The death of Boris Berezovsky made front-page news in the British media. Since the rumours of his death began to circle on the internet early yesterday afternoon, the British media whipped into a frenzy over the unexplained death of the exiled Russian oligarch. Today, a police cordon surrounds his mansion on the Wentworth Estate, and detectives and experts in chemical and nuclear materials continue to search his house as a precaution. The British press already speculates as to the circumstances of Berezovsky’s death, as well as looking back at the impact he had on both Britain and Russia during his life. In the downmarket centre-left red-top tabloid Sunday Mirror, Lord Truscott, who wrote a biography of Vladimir Putin, said, “Was it suicide or was it murder? There could be a whole host of people who would want to see him dead”.
On Sunday, the middle-market centre-right black-top tabloid The Mail on Sunday led with the headline, “Another Kremlin Enemy Dies”, and examined the dramatic events of the months leading up to the former Kremlin power-broker’s death, a so-called oligarch, who was once one of the richest men in the world. Once worth as much as 3 billion UK Pounds (141.3 billion Roubles. 4.6 billion USD. 3.6 billion Euros), Berezovsky’s wealth diminished of late, following a series of expensive court cases which cost him a great deal of his fortune. Late last year, he lost a civil case against Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, which cost Berezovsky a reported 130 million UK Pounds (6.2 billion Roubles. 198.2 million USD. 152.6 million Euros) in fees. The Mail reported that family and friends were concerned about the tycoon’s mental health in recent months; that he suffered from depression and even contemplated suicide. Lord Bell, a PR guru and friend of Berezovsky, said last night, “He was extremely depressed. He’s been very low since the court ruling against him. He had huge financial problems and personal problems too”. The article cites an interview he did with Forbes Russia, in which he expressed a desire to return to Russia for the first time since his self-imposed exile to the UK, after falling out with President Putin in 2000. According to the Forbes interview, which Berezovsky asked the magazine not to publish, he said, “his life no longer made sense”, and that if he were to return to Russia, he’d have no future political involvement there.
The Sunday Telegraph (a centre-right broadsheet), meanwhile, went with an obituary of Berezovsky entitled The Rise and Fall of an Oligarch, comparing his life story to a great Russian novel, “full of both charm and treachery”. It told of how a Moscow maths professor became one of the richest men in the world and, subsequently, an enemy of the Kremlin. It suggests that Berezovsky became rich and powerful through “money, charm, and contacts”, benefiting from his friendship with then-President Boris Yeltsin, whom he met in 1993, and taking control of various state assets at a time when the Russian economy was struggling. The obituary also went into his relationship with his fellow oligarch Abramovich; it related how the failed damages claim against the Chelsea owner, along with a series of other detrimental court cases, chipped away at his wealth. It ended by saying, “the former mathematics professor found that the numbers were against him”.
In the upmarket centre-left Guardian, Luke Harding referred to Berezovsky’s unsuccessful attempt to sue Abramovich for 5 billion USD (154.5 billion Roubles. 3.9 billion Euros. 3.3 billion UK Pounds), the biggest private litigation battle ever, and the impact that this had on his mental wellbeing. Harding wrote that the case ruined him financially, leaving him practically bankrupt. The article suggested that Berezovsky, known for his “relentless energy”, was rarely seen by his friends, and, in recent months, those who did see him described him as “vacant, often confused, and uncharacteristically regretful of past errors”. The Guardian also examined the oligarch’s continuing feud with Vladimir Putin; it looked at the President’s desire to have him extradited back to Russia after the UK granted him asylum back in 2003, and the numerous criminal cases opened up against Berezovsky by Russian investigators. Harding said that the Kremlin “watched Berezovsky’s dramatic fall with unconcealed glee”, whilst it quotes Aleksandr Goldfarb, a close friend of the Russian businessman, as saying that President Putin would “personally rejoice at the news’ of his death”… calling Berezovsky the Kremlin’s bogeyman. The article ended by saying that Berezovsky’s feud with Putin ultimately led up to his death.
The BBC’s Bridget Kendall called Berezovsky “larger than life” and she looked at Berezovsky’s relationship with President Putin. She pointed up how Berezovsky, once a strong advocate of Putin as a suitable successor to Boris Yeltsin for the presidency, said that he failed to realise Putin’s “true colours”; and how they fell out over the crisis in Chechnya, as well as state control of Berezovsky’s ORT television station. Kendall questioned Berezovsky’s change of tone in his recent interview with Forbes; she put his change of heart and desire to return to his motherland to the fact that his political focus always remained on Russia.
For the foreseeable future, specially-trained police officers will continue to scour Berezovsky’s home, and the estate where he lives will remain cordoned off. The tycoon’s body remains inside. However, given the murky circumstances that surrounded his death, the British media are certainly raising their eyebrows over how Berezovsky may have died. His financial downfall following the Abramovich court case appears to have weighed heavy on Berezovsky. For now, the press in Britain will keep at their fascination with, possibly, the most colourful of all the Russian oligarchs.
24 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service