"He entertained himself with all possible means"
Yuri Felshtinsky tells us about his friend Boris Berezovsky.
Lenta.ru continues the series of interviews about the recent past of our country. Following the perestroika, we recall the key events and phenomena of the 90s, the era of Boris Yeltsin. Doctor of Historical Sciences, a friend and adviser of Boris Berezovsky Yuri Felshtinsky told Lente.ru what to do when it gets boring to be just rich, why the oligarchs do not spend their money, and what is common between Berezovsky’s dissertation and Lenin’s log.
Berezovsky’s values table
Lenta.ru: Boris Berezovsky is considered to be the most mysterious figure of the Yeltsin era. Tell us, have you unriddled this man for myself?
Yuri Felshtinsky: I’ve never had a goal to unriddle Berezovsky. I had a problem to understand how I could be useful to him and Russia. It now sounds naive, but in 1998, I had some rights to this naivety. I thought being beside "influential" Berezovsky, I could change the course of Russian history. If he was willing to listen to me, it would, of course, happen. For example, some high-ranking officials would not have achieved their heights today.
But make yourself to be heard, "to get into focus" of Berezovsky was difficult. Besides, he did not have any impact on Russian policy. This is a myth, the author of which was Berezovsky himself. Boris was useful after 1996 only once: when he created the party "Yedinstvo" and brilliantly beat Yuri Luzhkov in the parliamentary elections in October 1999. After this, self-confident and arrogant Berezovsky believing in his genius and irreplaceability became a hindrance.
I’ve heard that in order to understand Berezovsky, you have developed a special system of perception of him. Would you share it?
Berezovsky’s difference from all the other people (at least those I know) was the fact that he was interested only in himself. He was an egoist extended to to the theoretical maximum. He thought only of himself, did just what he thought was profitable and enjoyable. Sometimes, it coincided with the interests of other individuals, groups or entire collectives (could even coincide with the interests of countries and peoples). Sometimes it did not.
To say that Berezovsky was unprincipled is to say nothing. He did not know this word. The list words and concepts that didn’t exist for Berezovsky was, I think, infinite. For the same reason, he was absolutely immoral. At the same time, you and your readers should understand that if Berezovsky saw these lines, he would not take them as something insulting or denigrating. I even suspect that he would have been flattered. Towards other people he was cruel, cynical, straightforward and expected the same treatment from them.
The main goal of Boris always was enjoying life. It was more difficult to learn to align his projects and work with the unusual scale of his values. Of course, he could let it all hang out and return to the US. In the end, this was what happened: I stayed in Russia from September 1998 to May 1999, because by May 1999 I realized that I can’t be helpful and can change nothing in the state. But in the summer of 2000 Berezovsky himself emigrated from Russia, and another chapter began in his life, and there was some place for me too.
Yes, I made for myself a kind of table of Boris’s values which I have called "kaifs": to appoint his own person as the president of Russia would be 100 kaifs. Dismiss the president of Russia - 500 kaifs. Create an opposition political party "Liberal Russia" was 5 kaifs. To have sex with a young girl - 7 kaifs. To give an interview to the foreign press - 2 kaifs. To the Russian one - 1 kaif. Andwhatwasn’tgivinghimkaifs, hejustnever.
Without an understanding of Berezovsky’s pleasures scale it is impossible to understand the logic of his actions. From outside, many of his steps seemed meaningless and inexplicable. And he was just having a good time at every possible way.
Mathematician, politician, businessman
How is it possible, that a scientist, mathematician, who was not interested in politics and business, suddenly reaches such heights in both of these fields? And, as you wrote, he read people poorly. How was he able to manipulate them, to get what he wanted?
Up to a certain point, he enjoyed solving math problems, all the more so in the Soviet Union it was prestigious. Boris, of course, was not involved in policy (in the sense of a state policy), because it was risky and boring. What pleasure could bring the Soviet policy? None. And there was no policy. It was only the fulfillment of the guidelines and orders of the Party. Whereas business always interested Boris. For the Jewish in the Soviet Union to defend a candidate’s and a doctor dissertation, he had to show career-organizational skills of no less than in business.
Berezovsky became a corresponding member. He would have become an academic as well, but the wallpaper degrees at that time interested him no longer, he was interested in a lot of money. He wondered if he could make, say, a billion dollars. And this happened, at a time, when the wildest expectations of many future oligarchs did not exceed a million.
Berezovsky absolutely ruthlessly exploited other people's thoughts, ideas, initiatives and proposals. He exploited and used people. You can certainly blame him that he often stole projects or ideas. But we have already found that Boris was immoral, and talking about him using the concepts of "integrity" and "dishonesty" would be totally "unscientific". Therefore, wewon’t.
In the end, we can assume that Boris was a capable manager (it is quite a business term), a manager for defending dissertations, becoming a corresponding member and so on. I know a lot of mathematicians who claim that they wrote doctoral dissertation for Berezovsky. I know a lot of PR people and journalists, who said that they wrote this or that principle (long) article for Boris. I can confirm that Boris has repeatedly sent me some of his manuscripts before publication with a request to express my opinions (in writing), make observations and comments (also in writing).
I am sure that similar requests have been at the same time addressed to a dozen people, and then all the reviewers in the final published version found the sparks or amendments of their thoughts. All this is a bit like the Lenin’s log at the volunteer clean-up in the Kremlin which, judging by the written memoirs, was carried by 600-800 people.
But Boris came with a quite smooth theory in this case as well. When I asked him about some text, whether he didn’t mind that the same thing was earlier suggested by a completely different person (who was not mentioned by Berezovsky), Boris said, you know, it does not matter who is the first to say, it’s all about, who is heard first.
His thoughts, even if they were stolen, he appreciated and loved very much. We once flew to Georgia to Badri Patarkatsishvili. Badri was then under the Russian warrant for arrest and lived in a rented villa near Tbilisi. He wasn't deliberately hiding, but he didn't go out in public unnecessarily. It was clear that Badri entertained Boris freely (we flew together, and he was not alone there). On the table there were both the wine, and the mountain goat, boiled in milk, and lots of other Georgian food. At some point, Boris suddenly - absolutely all of a sudden, because the conversation was about a completely different thing - asked Badri what love was. Badri, whom I have always considered rustic, suddenly quickly, without thinking for a second, said: a form of selfishness driven to the limit.
Boris liked this phrase very much. On our way back on the plane he played with it all the time and by the time of landing he decided to steal this phrase from Badri (Badri didn’t need this phrase, whereas Berezovsky could not leave it to waste). First, Boris said in an interview that one of his friends formulated the answer to his question "What is love". In the following interview, it was already him who formulated this answer for himself "with the help of his friend". As a result, from what was said by Badri at the table, Boris came up with the following principle:
"I recently have thought about how to define what love is. Not the love between a man and a woman, but a love for another. Very funny story, indeed. It turned out that the love for another is the highest degree of selfishness. What is selfishness? It is love for yourself. That is, the love for another is the highest manifestation of love for yourself".
So, I do not know if Boris came up scheme realted to "Logovaz" or the idea was stolen, but the bottom line is that Boris has created a cooperative and signed with the director of "Avtovaz", Vladimir Kadannikov the document under which "Logovaz" became the exclusive dealer of "Avtovaz".
The agreement involved fixed prices in rubles (could be different in the Soviet Union?) And while all the Soviet population, including Kadannikov, was trying to understand the hyperinflation which began in the country (the existence of which people knew only by hearsay from Remarque's novel), Berezovsky was receiving "Zhiguli" which cost nothing in rubles and was selling them on the open market for an absolutely real dollars, and, as a result, in a few months he became the richest man in Russia.
At this point, just being rich became boring for Boris. He did not enjoyed it.
Was he bored in general or did he feel confined in the business, so he went into politics or politics drew him in a new game?
Boris was never a dissident, a democrat, a fighter for justice. He was a careerist and opportunist. He was a member of the party, and did not give his ticket and did not throw it away since 1991, as many did, just in case.
Berezovsky has long ago realized that the career growth (until 1991) and a lot of money (since 1991), can be made in the fastest way if one is the part of the authorities. With cynicism natural to him, he believed that politics is a form of making money, a lot of money. Therefore, as long as the Kremlin’s vector and the vector of Berezovsky’s movement coincided, Boris’s life was great, and hewas quite successful, as the authorities needed him - the authorities are always in need of such people. And he needed the authorities as an instrument of making big money.
Elections of 1996
Berezovsky has claimed in interviews that only through him the oligarchs warring with each other in 1996 succeeded to agree and present a united front against Gennady Zyuganov, who by that time had already received congratulations in the future victory in the elections.
This story was told by Berezovsky repeatedly. The problem is that it was told only by him. Moreover, what I’m going to say right now, was recorded in London, in Berezovsky's office, on a video.
By 1996, Yeltsin totally lost the voters’ trust. Some hated him for privatization, while the others were against the war in Chechnya, and others for the driving out the pro-communist parliament in October 1993. His rating has fallen to three percent. Yeltsin had no chances to beat Zyuganov out. AlexanderLebedalsocouldn’tbeatZyuganov.
The second strongest man in the state, the Chief of SBP General Alexander Korzhakov easily convinced Yeltsin that he must at all costs stay in power, as Zyuganov, if he became the president, would imprison Yeltsin and the members of his family. It was then, when in March 1996 a decree to postpone the presidential election due to the emergency situation caused by the war in Chechnya was signed. Boris could not exactly remember whether this decree has already been signed, but not published or written, but not signed.
In the memoirs of some politicians it is said that Korzhakov and Barsukov were against the elections, that they had their own plan and an option for the cancellation of the elections was considered. Has Berezovsky told in detail what they wanted to do and how they saw the future?
By March 1996, triumvirate has has already taken shape in Russia: Korzhakov, the Deputy Prime Minister Soskovets and the Director of FSK Mikhail Barsukov. In the first stage, Yeltsin, having cancelled the elections, became an illegitimate president, forced to rely on the law enforcement agencies. In the next stage, Yeltsin was supposed to be removed from power or even killed by the conspirators. Soskovets was first predicted to be the acting president and then the president; Korzhakov was meant to become the real master of the country, and Barsukov would control FSK.
Berezovsky, being - as we have already identified – an unprincipled man, tried to establish relations with Korzhakov and make him profitable for himself. But the failed to do that only due to the fault of Korzhakov. He planned to take control over the television and could not fully agree with Berezovsky on this issue. In June 1994, there was an attempt on Berezovsky’s life (he survived), in March 1995 there was another one on Vlad Listyev’s life (he was killed). I believe that Korzhakov was responsible for both offenses, then he tried to make Berezovsky responsible for Listyev’s murder trying in such way to eliminate the managers of the Russian First Channel and taking it into his own hands.
It is clear that Korzhakov’s conspiracy (who by that time was his personal enemy) and his assumption of power through the abolition of elections of the real power in Russia was the last thing Berezovsky wanted. We can assume that in March 1996, bringing the oligarchs together to support Yeltsin against Zyuganov, Berezovsky was saving his own skin; we can assume that, on the contrary, he performed civil feat. But the point is that Berezovsky and Anatoly Chubais managed to unitea all the oligarchs without exception to convince Yeltsin to withdraw the draft to postpone the elections and to dismiss Soskovets, Korzhakov, and Barsukov after the first round. In the second round, Yeltsin won, at least officially.
It was typical of him that, at this point, just in case, Berezovsky already had a document about the Israeli citizenship in his pocket.
Hasn’t he told you how much money and was spent to recover Yeltsin’s rating?
No, we did not talk about it. I think it’s because Boris has not spent a penny on that. Actually, he never did not spend his own money. Boris negotiated that the money will be spent by others. Any fool can spend his own money. Boris considered himself smart. Therefore, after Yeltsin's victory in the election in 1996, Sibneft by the common agreement was the structure, which in future was to finance all Presidential campaigns to provide the victory for the right candidate.
Since then, the desired candidates somehow magically won. And Berezovsky lived using and spending Sibneft’s money.
The appearance of the winning figure of General Lebed (who will then give his votes to Yeltsin) at the same election in 1996 was also attributed to the genius of Boris Abramovich. Is it so?
Boris never talked about it. It seems to me that then, Berezovsky had nothing to do with Lebed. Rumors attributed a lot of things to Boris. During the first Chechen war, Berezovsky was, as the pro-Kremlin functionary was supposed to be, on the side of the Kremlin, and therefore opposed the Khasavyurt agreements which were initiated by Lebed. Later though, Boris supported peace with the Chechen Republic, which only increased the number of his enemies.
Later, when Lebed was the Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region, we flew to him in the "Flying Hospital" (which was also funded by Sibneft) and Boris conducted some negotiations with Lebed regarding the Krasnoyarsk aluminum plant Rusal. But these negotiations didn’t end up well for the plant owners and Berezovsky as a mediator. However, Lebed soon died in a helicopter crash.
Berezovsky’s strength and weakness
What did Berezovsky think about the government?
Depends on the government. If he was a part of that government, part of the power, he was for the government, as, for example, Alexander Voloshin and Anatoly Chubais. When Boris was no longer the part of the Russian authorities and the Russian state, he realized that the liberal American model of decentralized government (under the Yeltsin's motto "take as much sovereignty as you can swallow") was closer and more profitable to him with his private jet. More profitable than the Kremlin's centralization, where everything is controlled from Moscow, and he and his jet were just a burden for everyone.
Of course, Boris before emigrating to London in 2000 and Boris after emigrating are two different people. He has evolved in the direction of traditional liberal Western values. Do not get me wrong: he'd turned in the opposite direction if circumstances demanded it (and what "circumstances demanded" was always decided by Berezovsky).
Did he noted his achievements to himself somehow? Did he consider that the 90-s have passed in Russia under his star? Did Berezovsky have the enemies in the 90-s of whom he was really afraid? What do you think were his strengths and weaknesses?
Humanly, Boris feared nobody. Not that he believed in his immortality and omnipotence in a medical or physical sense of the word. But after the first attempt, when he accidentally survived because sat on the left, not on the right as usual, behind the driver, he believed that it was a sign of destiny, it did not happen by accident. He believed in his star and this harmed him. Placing “his own president" Yeltsin into power in 1996, he believed that he grasped the mystery making any human he wanted the president. After winning the court case in London against Friedman, he believed that knew the British judicial system and knew how to win any case in a British court.
Of course, Boris, like any human being, had his weaknesses. One of them was his inability to prioritize the way ordinary people do. It is clear that it made him unpredictable, enigmatic, mysterious, inspired fear caused by lack of understanding of the course of his thoughts in others. But because of this, in real battles, where the war of nerves, money and poker bluff ended and began a proper struggle he would usually lose. It is because during the banal fight, time and energy (not to mention money) were supposed to be spent to oppose the enemy, and not to get "kaifs" from the fact of the opposition. AndBorishasalwaysbeenallaboutthe "kaifs".
His second obvious weakness was incongruity due to confidence in his infinite abilities. Of course, this confidence gave him power up to a point, because the others did not understand him, they attributed him with almost supernatural skills, and therefore were afraid of him. In fact, nothing Boris never had anything but money and self-confidence. He believed that he also had intelligence. Unfortunately, his intelligence was also based on money. Once (after the sudden death of Badri in 2008), after he lost all the money, all his intelligence also has gone missing.
Berezovsky’s strength was in money. His weakness was in the lack of thereof.
Is it true that when his car was blown up and he nearly died, he decided to baptized? What exactly, a momentary weakness or fear of death, has awakened faith in him?
I’m not a religious person, so I know nothing about this issue. I absolutely cannot assume that Boris believed in something, although I’ve read all of his numerous and multi-page texts on issues related to religion in general and Orthodoxy in particular. I've never met such an unbelieving, secular and non-religious person like Boris, although publicly he always stressed out that he is an Orthodox. Berezovsky, of course, believed that it is right to be Orthodox for the Russian political figure (as he regarded himself one). Let's be frank: Russia is unable to consider Boris Abramovich Berezovsky (with his typically Jewish appearance) to be the Russian Orthodox politician.
Who better reflected the 90s: Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Boris Berezovsky?
The right question with an obvious answer: Zhirinovsky. I think I will not offend Zhirinovsky, if I write that – in my opinion (I don’t have the evidence) – he is the oldest KGB agent embedded in Russian politics. Winners are not judged, arethey?
Zhirinovsky is an obvious survivor of Russian politics (Yeltsin and Berezovsky are already dead). And he became a long-liver exactly because the face of modern Russia is Zhirinovsky. Of course, many may not like what I say, because Zhirinovsky is a redneck, a boor ... I would not like to use a lot of negative epithets, but they all describe him well. I cannot say a single good word about Zhirinovsky. Not a single word.
Zhirinovsky did not introduce anything good neither into Russian politics, nor in Russian life, nor in Russian history. And yes, he is the "mirror of the Russian revolution". I'm glad that they raised his monument while he’s still alive. At least, there is no hypocrisy in this act (on the contrary, I feel somehow creepy when in modern Russia they discuss raising a monument to the writer Mikhail Bulgakov). I prefer absolute openness and frankness in all respects.
Struggle with Berezovsky
The Former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov in an interview said that "Berezovsky’s archive is of interest," it keeps a record of wiretaps of all the key figures of 90s made by Berezovsky’s " personal secret service "Atoll". Is it just a guess of the former Prosecutor General or Berezovsky or these file exist and will someday ever pop up?
Let's analyze this statement point by point. Firstly, Berezovsky’s archive never existed. Also any compromising evidence (in quotes or without) that Berezovsky or any of his agencies (which also never exsited) collected on the enemy (which also never happened, because only people of principle have enemies, and Boris in this respect - and in the rest - was completely unprincipled) doesn’t exist and has never existed.
You just won’t be able to name a man who was the "enemy" of Berezovsky. Boris personally told me that he "hates with animal hatred" (his expression) two Jewish people: George Soros and Vladimir Gusinsky. I have never in my life seen Berezovsky together with Soros, but with Gusinsky I’ve seen him repeatedly. They were kissing, hugging, smiling at each other, and no trace of "animal hatred" in their communication was observed.
Wiretapping and "Atoll" is a separate and even painful (for me) issue. I arrived in Moscow for Boris in September 1998, by prior arrangement. To say that two or three months I'm just hanging around with nothing to do is to say nothing.
But on January 20, 1999 in "Moskovsky Komsomolets" an absolutely brilliant publication "Wiretapping the President" by Alexander Hinstein was published. They claimed that Berezovsky, through its security service "Atoll" listens to the President of Russia. Immediately, the sample records were listed. Anyone who was not an idiot (I'm not exaggerating) after reading this text had to understand that it wasn’t Berezovsky who wiretapped, but he was wiretapped; he was wiretapped by the FSK; that the head of the service "Atoll" Sergey Sokolov was the Federal agent and does not work for Berezovsky, but works for FSK; and that the author of the publication in the MC, the journalist Hinstein, is an agent of the same FSK. (Later, it became formally clear that he really was in the secret service of FSK, and even it became known, when, by whom and under what nickname he was recruited: I wrote about it in detail in the book "The Corporation" which withstood two editions in Moscow in 2010 and 2012).
It is clear that Hinstein’s publication "Wiretapping the President" was the first in this series and resulted in Berezovsky's removal from the post of CIS Executive Secretary, for which all these publications were organized. So Skuratov’s saying shows the powerful level of his mental capabilities. By the way, if in modern Russian history any records have popped up, it’s the videos with Skuratov. They were of very high quality.
Berezovsky was called the "Godfather of the Kremlin", Mephistopheles, a spider, and later he was compared with Trotsky. How did he feel about that? How was he seen?
None of these nicknames had any relevance to Boris, of course. Their authors had hoped, and not without reason, to create a bad reputation for Boris, hurt and avenge him... "The Godfather" stuck to Berezovsky tanks to Paul Khlebnikov, the author of the book "The Godfather of the Kremlin Boris Berezovsky, or the history of Russian looting".
This book was written under the dictation of Korzhakov and was his revenge to Berezovsky for the loss of power in 1996. Then, Korzhakov has arranged yet another provocation, this time against Khlebnikov. He persuaded Khlebnikov to publish a book about the Chechens, based on the interviews with Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a senior agent of the Russian special services, infiltrated in the Chechen elite.
The book "Conversations with a Barbarian" by Khlebnikov was published only in Russian in Korzhakov’s publishing house (formally the publishing house belonged to Korzhakov’s KGB colleague and friend Valery Strelets). In 2003, the book was published, in 2004, Khlebnikov was killed. It is clear that among the versions there was the one that claimed that the assassination was organized by Berezovsky, though the murderers were Nukhaev and Korzhakov.
Serious power and big money were involved to fight Berezovsky. Hinstein from his articles went on to direct threats, predicting that Berezovsky will end up just like Trotsky, with a hit of an alpine pick in the head. In general, that’s how it ended, it just was not a pick in the head but a rope around the neck.
Former Head of the Losino-Petrovsky district of the Moscow region, Oleg Fetyukov, did not enjoy his power in the local administration for a long time. Just a year after his appointment, the long-term deputy of Andrey Vikharev voluntarily resigned. The courageous step did not save Fetyukov from arrest. Immediately after this, a number of media outlets stated that Fetyukov was “set up”– the charges seem too small to his defenders. The enemies attributed to Fetyukov did not achieve too much either. So whom does the ex-head of Losino-Petrovsky “replace” under investigation and how long will the investigators be content with the replacement?