Although Berezovsky, who had been living in exile since 2000, made no secret of his desire to come home some day, there is every reason to doubt the veracity of Peskov’s statement. No letter has been produced, and it is difficult to believe the Kremlin would not have made such a letter public as soon as it arrived: The propaganda and gloating potential is just too great. And Berezovsky did not need permission to return to Russia: Having been sentenced in absentia to two long prison terms, he needed a pardon.
Berezovsky would have appreciated Peskov’s apparent bit of fancy: It was a page out of his own playbook. Berezovsky was a master of political intrigue and manipulation. He never lost his taste for it, even when the consequences of a poorly played hand forced him into exile and, eventually, into near-bankruptcy.
On the occasion of his death, I edited the transcript of a very long sit-down interview I did with him five years ago. He had been out of Russia for eight years, one of his closest allies had been killed by polonium poisoning, Berezovsky himself had a well-founded fear of assassins (at least one plan had been foiled by Scotland Yard), he was on the verge of starting his downhill financial spiral, and all of this was because of one man — Putin, whom he claimed he had brought to power.
|Boris Berezovsky in 2007.Credit Kieran Doherty/Reuters|
Berezovsky’s account had some holes, but he stuck to it his entire life. Whatever his exaggerations or omissions, he played a significant role in Russia’s transition from Boris Yeltsin to Putin. What strikes me is that years later — and up until his death — he still thought it had been a brilliant idea.
Berezovsky claimed to have been the mastermind behind picking a man with no public face, a former K.G.B. agent, to succeed Yeltsin as the president of Russia. He also said it was his idea to manufacture an entire nonideological pseudo-political pseudo-movement to serve as the new president’s base of support. Berezovsky also had another brilliant idea, which to his regret Putin did not grasp: creating a fake two-party system, with Putin at the head of a socialist-democrat sort of party and Berezovsky leading a neoconservative one, or the other way around.
To his dying day Berezovsky seemed convinced that what killed Russian democracy was not his brilliant ideas (among other things) but their poor execution.