Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 107

Last week, only several days after two defectors from the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), Sergei Yushenkov and Vladimir Golovlyov, announced that Boris Berezovsky had promised funding for their planned new democratic opposition group, the tycoon himself made what can only be called a surprise appearance on NTV’s “Hero of the Day” program. The program is now hosted by Savik Shuster, the former head of Radio Liberty’s Moscow bureau, who was fired from the U.S. government-funded radio station after refusing to halt his appearances on an NTV soccer discussion program in the wake of Gazprom’s takeover of NTV. Berezovsky, who has been in self-imposed “exile” since his break with Putin and claims to fear arrest if he returns to Russia, was interviewed live from Paris.

The tycoon told Shuster that he did not believe Putin would “survive” beyond his first term in office or even “through the very next stage,” adding that no one in the mid-1980s believed that the Soviet Union would collapse. Berezovsky called for a return to what he called former President Boris Yeltsin’s attempts to build “a liberal Russia,” saying that he had backed Putin thinking that the latter would continue Yeltsin’s “reform course,” but that Putin had turned out to believe that “Russia cannot be ruled other than by authoritarian methods.” Berezovsky also said that a “real as opposed to puppet opposition” is necessary to continue Yeltsin’s reform course (NTV, May 31).

Since Berezovsky’s remarks on NTV, two articles have appeared in the daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets suggesting that the tycoon’s “opposition” role is actually serving Putin’s interests, and that Berezovsky is playing it with it with the Kremlin’s knowledge and approval. Veteran journalist Aleksandr Minkin wrote that Berezovsky’s comment about Putin not finishing his term was ambiguous enough to leave some viewers with the impression that Berezovsky was even hinting at “a conspiracy with murder as its goal.” Minkin wondered why Berezovsky did not seem to be afraid to make such threats. “Was this broadcast, this attack, [made] by chance?”, the journalist asked rhetorically. “Or were we observing a double game?” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 2).

Another journalist writing in the same paper suggested today that Berezovsky’s appearance on NTV may also have been aimed at enhancing the image of the channel, which, critics have charged, has become has become much more pro-Kremlin in its news coverage since April, when the channel’s Gusinsky-appointed management was replaced by a new Gazprom-picked team. “It is difficult to imagine a better present for Putin than the appearance of BAB [Boris Abramovich Berezovsky] on the fourth channel [NTV],” wrote Aleksandr Melman. “Whoever thought up this move should be decorated, not shot by a firing squad. It is known that everything Berezovsky says publicly boomerangs on him The more often BAB prophesies that ‘Putin will not live long’, the more strongly it will unite the electorate around the ‘party and government.’ The more ‘the father of the new Russian democracy’ appears on TV with such escapades, the tighter that unification will become. And NTV will remain a bastion of free speech in the eyes of domestic and international communities” (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 4).

It is also interesting to note that in funding the new political organization planned by Sergei Yushenkov and other SPS defectors, Berezovsky may be aiming to undermine the interests of his long-time rival, United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, who is a founding SPS member and believed to be the party’s de facto fundraiser and, thus, de facto leader.