- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

MOSCOW — Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian tycoon who has emerged as one of the Kremlin’s most vocal opponents, yesterday called for the use of force to oust President Vladimir Putin and claimed he has support from some in the country’s political elite.

In response, Russia’s chief prosecutor opened a criminal case against Mr. Berezovsky on charges of plotting a coup, saying in a statement that the remarks “contained an open call to overthrow the constitutional order of Russia.” It also said it would ask British authorities to strip Mr. Berezovsky of asylum and to extradite him to Russia.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin and some of its most determined critics prepared to face off on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg today in what could be a key test of the Russian opposition’s determination before parliamentary and presidential elections.

Thousands of police stood ready to thwart the so-called Dissenters’ March against the Putin government.

If the protest in Moscow and a similar one in St. Petersburg the following day draw large crowds, they could give momentum to Russia’s beleaguered opposition and spur a long season of demonstrations against the government, which critics say has rolled back democracy.

If they flounder, it could signal further irrelevancy for the opposition.

Meanwhile, London’s Metropolitan police began an investigation yesterday into whether Mr. Berezovsky’s comments, first published in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper, violated any British laws.

Mr. Berezovsky said the Russian leadership could only be replaced by force and that he was in contact with Kremlin insiders who supported his vision for change.

“Putin has created an authoritarian regime against the Russian constitution,” Mr. Berezovsky told the Associated Press by telephone in Britain, echoing earlier comments to the Guardian. He added, “I don’t know how it will happen, but authoritarian regimes only collapse by force.”

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was monitoring Mr. Berezovsky’s comments.

“We deplore any calls for violent overthrow of any sovereign state. We expect everyone living, working or visiting the UK whatever their status to obey our laws,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

Mr. Berezovsky later issued a statement to “clarify” his words, saying he did not “advocate or support violence.” He did, however, say that under Mr. Putin’s government “elections are not a viable means of ensuring democratic change in Russia.”

When Mr. Berezovsky was pressed about what he meant by “force,” he said he wanted to institute change by using “force like in Ukraine or Georgia.” In those two former Soviet republics, opposition leaders won power after nonviolent street demonstrations.

Leading up to today’s planned march, Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion who is another vociferous Kremlin critic, said march organizers had rejected a proposal by city authorities to gather in a single location for a meeting, rather than marching down one of Moscow’s main avenues.

Yesterday, Russia’s parliament voted on a motion accusing the United States of helping train radical political groups in Russia.

The motion, passed by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, which is dominated by Kremlin supporters, claimed U.S. officials took part in events “whose organizers include openly extremist forces.”

“Under the guise of helping the conduct of a free and fair election … U.S. taxpayers’ money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events which propagandize tendentious assessments that distort the situation … in Russia,” Reuters news agency quoted the motion as saying.

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