Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 18

The ongoing battle between the Russian authorities and Boris Berezovsky ratcheted up sharply late yesterday. Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), announced that his agency has documentary evidence that the erstwhile Kremlin insider, who went into self-imposed exile in 2000 after denouncing President Vladimir Putin, had financed Chechen rebel fighters. “Indeed, we have such information, it is in large part documented,” Patrushev told NTV television. “It concerns, above all, the financing of illegal armed formations and their leaders. I think that we will appropriately validate [the information], send it to our foreign partners and wait for the proper reaction from them about Boris Berezovsky.” NTV said that, based on these charges, the FSB could put out an international warrant for Berezovsky’s arrest. In the late 1990s, Berezovsky–who once served as deputy secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council and later as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)–was involved in the release of hostages from Chechnya. Some media at the time accused him of financing various Chechen rebel leaders and their fighters.

Patrushev’s remarks came at the end of a week during which TV-6, the television network in which Berezovsky holds a 75-percent stake, was taken off the air by the Press Ministry on the orders of the Higher Arbitration Court. Last month, as the controversy surrounding TV-6 heated up, Berezovsky charged that Russia’s special services were behind the August 1999 invasion of Dagestan by militants in Chechnya and that the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow was a “thought-out provocation by the Russian secret services.” The secret services, he alleged, were also involved in the apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk a month later, which killed more than 300 people. Berezovsky said that he could not say that Putin–who in the autumn of 1999 was Russia’s prime minister and who had previously headed the FSB–had ordered these operations. But, he said, he could say that the Russian security services had carried out the apartment bombings to “consolidate society around Putin’s candidacy” prior to the presidential elections by creating the pretext for a new Chechen military campaign, which “ensured Putin’s victory.” The FSB called Berezovsky’s allegations “complete madness.” Berezovsky repeated them earlier this month, adding that the Russian special services had also planned to bomb an apartment building in Ryazan in September 1999. He said that he would release documents proving the Russian special services’ participation in the bombings by the end of February (see the Monitor, December 17, 2001; January 17, 14). Last night, responding to Patrushev’s remarks, Berezovsky said that the FSB director’s demarche was “absolutely logical.” “I have gathered a great deal of material about the FSB’s involvement in the explosions and plan to present it to the international community,” the tycoon told NTV television in an interview from London. He also said that TV-6 had been preparing to broadcast a film on these incidents, but that the FSB had gotten wind of it. This, he claimed, was the reason TV-6 was taken off the air. Today, the Gazeta.ru website called Patrushev’s demarche “a response to Berezovsky for violating certain rules of the game, according to which the former CIS executive secretary would not reveal secrets of Russia’s special services that he might be privy to, and the FSB would remain quiet about Berezovsky’s business operations in Chechnya” (Gazeta.ru, January 25; NTV.ru, January 24).

Last autumn, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office issued a warrant for Berezovsky’s arrest in connection with the Aeroflot case, involving charges that two Swiss companies reportedly set up by Berezovsky, Andava and Forus illegally received hundreds of millions of dollars in hard currency revenues from Russia’s state airline. Berezovsky was charged on three counts: (1) facilitating the embezzlement of Aeroflot funds by “arranging work in that company for several of his acquaintances,” (2) failure to repatriate hard currency made abroad and (3) moneylaundering (see the Monitor, October 23, 2001). Yet, while a top Interior Ministry official said last month that the Russian authorities knew exactly where Berezovsky was, the Prosecutor General’s Office has not requested any foreign government to detain the tycoon in preparation for his extradition to Russia (NTV.ru, December 11, 2001). This contrasts with the case of fellow Russian media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, who was arrested in Spain in late 2000 at the request of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, which sought to have him extradited to Russia to face fraud charges. In April 2001, Spain’s National Court rejected the Russian extradition request (NTV.ru, December 11, 2001; see the Monitor, April 19, 2001).