Boris Berezovsky said yesterday evening that he would return to Russia only when the Aeroflot case is investigated in a fully legal way. Berezovsky–who made his comments from New York in an interview broadcast live on NTV television–failed to appear yesterday at the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow for questioning in the case, which involves charges that several Swiss firms connected to Berezovsky embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from Russia’s state airline. In his interview, Berezovsky, who had earlier denied any connection with Aeroflot and had promised to appear if summoned for questioning in the Aeroflot case, said he decided not to return to Russia after reading an interview President Vladimir Putin gave last month to the French newspaper Le Figaro. In that interview, Putin, asked about a dig Berezovsky made at him, warned that the state had a “club” it would use against oligarchs who tried to blackmail it (see the Monitor, October 27). Berezovsky said he took Putin’s threat to use the club “seriously.” Nonetheless, the tycoon said he hoped to return to Russia “sooner or later.”
Berezovsky was also asked about his claim, made in his November 14 announcement that he would not return to Russia for questioning, that funds from the Swiss firms “working with Aeroflot” were used to finance Unity, the pro-Putin political bloc, and Putin’s presidential campaign (see the Monitor, November 15). Berezovsky stressed that profits from these firms were used to finance Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned television channel which Berezovsky was said to control, and that ORT was in turn used to support both Unity during the autumn 1999 parliamentary election campaign and Putin during his presidential campaign. ORT did indeed mount a vigorous and, according to many, dirty campaign to support Unity and Putin and to discredit their enemies. Berezovsky also claimed that the idea to create Unity was his and his associates’, and that funds from “various sources,” including the Swiss firms, were used to finance the bloc immediately after its creation (NTV, November 15). Boris Gryzlov, head of Unity’s faction in the State Duma, and Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, yesterday denied Berezovsky’s claims about the financing of the Putin and Unity campaigns (RTR, November 15).
For its part, the newspaper Moskovsky komsomolets today cited anonymous sources as confirming that Berezovsky had financed Unity, but had done so not with his own funds, but with those provided by aluminum magnate Lev Chernoy. The paper, which has long been critical of Berezovsky and has often published anti-Berezovsky “kompromat” (compromising materials) also carried on its front page a makeshift wanted poster for Berezovsky, complete with mugshot-like photographs of him and a list of his alleged financial crimes. Readers were asked to cut out the poster and post it in the entrances of their apartment buildings. “Anybody who knows the location of Berezovsky, B.A., is asked to report this immediately to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, to the nearest police officer or to Moskovsky komsomolets,” the poster reads (Moskovsky komsomolets, November 16).
MOSCOW SQUEEZING GEORGIA ON SEVERAL FRONTS.