Berezovsky, Boris Abramovich

(1946– )
   Oligarch. Also known as Platon Elenin, Boris Berezovsky was born in Moscow to a Jewish family; his father worked in construction and his mother was a nurse. His early career exemplifies the life of the Soviet Union’s midlevel professional intelligentsia (he studied forestry and applied mathematics, receiving his doctorate in 1983) and ever-growing research bureaucracy (from 1969 to 1987, he was a research assistant at the USSR Academy of Sciences). He began his business career in 1989 under the economic chaos of perestroika. Initially, he capitalized on the collapse of the Soviet distribution system, buying and reselling cars from the state manufacturer AutoVAZ. He eventually began trading Mercedes-Benzes and in 1992 created the new company LogoVAZ, an exclusive consignment dealer of AutoVAZ. Berezovsky excelled in trading state-owned assets and products, so it is not surprising that his own company became Russia’s largest private enterprise in 1995 while AutoVAZ was struggling to survive. During the mid-1990s, Berezovsky used his connections to gain access to “the Family,” that is, President Boris Yeltsin’s inner circle; he developed particularly close relationships with Yeltsin’s daughter Tatyana Dyachenko and the president’s longtime chief of staff. As a result, Berezovsky acquired special access to state companies that were undergoing privatization such as Aeroflot, the oil company Sibneft, and those in the aluminum industry. To serve his growing commercial empire, Berezovsky established a bank and purchased several news media holdings, including the television channels ORT and TV-6 and the newspapers Nezavisimaia Gazeta and Kommersant>. He aggressively utilized his financial and media institutions to sway the 1996 presidential elections, resulting in Yeltsin’s reelection. His controversial political career often overshadowed his financial success. Yeltsin appointed Berezovsky executive secretary of the Organization for Coordinating the Commonwealth of Independent States and deputy secretary of the National Security Council. Berezovsky was also elected to the State Duma. Reportedly, Berezovsky was instrumental in the appointment Vladimir Putin as prime minister in 1999 as a quid pro quo for Putin’s future loyalty to Yeltsin and Berezovsky himself. However, Berezovsky’s opposition to the initiation of the second Chechen War and his media outlets’ critical coverage of the Kursk submarine disaster quickly soured relations with Putin.
   In response to an investigation into his business activities, Berezovsky fled to and then gained asylum in Great Britain in 2001. The Russian government subsequently charged Berezovsky with corruption related to his management of Aeroflot. In 2007, a Moscow court found him guilty of embezzlement and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment in absentia.
   His purported links to the Russian mafia and Chechen terrorists is also an issue of concern to the Kremlin. In his capacity as the deputy secretary of the National Security Council, Berezovsky developed extensive contacts among the Chechen diaspora in Russia and abroad, and transferred large sums of money to Shamil Basayev to secure the release of Russian hostages during the incident at Budyonnovsk. In the mid-1990s, Forbes magazine accused him of being the head of organized crime in Russia, though the publication later issued a retraction. He has been accused of involvement in a number of recent scandals, including the 2006 assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko. Despite his long absence from Russia, he remains involved in its domestic politics, including launching the failed Liberal Russia party. In the late 2000s, he declared his aim is to bring down Putin “by force,” if necessary.
   Berezovsky’s very career popularized the term “oligarch” and he was saddled with a host of controversial titles, among them a latterday “Rasputin,” “the Gray Cardinal,” “the epitome of Russian robber capitalism,” and “the godfather of the Kremlin.” While he is loathed by many average Russians, Berezovsky’s notorious business and political career has been memorialized in Russian literature and film. Pavel Lungin’s 2002 film Tycoon: A New Russian traces the rise of the cynical Russian billionaire. In 2004, Berezovsky changed his first name to Platon, to adhere symbolically to the film’s protagonist Platon Makhovsky, and his last name to Elenin, a coinage derived from his wife’s name. The subject of several assassination attempts, he now resides in a virtual fortress in the suburbs of London, England, and maintains a security detail comprised of veterans of the French Foreign Legion.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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