. Ignatkin)

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