An “evil genius whose fraudulent business scams combined with sociopathic personal charisma corrupted the Kremlin and bled the country’s economy dry”; a “clever, cunning, and resourceful manipulator of powerful people and a master of chaos”; a “giant spider who managed to entangle so many top officials in his web”: these are just some of the obituaries to widely-hated Jewish oligarch Boris Berezovsky which have appeared in newspapers in Moscow today.
In fact, no one in Moscow can be found who has a good word to day about him—a remarkable achievement for someone who was, arguably, Russia’s richest man.
How then did this son of a Jewish civil engineer, graduate of the the Moscow Forestry Engineering Institute, and head of the Institute of Control Sciences of the USSR Academy of Sciences become modern Russia’s most hated Jew?
In many ways, Berezovsky symbolizes the path of Jews in the former Soviet Union and post-Communist Russia.
Under the USSR, he used his Jewish status to advance through the ranks of the civil service, making sure that he was never guilty of the “crime” of being a Zionist, and then, as the Soviet Union crumbled, he seized the opportunity to quite literally strip the assets of the state to personal benefit.
In this regard, Berezovsky was not alone. The other Jewish oligarchs whose names are equally familiar include Vladimir Gusinksy, Leonid Nevzlin, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, Oleg Derpisha, Viktor Veselberg, and many others.
Most, if not all, were forced to flee Russia, and are now in exile in Israel.
Berezovsky made his first big money by buying cars from the failing Soviet automaker AvtoVaz at a fixed state price—and then, waiting until there was a severe shortage of vehicles, he established Russia’s first ever private automobile dealership, Logovaz, in 1989.
The cars, bought at a fraction of their actual value (their manufacture having been subsidized by the Soviet state), were then sold at “free market” rates—and Berezovsky became an overnight multimillionaire.
As Paul Klebnikov, the former editor of Forbes-Russia, described in his 2001 book The Godfather of the Kremlin, Berezovsky “mastered the use of political leverage to take control over troubled assets, which he milked for profits and then discarded.”
Klebnikov’s book detailed a host of utterly criminal practices perpetrated by Berezovsky, and it came as no surprise to observers that the author was assassinated on a Moscow street in 2004. The perpetrators have never been identified.
Sergei Strokan, a columnist with the Moscow daily Kommersant newspaper, said that “Berezovsky lived what we might call the post-Soviet dream, though for most of us it more resembled a nightmare.
“At a time when many Russians were literally starving, and our country was falling apart, he was throwing lavish parties, handing out gold watches to friends as if they were candies, buying yachts and other baubles, and giving self-important interviews to foreign journalists filled with platitudes about democracy and the market economy,” Strokan wrote.
“But basically, he was a fraud. He stole everything he had, and built nothing. He was fishing in murky waters, and this is how he built his entire career.”
In 1994 Berezovsky was the target of a car bombing assassination attempt, in which his driver was killed and he was injured. An official investigation linked the bombing to his mob connections, the first open sign that he played a role in what is quite incorrectly called the “Russian Mafia” (but which is, in fact, a Jewish mafia).
The same year, Berezovsky bought Russia’s main TV station (ORT Television) which was previously known as the Soviet Channel 1, establishing an important control of Russia’s main media outlet.
His fellow Jewish oligarch Gusinsky purchased the TV station NTV. This move meant that between these two men, over 80 percent of Russian TV was in their hands.
In 1995, Berezovsky played a key role in a management reshuffle at Aeroflot and participated in its corporatization, with his close Jewish associate Nikolai Glushkov, who became Aeroflot’s Chief Financial Officer (who in turn would be arrested in 2000 on fraud charges).
Berezovsky and his fellow Jewish oligarchs lived well for a decade, and things seemed to get even better when Yeltsin turned to them for financing to help his ailing re-election bid to the presidency of Russia in 1996.
With millions provided by Khodorkovsky’s bank, Menatep, and media support from the Berezovsky/Gusinky media empire, Yeltsin won re-election. His oligarch friends were well-rewarded—Khodorkovsky was given further shares in newly-privatized Russian oil fields, and Berezovsky was made deputy director of Russia’s National Security Council.
Around this time, aware that increasing numbers of Russians were linking Jews to oligarch activities, Berezovksy announced that he was converting to Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Berezovsky and the other oligarchs also turned out in support of Yeltsin’s successor, but later fell out with the new Russian leader.
Yeltsin ensured that most of the oligarchs were either arrested or driven into exile, and their assets seized.
Berezovsky was given exile in London, where he remained a hate target of the newly-liberated Russian media.
From exile, Berezovsky funded anti-Yeltsin groups and always attempted to engineer his former protégé’s fall.
“Berezovsky made a frightening impression on everyone, including me,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin insider and close adviser to Putin, said.
“I suppose his personal views were liberal-democratic, but he never actually acted as a democrat. Official propaganda learned a lot from Berezovsky—shameless assertions, bullying, aggressiveness. Nobody will ever want their kids to be like him.”