Berezovsky ‘down’ but would not bow to Putin: allies
Friends of Russian oligarch and Kremlin critic Boris Berezovsky, who has died at 67, said he was bruised by financial and personal woes, but questioned claims he had begged forgiveness from arch-foe President Vladimir Putin.
Berezovsky, who helped Putin rise to power but then fled Russia as the new strongman cracked down on politically ambitious oligarchs, was found dead in his mansion near London on Saturday afternoon.
Putin’s spokesman told state television on Saturday that Berezovsky had recently written to Putin saying he wanted to go home and asking “forgiveness for his mistakes.”
But Berezovsky’s allies cast doubt on the report.
“I absolutely don’t believe in this letter. This is not possible,” opposition activist Andrei Sidelnikov told TV Rain.
“If there was such a letter, maybe Peskov distorted its meaning,” Alexander Goldfarb, an activist and close associate of Berezovsky, told TV Rain.
“If it really exists, this letter deserves to be in a museum.”
A journalist for Forbes Russia magazine, Ilya Zhegulev, also claimed that Berezovsky had a change of heart towards Putin, telling Echo of Moscow radio station that Berezovsky praised the president’s strong will in an off-the-record conversation on Friday.
Berezovsky also told Forbes Russia that his “life had lost meaning,” a transcript on the magazine’s website said.
Those who knew Berezovsky concurred he was depressed after recent setbacks such as losing a legal battle in London against billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, leaving him with reported costs of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“He did have signs or symptoms of depression. He was downcast, melancholy, not like himself,” Goldfarb said.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the nationalist and Kremlin-backing Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, said Berezovsky was downcast when they met in Israel in January.
“He was ready to return to Russia on any terms…. He looked very down and his eyes had lost their shine,” Zhirinovsky told Echo of Moscow.
Zhirinovsky said Berezovsky had told him that in exchange for his return to Russia, the exiled oligarch was ready to “close the case” on the murder of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko, a friend of Litvinenko’s and fellow Kremlin critic, died of radioactive poisoning in London in 2006.
Zhirinovsky did not elaborate on what Berezovsky knew about the death or how his plan would have worked.
Litvinenko’s murder, which cast a pall over British-Russian relations, is set to be examined at an inquest in Britain after Berezovsky gave evidence to investigators.
Britain’s chief suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is a lawmaker in Zhirinovsky’s party. He has accused Berezovsky of masterminding the killing himself.
A top Russian lawyer, Alexander Dobrovinsky, claimed on state television Saturday that Berezovsky had committed suicide, quoting unnamed mutual friends.
However, a source close to Berezovsky’s family told the Interfax news agency on Sunday: “Today we can say 100 percent that the cause of death was natural.”
Berezovsky, who worked as an academic before making his fortune after the fall of Communism, gained asylum in Britain in 2003, from where he continued to wage outspoken attacks on the Kremlin.