Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 156

Boris Berezovsky, the tycoon who recently resigned from the State Duma and has become a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to centralize power, has formally launched a “constructive opposition” to the Kremlin’s policies. In a statement published yesterday, Berezovsky and eight other well-known public figures said Russia stood before the choice of creating either a democratic or an authoritarian state. They warned that Putin’s “completely understandable and natural striving” to halt the state’s disintegration and to build a more “effective and responsible” government was unleashing the traditional authoritarian tendencies of “ruling bureaucratic circles.” “Under threat,” the signatories wrote, “are the main achievements of the last decade: the free press, free entrepreneurship and, most important, free thought, a spirit of independence.” Besides Berezovsky, they included former deputy Kremlin administration chief Igor Shabdurasulov, who is slated to head a new holding made up of Berezovsky-controlled media; Otto Latsis, a veteran journalist with Novye Izvestia, a Berezovsky-controlled newspaper; filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, who is State Duma deputy and a member of Fatherland-All Russia, the coalition headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov; and Vasily Aksyenov, the well-known emigre writer who teaches at George Mason University. There were no governors among the signatories, despite the fact that Berezovsky has reportedly been trying to recruit many of them into his new movement (Izvestia, August 9). Govorukhin’s presence among the signatories was interesting, given that Berezovsky is widely believed to have been behind Primakov’s ouster as prime minister last year and that Luzhkov has frequently denounced Berezovsky. Aksyenov’s presence among the signatories was interesting, given that he has publicly supported the Kremlin’s military campaign in Chechnya, which Putin has led and which has been the main source for the head of state’s continued popularity.

The reaction to the launching of Berezovsky’s movement broke down along predictable ideological lines. Irina Khakamada, a State Duma deputy speaker and a leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, said Berezovsky had “the complete right to create any opposition to the current administration” and that the movement would “rely on values accepted in a democratic society.” On the other side of the spectrum, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said the new movement had “no prospects whatsoever” and denounced Berezovsky for having done everything possible “to prolong the political life of Boris Yeltsin.” Aleksandr Shokhin, a member of the People’s Deputy faction in the State Duma, said he doubted the expediency of creating a new political movement for defending the idea of civil society, although he added that the idea itself should be discussed and efforts to limit authoritarianism should be supported (Russian agencies, August 10).