- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003


LONDON — Boris Berezovsky, 57, was “first among equals” in the group of Russian oligarchs who rose to wealth and power in the 1990s.

As a member of Russia’s Academy of Science — and a much-published scientific writer — he set up his LogoVAZ joint stock company in 1989, as soon as private business was legalized in Russia.

As his businesses developed into oil, aluminum and television, Mr. Berezovsky became Boris Yeltsin’s closest business adviser, and his ORT television channel, along with Vladimir Gusinsky’s NTV, helped propel Mr. Yeltsin to the presidency in 1996, defeating a communist comeback.

Mr. Berezovsky became deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council and executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States under Mr. Yeltsin.

In the maelstrom of Russia in the 1990s, Mr. Berezovsky seemed untouchable as both a businessman and politician. He survived a bomb in his car that blew off his chauffeur’s head, and managed briefly to unite the disparate group of tycoons — who came to be known as the oligarchs — as long as their interests and for those of democracy in Russia coincided.

When President Vladimir Putin came to power, initially supported by Mr. Berezovsky, a new bureaucracy saw the opportunities they had missed in the 1990s, which men such as Mr. Berezovsky had seized. Mr. Putin promised not to reverse the controversial privatizations, but when the president began to reverse Mr. Yeltsin’s political reforms, Mr. Berezovsky resigned from the legislature in protest.

Mr. Putin demanded he hand over his television channel to the Kremlin. Within weeks, Mr. Berezovsky and Mr. Gusinsky went into exile from Russia, their businesses were seized and their associates were jailed or banished.

This year, Mr. Berezovsky was arrested in the United Kingdom following a request from Russian authorities for him to be extradited to face fraud charges. The Russian authorities charge that Mr. Berezovsky and a business associate used the LogoVAZ car company to defraud a regional government of nearly $2 billion.

Mr. Berezovsky is fighting extradition, his lawyers arguing that the charges are politically motivated and that Mr. Berezovsky has no chance of a fair trial under the current regime in Russia.

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