Voices from Russia

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Hopes for the New Pope

00 Pope Francisco Bergoglio. T-shirt. 23.03.13


As I stood on St Peter’s Square awaiting the famous smoke from the Sistine Chapel chimney, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction. Daily, journalists, political analysts, and the public bemoan a lack of leadership in the world. On the other hand, here, here was a definitive opportunity to see a new leader in the making. After all, irrespective of who occupies the Holy See, the papacy has a potential for leadership that’s probably only rivalled by the potential of the office of the US President.

Already, Pope Francisco shows that he’s keen to give the Catholic Church a new sense of itself. His gestures (like shunning an armoured limousine with a bodyguard and going to pray at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore on short notice) demonstrate that “leading by example” isn’t just an empty concept for the new pontiff. I have a feeling that he’ll be a respected global figure, both as a spiritual leader and statesman. Actually, if one looks around the world, there are plenty of leaders. Although I didn’t approve of his policies, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was one. Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma is yet another example of charisma, ideas, and perseverance fusing to create a real leader. Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, despite their bitter hatred of each other and no matter what one thinks of their policies, have already left their mark on history.

Curiously enough, the emergence of major political personalities in the EU is an increasingly-rare occasion. European leaders aren’t almost universally dull and uncharismatic, but they’re also mostly mediocre intellectually. A few bright exceptions, like the clever and ironic Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Tomasz Sikorski, and Sweden’s long-serving Minister of Foreign Affairs (and former Premier) Nils Daniel Carl Bildt are the only exceptions I could find. They combine sharp intellect, willingness to challenge dated truisms, and a public presence. The EU is the only area of the world where these characteristics frequently disqualify a person from achieving major public office. What started as a European post-war yearning to avoid future conflict morphed into complacency and a fear of healthy debate. Don’t mention religion (except if it’s the infamous “religion of peace” of 9/11 fame), don’t mention national history, don’t mention values… unless it’s the prescribed medley of secularist dogmas on permanent offer from Brussels… and you can count on great advancement as a political leader in the EU’s councils of the holy … er, sorry, just councils.

Hence, the result… if you’re looking for fresh thinking in Europe, you’re left with either the Front National and its imitators, the “New Left”, or clowns like Beppe Grillo (but then, who said they’re actually thinking anything?) Actually, Grillo’s astonishingly-high standing is sharp and dark testimony to European disillusionment with traditional politics and their inability to cope with it. It’s no wonder the EU can’t find its way out of the current crisis… the politics of consensus evolved into a politics of paralysis. I don’t think highly of Barack Obama’s policies and I don’t find him a very effective leader, but those European politicians who pledge their love to him look small compared to the US President. In contrast, here comes Pope Francisco, who may well try to shake up Europe’s lethargic Catholics into remembering that they are Christians… and Catholics… after all. I wish him success, but I’m not very certain that he’ll succeed in the Old World. For leadership and vision these days, it’s more logical to look to Brazil, rather than to Brussels.

18 March 2013

Konstantin von Eggert




“Berezovsky was Somebody Whose Name was Synonymous with Russian Exiles in London”

00 Boris Berezovsky 2. Russia. 23.03.13


VOR London correspondent Tim Ecott commented on Boris Berezovsky‘s death…

Boris Berezovsky came to symbolise everything that the British media thought about when they pictured the traditional Russian oligarch. Of course, he was as well-known for his very posh life-style as he was for his notorious political statements. He was no friend to President Putin towards the end of their relationship, and, not surprisingly, he was a frequent visitor to the London High Court, most prominently for his divorce proceedings, and for his very acrimonious dispute with Roman Abramovich, which, unsurprisingly, Mr Berezovsky lost. The most-damaging incident during that lawsuit and case, which reputedly cost Mr Berezovsky over 120 million UK Pounds in legal costs, was that the judge branded him as a deliberately dishonest witness, a man whose statements in court were inherently unreliable.

I think as far as the Russian image in London was concerned, the media concentrated on his lavish lifestyle, as he owned a large flat in Mayfair, one of the most expensive districts in central London, but he also had a mansion on the very exclusive Wentworth Estate in Surrey, where his neighbours were drivers from the Formula One Racing Circuit, the Sultan of Brunei, and Ernie Els, the South African pro golfer. I think when Mr Berezovsky first bought the property on the Wentworth Estate, Elton John was still living there, as did pop singer Cliff Richard. Therefore, he certainly had the reputation of someone who was used to living a very extravagant lifestyle based on the fortune that he brought to the UK with him, following his business career in Russia.

However, will anyone in London cry for Berezovsky? I’m sure there are people who worked for him, who relied on his wealth for their own living, who’ll be sorry to be no longer in his service, but about his private life and his relationships, I think it’s very hard to make those judgements. Probably, like the majority of wealthy people in such circles, he kept a reasonably low profile in terms of his private life. What we learned about him came out when he appeared in court, and when he made statements that tried to show his side of what he felt had gone wrong in his own relationship with political circles inside Russia, and, obviously, with business associates inside Russia and outside Russia, so, I think it’d be very unfair of me to comment on what those around him would say now that he’s reportedly dead. However, he was certainly a most colourful character, somebody whose name was synonymous with Russian exiles in London, if you like.

24 March 2013 (MSK)

Tim Ecott

Voice of Russia World Service


Controversial Russian Oligarch Berezovsky Dead at 67

00 Boris Berezovsky. Russia. 23.03.13


Click here for an image gallery of Berezovsky

On Saturday, self-exiled Russian businessman and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky died in his Surrey home at the age of 67, his son-in-law, Yegor Shuppe, posted on his Facebook page, “Boris Berezovsky is dead”. Demyan Kudryavtsev, a long-time family friend, confirmed Berezovsky’s death, telling rbc.ru that Berezovsky died at 11.00 UTC (04.00 PDT. 07.00 EDT. 15.00 MSK. 22.00 AEST). At present, no one knows the precise cause of his death. His close associates quickly quashed initial suggestions that Berezovsky might have committed suicide. Kudryavtsev told Prime Group that Berezovsky suffered a heart attack. A source in Berezovsky’s inner circle also cited the same cause of death, adding that Berezovsky recently received treatment in Israel. Meanwhile, British media said that one of his bodyguards found Berezovsky’s body, and the South Central Ambulance Service received an emergency call from a property in Ascot, Berkshire, at 15.18 UTC (08.18 PDT. 12.18 EDT. 19.18 MSK. 02.18 24 March AEST). British police opened an investigation; for now, they’re treating Berezovsky’s death as “unexplained”.

Under President Boris Yeltsin, Berezovsky became known as Russia’s “kingmaker.” He was a trusted figure at the very heart of the Kremlin, and he was central to Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in the late 90s. However, after Putin took office, Berezovsky’s relationship with the Kremlin quickly soured. In 2001, he fled to France, and, then, to the UK. The Russian authorities issued an arrest warrant for him the following year on charges of money-laundering and illegal business activity. In January 2004, British media reported UK Home Office confirmation that the UK granted him political asylum and had issued him with a UK passport in the name of Platon Elenin.

Russian courts twice sentenced Berezovsky in absentia since he fled the country. Firstly, in 2007, on fraud charges relating to his time at Aeroflot in the 1990s, and, later, in 2009, on embezzlement charges relating to his time at carmaker AvtoVAZ, also in the 1990s. Berezovsky denied these charges. Throughout his time in the UK, Berezovsky remained fiercely critical of Putin’s government. Late last May, the RF SKP initiated two criminal cases against Berezovsky over his public calls for riots to prevent President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration and entry to the Kremlin on 7 May. Berezovsky warned, “Protest rallies may turn into the thunder of a cannonade”.

The Times reported that an Andy Warhol print sold by Christie’s auction house on Wednesday had previously been owned by Boris Berezovsky. Citing “sources familiar with the oligarch’s affairs”, the paper reported that he’d auctioned off the artwork “to pay off creditors and legal bills”. The limited edition print fetched over 202,000 USD (6.25 million Roubles. 156,000 Euros. 133,000 UK Pounds) at auction in London.

Boris Berezovsky suffered heavy financial blows in 2011 and 2012. In August 2012, he lost a legal battle over a 4.6 billion USD (141.3 billion Roubles. 3.5 billion Euros. 3 billion UK Pounds) damages claim against former business partner and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. The Honourable Mrs Justice Elizabeth Gloster, who presided over the case, described Berezovsky as “an unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness”. Berezovky responded by expressing his surprise that the ruling went against him, accusing Mrs Justice Gloster of “rewriting Russian history”, adding, “Sometimes, I have the impression that Putin himself wrote this judgement”.

In July 2011 Berezovsky’s ex-wife, 53-year-old Galina Besharova, won a divorce settlement that British media dubbed the English legal system’s largest ever divorce payout, rumoured to be worth up to 220 million UK Pounds (10.36 billion Roubles. 335 million USD. 258 million Euros). In January, the judge presiding over another case involving Berezovsky issued a ruling describing the businessman as “a man under financial pressure”. Presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov told Rossiya 24 that President Putin was informed of Berezovsky’s death. Peskov also said that Berezovsky write to Putin “perhaps, a couple of months ago”, asking forgiveness for the mistakes he’d made and “requesting permission to return to the motherland”. Berezovsky survived several assassination attempts, including one in 1994 that killed his driver.

23 March 2013




Boris Berezovsky… An Excess of Theatre and Violent Action?

00 Boris Berezovsky


The death of Boris Berezovsky, 67, will definitely provoke a whole range of emotions in Russia… from sympathetic conspiracy theories to accusatory diatribes. Nevertheless, in a host of commentaries that appeared on the Kommersant website, which was one of the first to report his death, there was one that just about everyone can agree with… “An epoch is passing away”.

Berezovsky first became known to Russia’s broader-public back in the mid-90s, when he suddenly popped up as a key figure in Boris Yeltsin‘s scandalous electoral campaign of 1996. Unlike Yeltsin’s first election in 1991, there was little romanticism in that campaign, where state television and dirty electoral technologies were used to bring the ailing president’s ratings from mere 5 percent approval in January 1996 to a victory in the second round in summer the same year. If the late 80s and early 90s went down into Russian history as a time of hardship mixed with hope, the late 90s had a much worse reputation, being associated with cynicism and lawlessness. Whether he wanted it or not, Berezovsky (then, a blossoming businessman in his early 50s) became a symbol of that time. Therefore, a Russian blogger’s remark about an epoch passing away was right… the late 90s were an important part of our lives, so, we can’t help but notice the sudden passing away of one of that epoch’s symbols.

For the moment, the last days of the late oligarch look more like a defeat than a victory. The last of his many wives, Yelena Gorbunova, left him in autumn 2012, and Berezovsky was obviously in financial difficulties. His lost lawsuit against former partner Roman Abramovich, when he not only failed to get 4.6 billion USD (141.3 billion Roubles. 3.5 billion Euros. 3 billion UK Pounds) in damages from Abramovich, but a British judge also dubbed him “an unreliable witness”, probably, added some moral sufferings to an already grave financial injury. Berezovsky exclaimed, “I’m beginning to lose faith in British justice!” when the court refused to believe that Abramovich “breached his trust” when the ownership of the Russian oil company Sibneft passed from Berezovsky to Abramovich. Did Berezovsky indeed commit a suicide because of financial problems and loneliness, as a prominent “attorney for the oligarchs”, Alexander Dobrovinsky, claimed in his interview to Rossiya 24? We may never know for sure. In a way, Berezovsky became a victim of his own style in both business and politics. His penchant for artful deception, for intricate mockery of justice, and for heavy-handed use of gossip and rumour in the media will probably make an objective assessment of his life and legacy impossible.

Did Russia really face a danger of a communist revanche“, when Gennady Zyuganov appeared to be set to win the presidential election in 1996? Which role did Berezovsky play then? Was he an anti-communist “white knight” saving Russia from a return to its own past, or, was he an astute manipulator, who used the communist “scarecrow” in order to consolidate his influence on then-President Yeltsin and his power in the country?

What was Berezovsky’s role in the Litvinenko affair in London and in the death of the slain democracy activist Sergei Yushenkov in Moscow several years earlier? Most likely, we’ll never know. Berezovsky deliberately mystified his actions, powers, and even his political views (at various points in his career, he sometimes called for the banning of the KPRF, or, he toyed with the idea of leading it from behind the scenes). Truth held little value for him, if he couldn’t use it for political purposes or for extracting money. Ultimately, he’ll probably have to pay for his disdain of truth… probably, we’ll never know the true picture of his life; even his relatives won’t.

A relative “latecomer” in politics (he entered the fray in his 50s), Berezovsky brought to the Russian life something that it’d been lacking for a long time… theatre and action. His critics say that there was too much theatre and too much cruel action. Well, excess was always part of Berezovsky’s style.

Dmitri Babich


Fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was found dead in the bathroom of his London house. Firstly, the story emerged from his immediate entourage, and a Moscow law firm later confirmed it. It quoted a caller from London as saying that Berezovsky committed suicide. Once a powerful influence in the Kremlin, he died a pauper and all alone. Lord Bell, a close friend of Berezovsky, confirmed his death at his estate near Ascot in Surrey. He said that Berezovsky was found dead at 11.00 UTC (04.00 PDT. 07.00 EDT. 15.00 MSK. 22.00 AEST) in his bathroom in his house. As the circumstances of his death remain unknown, it isn’t clear whether it was suicide or homicide. Lord Bell said, “He was a very close friend and a very nice man, very kind to me and to the people around him”.

The death of Boris Berezovsky will inevitably raise questions about nefarious activities, because he was a close friend of Aleksandr Litvinenko, the Russian dissident who was fatally poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006. Lately, Berezovsky was short of money, and, in order to pay off his debts, he was selling off his property. Amongst the objects that he put up for auction on Wednesday, 19 March, was the painting Red Lenin, created by Andy Warhol in 1987. Experts said that its selling-price would range from 30,000 to 50,000 UK Pounds (1.412 to 2.355 million Roubles. 45,700 to 76,200 USD. 35,200 to 58,700 Euros). Sources told The Times that Berezovsky was selling his property in order to pay  his creditors and his lawyers.

For the past decade, Boris Berezovsky was in financial troubles. Last year, Boris Berezovsky lost a case against Russian businessman and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, in which he claimed he was intimidated into selling shares in Russian oil giant Sibneft. Boris Berezovsky had claimed 4.6 billion USD (141.3 billion Roubles. 3.5 billion Euros. 3 billion UK Pounds) in damages. However, Berezovsky had to pay 53 million USD (1.64 billion Roubles. 41 million Euros. 35 million UK Pounds) for Abramovich’s legal fees. Since then, he’s withdrawn into private life. Berezovsky dropped other legal cases and stopped funding his main anti-Kremlin political vehicle, the International Foundation for Civil Liberties.

Earlier, the widow of murdered Russian dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, Marina, appealed for help to pay her legal bills, after Boris Berezovsky claimed he could no longer afford to support her. She said she was “very grateful” to Berezovsky for his support in the past. A member of her legal team explained, “Mr Berezovsky made it clear that he’s no longer in a position to fund Mrs Litvinenko’s legal representation”. Berezovsky had contributed large sums of money for Mrs Litvinenko’s legal costs, but then he admitted that he couldn’t support her any longer.

In January 2013 Boris Berezovsky’s former girlfriend, Yelena Gorbunova, with whom he had two children, sought to have 200 million UK Pounds worth (billion 9.42 billion Roubles. 305 million USD. 235 million Euros) of his assets frozen after claiming he owed her millions of pounds. Gorbunova broke up with Mr Berezovsky in 2012, despite sitting at his side in court during much of his abortive multibillion-pound legal fight with Abramovich. During a court hearing the judge said, “On the evidence, Mr Berezovsky is a man under financial pressure. It’s likely he’ll feel a more pressing need to satisfy creditors than satisfy Ms Gorbunova. There’s a risk (which, if the evidence is correct, is a serious risk) that he’d apply property promised to Ms Gorbunova for other purposes”. After the court hearing, Berezovsky had to sell some of his property in England and in France.

Aleksandr Galfak confirmed the death of Berezovsky, saying, “He was found dead in the bathroom in his house in London. Over the past few days, Berezovsky was depressed. He was in a very bad mood”. Aleksandr Dobrovinsky, a well-known Russian lawyer, confirmed Berezovsky’s death. He said that Berezovsky was in a bad mood, he was almost bankrupt, which forced him to sell some of his paintings. Besides that, Mikhail Cherny lent him money to meet living expenses. A few days ago, Berezovsky asked one of his friends to lend him 5,000 dollars (155,000 Roubles. 3,900 Euros. 3,300 UK Pounds) for a ticket, as he wanted to fly somewhere. So, I think the financial situation he’s experienced forced him to commit suicide”. Boris Berezovsky sold a limited-edition of Andy Warhol’s portrait of Lenin at Christie’s auction in 2013, as he had to pay off creditors and legal bills.

Boris Berezovsky lived in the UK from 2000 after having been granted asylum, having fled Russia after falling out with Vladimir Putin. In 1997, Forbes estimated Berezovsky’s wealth at 3 billion USD (92.7 billion Roubles. 2.3 billion Euros. 2 billion UK Pounds). In recent years, his wealth was considerably reduced. Many think that he did badly in the financial crisis. Recent legal proceedings concerning Aleksandr Litvinenko’s widow, and legal wrangles with his ex-girlfriend Yelena Gorbunova, and with multibillionaire Roman Abramovich severely-depleted Berezovsky’s wealth. In 2009, his wealth was estimated at 685 million USD (21.2 billion Roubles. 528 million Euros. 450 million UK Pounds), but he’s thought to have spent 152 million USD (4.7 billion Roubles. 117 million Euros. 100 million UK Pounds) on a case against Roman Abramovich, last year, which he lost.

James Nixey, of Chatham House‘s Russian programme, said, “He was certainly willing to spend his money, what little he had left, in an attempt to use it to end the current régime in Russia. He lived in a heavily-guarded flat in Mayfair. He had bodyguards; there were attempts on his life, even the security service in the UK warned him about them”. Lord Truscott, who wrote a biography of Vladimir Putin, said, “Was it suicide or was it murder? He had a lot contact with people in Russia. There could be a whole host of people who could want to see him dead. Last year, he lost a case against Abramovich, and he was getting very short of money. He could have been in a depressed state. Perhaps, it was a final desperation”.

23 March 2013

Voice of Russia World Service



Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.