Boris Berezovsky – the exiled multi-millionaire Russian businessman and opponent of the Kremlin whom “poison spy” (i.e. ex-FSB man) Alexander Litvinenko was allegedly ordered to assassinate, prompting his investigations into Putin’s Russia that ended in serious allegations and, presumably, his own death at the end of last year – has apparently decided to get serious, announcing
This is pretty serious stuff – at least where the rhetoric is concerned:
“We need to use force to change this regime… It isn’t possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure.”
This all looks set to cause a lot of friction – not just escalating the war of words between Berezovsky and Putin, but also the tensions between Russia and Britain, where Berezovsky is currently living as a political asylum seeker. After all, Berezovsky is now again openly advocating violent regime change – and, in a wonderful piece of hypocrisy from one of the main governments responsible for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, when Berezovsky said similar things last year, the official British response was simple: “advocating the violent overthrow of a sovereign state is unacceptable.”
Russia, meanwhile, has vowed to prosecute the “oligarch” for sedition – the latest of many legal attempts to crush this controversial figure, whom some would argue is likely just as corrupt and dangerous as his opponents. After all, how many people made such vast sums of money in 1990s Russia without being involved in some kind of dodginess? And, after all, opponents of Berezovsky have been murdered just as opponents of Putin have been…
Of course, whether Berezovsky actually has enough popular support within Russia to pose a serious threat to Putin’s regime is unclear – and depends entirely on who you talk to. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be related to this story about the opposition group “The Other Russia” (with whom Berezovsky – plus former chess wizard Garry Kasparov – is associated) and their plans to get a high-profile presidential candidate ready for the 2008 elections.
There may have been a few protest marches organised by The Other Russia of late, but a few thousand on the streets – usually swiftly beaten back by riot police – hardly looks like much more than the very earliest stages of a full-scale popular revolt. Berezovsky may be rich, but unless he can fund an army, his claims that Putin will be overthrown by force look a touch too optimistic. After all, the August 1991 Putsch failed despite far higher-profile and better-placed figureheads than Berezovsky appears to have at his disposal. In short, the chances don'[t look good.
Would Russia be better off without Putin? Well, it all depends on who replaces him really, doesn’t it? Get rid of Putin and replace him with Berezovsky, you could simply be replacing “the grey cardinal” with an even more shadowy and unpredictable figure. Because whatever Berezovsky’s motives may now be, he was more than happy to support Putin back at the 2000 presidential elections – and the Russian people as a whole are arguably better off now than they were then. Was Berezovsky’s change of heart out of concern for his fellow Russians, or pure self-interest? And, of course, with Duma elections not due until the end of this year and presidential elections not until next March, the other big question is “why now?”