Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 85

The appointment last week of Russian business mogul Boris Berezovsky as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States has elicited a somewhat surprising international reaction. While Berezovsky’s appointment has received strong support from the leaders of other CIS countries–which unanimously approved Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s nomination of Berezovsky–other members of the CIS business elite are more circumspect.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze praised Berezovsky’s appointment, calling him “a man of a new type who has never been a party functionary, and who knows what the market economy is.” Shevardnadze called on Berezovsky to “closely examine the experience of … the European Union and the United Nations,” implying that the CIS should model itself after these organizations. Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi struck a similar note, describing Berezovsky as a “talented organizer and businessman … who has already proved to be an experienced diplomat and organizer”. (Itar-Tass, April 29)

Berezovsky’s appointment elicited a more mixed reaction from the CIS business elite, however. While a number of business leaders praised the move, others were more circumspect. Vladislav Demitrov, president of the “Formash” Financial-Industrial Group, termed Berezovsky’s appointment “a complete surprise” that left him with “mixed feelings.” While calling Berezovsky an “active and influential businessman” who would clean up the “swamp that has thus far ruled in the CIS executive committee”, Demitrov also described him as a “clearly odious figure.” And Nikolai Panichev, president of the “Rostankoinstrument” group, said that Berezovsky “does not have the economics background required for such an important position.” According to Panichev, what the CIS needs now is “a professional economist, not someone who knows how to make money.” (Russian agencies, April 29)

Whatever else he does, Berezovsky’s appointment is unlikely to stand in the way of his pursuit of business opportunities in the CIS countries. The CIS leaders’ affinity for his appointment suggests that they may see Berezovsky as being motivated primarily by his own commercial (as opposed to Russo-imperial) ambitions, which may to them seem less threatening. The business elite’s cooler reaction may reflect a similar perception–that Berezovsky will acquire new weapons to use against them in the competitive struggle for CIS markets and resources. Berezovsky’s appointment could therefore signal a “globalization” of the rivalry among Russia’s leading business oligarchs. Whether this will promote intra-CIS integration remains to be seen.