An interview with Boris Berezovsky explores the political uses of ethnopolitical conflict in Russia. The dynamics referred to in the interview are interesting whatever you think about its accuracy. The interview was translated from Russian by Sophia Moskalenko; translator’s notes appear in brackets. Freedom Radio is a private non-profit news media financed by the U.S. Congress. It transmits to over twenty countries of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucus, and Central Asia.
Freedom Radio Svobodanews.ru
February 4, 2010
Full-text Russian-language transcript is available at http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/transcript/2001882.html
What awaits Russia in the election cycle 2011-12: Michail Sokolov converses with businessmen, former deputy director of Russia’s Homeland Security Committee Boris Berezovsky.
MS: Live with us on the telephone from London is a famous businessman, former deputy director of Russia’s Homeland Security Committee, former executive secretary of SNG [Union of Independent Countries—a short-lived alliance of nation-states in the wake of the break-down of Soviet Union] and a former member of the Russian Duma, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Boris Berezovsky.
Boris, as I understand, you follow the political events in Russia from London for many years, you keep in touch. Although I would not call you an active oppositional politician–unlike in former years—your opinion is always interesting. How do you view the events of the recent terrorist attacks in Moscow and Kizlyar, where the total number of deaths reached fifty people, and 137 people were wounded? Is this a relapse of old problems, or a symptom of a deepening crisis?
BB: I think it’s both, to be honest. First, it’s clear that not a single one of the many serious political problems in the “new” Russia is solved. At the same time, the question is why now, and who benefits from this, who is behind it? I had a general impression that in the recent years people had relaxed, especially in Moscow, and what happened is an indication that we’re back where we started.
MS: But the Nevsky Express happened just recently [the reference is to terrorist attacks that derailed a luxury speed train, Nevsky Express headed from Moscow to St. Petersburg 27 November 2009].
BB: Yes, but you know, what happens in Moscow resonates much more. And comparing to the Nevsky Express the reaction is far greater. That’s how I see it from here.
MS. I would like to ask you about the situation in North Caucuses. You were working in Russia’s Homeland Security Committee, dealing precisely with this region, and in the Russian Duma you represented the Karachaevo-Cherkess region. Some believe that you helped build the foundation of Putin’s current policy, since you tried to buy the loyalty of local elites, and the current government tries to do the same. For instance, they pay more and more money to Ramzan Khadyrov and his group, as well as to other powerful warlords of the North Caucuses, with no results. Or is your former policy misrepresented in this comparison?
BB: Well, I would categorically disagree with this interpretation of Yeltzin’s policy. He got burned in the first Chechen war, and made the only correct conclusion that this mistake cannot be repeated. And to be sure, there was no talk of “buying” someone personally; instead the idea was to bring business into the region. Yes, that was the idea, and there were serious steps taken in that direction, though they were all negated by the second Chechen war that actually started in Degestan. That war was provoked by the FSB [security service, the present-day KGB] in the summer of 1999. They made it look as though Shamil’ Basaev was there, though in reality it was all a special operation of FSB that they were planning for a long time.
MS: Do you mean to say that Basaev did not pull his troops into Dagestan then?
BB: The thing is, there is a very close tie between the Chechen extremists and the FSB.
MS: Really, even now?
BB: There is no doubt! There is no doubt, and even about the recent terrorist attacks in Moscow, there are some questions.
Most important, consider this: this [the terrorist attacks] is a serious operation, well-prepared, why then, for what reason was there an attempt to minimize the number of victims? Because, as we know, if the explosion took place in the tunnel, and not at the stations, the number of victims would have been dramatically different. And from the point of view of the attack organizers, if they are so independent, so radical, and so want to inflict damage, why did they act the way they did? And note that both terrorists, both “Shaheeds” did the same. So personally, I have no doubts. And you know that Goldfarb did a lot of research on this and is about to publish a book on this subject.
Yes, I believe that the connection between the FSB and the extremists was never broken. And when I worked for the Security Committee on the issues of the Chechen region, this connection between Chechen super-extremists and the Russian super-hawks [special forces] was evident.
MS: Some think that the problem with North Caucuses is a problem of corruption. Russia, or, more specifically, the federal authorities, send large sums of money there, then this money flows to a small circle of people and leaders who want to survive and thus pay off these, as you said, super-extremists. And these super-extremists advance their plans through terrorism that is, de-facto, paid for by Moscow. Do you consider this a realistic account?
BB: No, I disagree completely that the main problem we have with the Caucuses is corruption. The main problem is completely different. The main problem is that Russia as a Federation ceased to exist. I mean that the building of the “vertical of power” or, in other words, monolithic country, brought about the many conflicts in the Caucuses, and not only there. It should be self-evident that a country as big, both territory-wise, and people-wise, cannot effectively exist as a monolithic country. Without a doubt, Russia must be a federation. From my point of view, even more: it should be a confederation. And the center should retain only a minimum of functions, to avoid the internal tensions. So corruption, of course, catalyzes these tensions, but it does not create them. The primary cause is in the cardinal deviation from the Constitution of the Russian Federation, and, in essence, in crossing out one word: Russia is no longer a federation.
MS: Boris, but the leaders of this Salafist movement, they don’t fight for a federation, not even for independence from Russia. They fight for a global Islamic state. So I think you are not quite correct there.
BB: You have to understand: the process that started with the first Chechen war had never stopped. I am agreeing with you that the problems have only gotten deeper. But I repeat that the root of the problems in Russia in general and in the Caucuses in particular is the need to create an effective governing structure, first and foremost. This is a necessary condition. If it is not done, the problems will get worse.
What you said is correct, and just recently I was amazed to hear some of the leaders [of the Salafist movement] speak with unbelievable derision of people who do not share their faith. I was struck with the growth of such extremism. This was not the case when I was in Chechnya and we were drafting the peace treaty. And then, look, just today there was information that the young woman who blew herself up—one of them—in Park Kul’tury [Moscow subway station] she was born in 1992, meaning she was 17-18 years old. What could drive them to this? And I would not talk here about fanaticism, that they were brainwashed and so on—not at all.
MS: But she had not seen anything but war in her life.
BB: That’s what I am saying, how bad does it have to get to drive people at 17-18 years of age to kill themselves and kill others.
MS: Boris, but to defeat the terrorists–the dream of the Russian government, at least according to them– one needs to understand their logic. If one does not understand this logic, one looses strategically. What kind of logic is that? Is this not a logic of a perpetual war in hope that Russia will suffer fall and demise in a hundred years, or in decades?
BB: You know, terrorist methods are methods of force, and not of convictions. And the cause of terrorism is an inability to establish a dialogue. And this distance from “mochit’ v sortire” [“Rub them into the dust,” former President Putin’s famous use of criminal slang toward Chechen terrorists in Russia in the wake of the 2002 hostage crisis in the Moscow Nord-Ost theatre] to “vykovyryat’ iz kanalizacii [“to pick them out of the sewers,” Prime-Minister Putin’s use of a derogating metaphor toward terrorists in the wake of 2010 subway bombing) this distance was travelled in the last ten years, and with no positive results.
MS: Wait, but the Chechen territory is under control of powers that formally took an oath to Russia.
BB: At the same time as in Chechnya the situation was getting calmer, the neighboring regions received a wave of terrorism that surpassed the previous problems by far.
MS: One would say: baby steps…
BB: The problem is in the consequences of these steps. Terrorism simply moved from one territory to the next, and its domain has not gotten smaller, it has gotten larger. That’s why baby steps lead not to reduction, but to an expansion of terrorism’s domain. And even in Moscow they sometimes receive shrapnel from this territory. I am convinced that the only method of fighting terrorism is, on the one hand, a position of strong responses, but at the same time responses in the course of a dialogue. That’s the only way. I remember how hard it was to achieve peace in Chechnya in 1997, I remember where we started. And the trust that we built in that relatively brief period of time gave the result that we expected. That’s the only method of dealing with terror.
MS: Boris, you are saying dialog, but with whom would that dialog be? Mashadov, for example, is killed, and he was considered a moderate leader. Can one have a dialogue with Umarov, or someone like him? Maybe, as with Hitler, the thing to do is fight until victory and unconditional capitulation.
BB: Before I answer you, I want to return to the question of why the problem of terrorism only gets greater in Russia. I think there may be another reason. You tried to raise the issue of ideology of terrorists, let’s not discuss it, though it exists. They talk about infidels, whatever. On the other hand, the current Russian government has no ideology whatsoever.
MS: What about State-ism?
BB: Statism is not an ideology. There are statists who believe in the vertical of power; there are democrats who believe that government should be decentralized. But a state by itself is not an ideology. There is no ideology in Russia. None whatsoever! There are words, one that you just offered, there is a word “patriotism,” and so on. But there is no ideology. In other words, Russia has nothing to counter terrorists’ rotten, empty ideology of superiority. And under these conditions, it is hard to explain to people why they have to consolidate–consolidate under what flag? A flag of just fear does not work. There is no goal, no final destination where we’re going, for what we need to fight and against whom. I think this is one of the main reasons why the danger of terrorism grows in Russia instead of getting smaller.
MS: What about a dialogue?
BB: That’s what I am saying: there is nobody to lead a dialogue. On our side there is nobody who can explain why we are better than they are.
MS: And you believe on the other side there is someone [to lead a dialogue]? Those people are covered in blood to their ears.
BB: I know at least one influential person who lives here, in London, who was, just like I, thrown out of Russia, as were many others who were capable of establishing a dialogue. I am talking about Achmed Zakaev.
MS. But right now he is not influential.
BB. Whether he is influential or not is determined not in Chechnya but in Moscow. I am talking about whether he is reasonable. They [in Moscow] pick conversation partners that correspond to their own intellect. They don’t understand anything above their own intellectual level. That’s why the government is the way it is, that’s why the Duma is the way it is, and so on. There are people to talk with, but the Russian government wants to simplify the conversation. A complicated problem requires a complicated solution.
MS: Many people, let’s say, according to internet polls, believe that the terrorist attacks are connected with Putin’s desire to come back to full power. You yourself in the beginning of conversation hinted: why now. Do you think Putin is coming back?
BB: It is obvious that Putin wants to come back. He was not planning on leaving at all, it was clear from the first moment when this construction of power transition was made public. Vladimir Putin has not stopped meddling in the foreign affairs of Russia, meddling in the Army business, although it is the President’s prerogative. It is obvious that the tandem [between Medvedev and Putin] is only virtual, in reality all decisions are made by Putin, not by Medvedev. Lately in Russia an oppositional movement is building and gaining momentum, and the situation started to get out of control. At least the numbers of people that come out to protest in squares got out of control, the slogans on their banners, such as “Putin go away!” and so on, both their economic and political slogans are very sharp. Under these conditions, Putin is crumbling. His rating is beginning to fall.
MS: I think you are dreaming.
BB. I am basing this on the polls conducted in Russia. It does not mean that Putin has crumbled, but his rating, his image in the society is changing, and not for the better. As to the elites, one does not have to dream, I have not heard one single person lately say that Putin is good [for Russia]. I am convinced that the future of a country is decided not by the majority, but by an active minority. This active minority [in Russia] is consolidated in the opinion that Putin is a problem for Russia. And Putin and his team understand this and felt that they need to take some serious measures.
MS: Our listeners: Alexei asks, “What is Putin planning?” and Vladimir asks, “Can these terrorist attacks be grounds to announce Putin an absolute dictator even before the election?”
BB: …About ten days before the events in Moscow [subway bombings] I had a meeting with two very serious Russian politicians. I was surprised when they said that in April there is a planned “guard change,” meaning switching Medvedev [as President] back to Putin. I did not quite believe it, but they were very serious in how they talked about it. And in ten days you know what happened. I recalled those conversations. And I can’t rule out that this was a part of a strategy to return Putin back to power. You understand, the wave of opposition is squashed by these events.
MS: How can Medvedev be in Putin’s way? Just because he’s talking about modernization, because there is a perception of an easing of the regime? But he is loyal, after all…
BB: The question is not only about whether he is in the way, it’s also about individual ambitions. Have you seen just recently on TV they showed a meeting where Medvedev was at the head of the table, and Putin, like a hen on perch, on the right? It was obvious how uncomfortable Putin was. This is a big psychological problem. Putin understands how accidental his position is in this structure of power, understands the limits of his abilities, and so he clings to power, including attributes of power. Attributes of power include first of all the office that you hold. Putin lives with some uncertainty. This uncertainty is not high, because Medvedev is under great control. But at the same time, as president, Medvedev can with one order take away Putin’s position as Prime Minister, and let Hodarkovsky out of prison. This uncertainty in which Putin has been for a while now, it eats away at him. I believe the “guard change” was planned even earlier, before the crisis, when, you recall, the Duma issued a legislation giving the president two six-year terms. That’s when I thought they were planning to change power, but the financial crisis put the brakes on that somehow.
MS: Our listeners ask you, Boris, why don’t you organize the opposition?
BB: I tried to organize the opposition, there was a party called Liberal Russia, but this attempt was crushed. Two leaders of Liberal Russia were killed—Golvlev and Yushenkov. I was abroad when we were planning it. And I thought it would be unethical to push people into danger from here in London. But I did not believe that the government is so bold and monstrous that it would just murder. I understood if they exiled people like they did me, though they continue hunting me even here, but I could not fathom that [murder]. This is the main reason I am not so active in Russia’s political life. This does not stop me from saying here, in the West, that the political regime in Russia is dangerous for Russia and for the rest of the world.
MS: I don’t think you have many people convinced. Look at the liberal politicians like Cameron Ross, who call Vladimir Putin the best leader of Russia since Peter the Great. He’s not the only one.
BB: I don’t care to comment on ideas of people who, over this long time, have not figured out who Mister Putin is, on people who don’t see what’s right before their eyes.
MS: Listen Boris, among these people are some political leaders.
BB: They don’t notice the politically motivated murders in Russia, nor that Russia is crumbling under Putin’s rule, and so on. Therefore, to be honest, I don’t care to comment on it.
MS: I see. There is another question for you, “Who rules Russia—FSB or the members of builders’ cooperative “Ozero” [major investor group] that included Vladimir Putin?”
BB: I believe Russia is governed by a criminal conglomerate that includes both of these powers. It includes those who are in Kremlin, those who are in Duma, and those who have occupied the leading Russian companies. So our conversation earlier about the lack of ideology is directly connected with the fact that the only ideal there is money, to make as much money as possible. Neither one’s reputation or image matter.
MS: You won the case against RTR [Russia’s “Second Official Television Channel”] that accused you of having a connection to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko [poisoned with high potency radioactive chemicals]. What are the prospects for the this channel? Will you arrest their accounts [attach RTR funds in the West to pay judgment for BB]?
BB: Only if they fail to pay me.
MS: How much do they owe you?
BB: On the one hand, there is the court decision regarding “pain and suffering”—this is priced at 150 thousand pounds, which is a lot, by the UK standards. On the other hand, there are legal fees that I incurred, they come close to two million pounds, and now the side that lost is responsible for this. Mr. Terluk and VGTRK both have to pay this. If they do not comply with the court order, which is about to come out this week or next week, then I will act within my legal rights, meaning to confiscate the property and funds abroad.
MS: One other question for you, “Who rules Russia—Putin or Medvedev?” You answered this, but if you can, briefly reply.
BB: Today I have no doubts that… This is not quite right, it’s not Putin or Medvedev, it’s Putin’s group. There is Putin’s group, and there is Medvedeev’s group, and to talk about the conflict that everyone is interested in—the conflict between Putin and Medvedev, it’s not a conflict between individuals, it’s a conflict between groups that stand behind Putin or Medvedev, groups whose interests clash. They fight over the same things.
MS: what’s the difference between them?
BB: I will repeat myself: there is no ideology, so both groups are in agreement there. They try to get rich, that’s where they clash. I believe that today Putin’s group is stronger. And, without a doubt, there is a group that stands behind Medvedev, with their own interests, whose influence is growing. Hence the clash.
MS: Can you define this group, who are they?
BB: I would not want to name names.
MS: Are you afraid to spoil relations with them?
BB: No, I am not afraid, but since there are, let’s say, disputes that I am engaged in here in London–disputes with representatives of both groups–I am concerned that here in Great Britain, in the court of law, it would be considered improper if for political, or some other, motives I named names from these groups. When the litigations are settled, then I can name names.
MS: In what stage is your case against Abramovich [a Russian oligarch]? I believe you claim he owes you three billion dollars?
BB: As to the money, the estimate of three billion is not my estimate, it’s an estimate of Abramovich’s attorneys. My estimate is different, it is greater than their estimate, but right now I am not going to give it; my attorneys will provide it to the court. Most important, I managed to initiate this open litigation.
MS: To the point…
BB: To the point, exactly. There is a date—October 6, when I personally served Abramovich with a subpoena; he was on the run for six months prior to that, and three years later, I was able to bring him to court. He will have to come to court personally and testify, and answer questions that my legal team will present to him. And even before that he will have to disclose all documentation connected to his businesses, from the start of the companies that I created—Sibneft’ (with Abramovich, of course), Rusal (that I created with Abramovich also). And he will have to disclose the history of these companies, including financial history, until this day. I believe that he does not have this luxury, because he has serious partners in Kremlin. Even the sale of Sibneft’ for 13 million, not even 100 percent, but 70 percent as you may recall, it’s a deal with the government. The government is a beneficiary, a direct beneficiary, and not the government in general, but particular people are the beneficiaries. So I can’t imagine how Abramovich can testify.
MS: You know one partner of the government, Mr. Timchenko, he did not disclose his finance in court, preferring to settle. This was not the best deal for him, but nevertheless a deal was made. Are you also counting on some sort of a settlement from Abramovich?
BB: Well, I have not really thought about this. The thing is…
MS: Oh come on!
BB: Either you believe what I say, and then it makes sense to continue the conversation, or, if you don’t trust me…
MS: I was just surprised.
BB: I believe the story is not just civil, that there is a criminal component. I believe that in Abramovich’s business there is a criminal component. This criminal component will have to be disclosed. My main purpose here is not simply justice, but also to show others the way. I need to show that this government [the Russian government], seemingly limitless and powerful, that can take away anything, can pressure anyone, this government is still keeping their money in the West. And in this sense they are very vulnerable.
It is not easy to fight Abramovich, because I am not really fighting with him, I am fighting with one of the Russian government’s representatives, with a representative of an organized political crime group. It’s difficult. It costs money and it is stressful, but it is possible. I want to show others that it is possible.
I cannot win in Basmannyj Court [a Federal Court in Moscow], but these people want to live and educate their children, and to enjoy life not in Russia, but in the West, that’s why they value their image and reputation here, where they have these opportunities. And I want to show that this can be used.
The anarchy in Russia can be opposed here in London, for instance. I believe this is not the first precedent that I tried to create. For instance, I asked for political asylum. I could, and it was much easier, to move to Israel, but I made the choice of creating the path to here. I knew that though I may be one of the first, I wouldn’t be the last. The same way I want to show others that, despite the horrible situation in Russia today, there is a legitimate, I repeat, legitimate, way to fight for one’s interests. One could do without gang-style violence and still oppose the corrupt Russian powers, for instance here in London.
MS: Boris, are they offering you a political deal, for example to settle some criminal charges against you?
BB: You know they have offered me a number of political deals, but for me there is an important question: What’s the meaning for my actions? I had great relations with Putin, Voloshin was my old friend, Surkov was feeding from our company. If I say now, “my bad, I will come back if only you drop the criminal charges against me,” then what was the reason for all my actions until now? I have managed to live to 64 and not betray myself, and it’s the most important thing to me.
MS: Please tell us your opinion of what will happen in the criminal trial against Hodorkovsky and Lebedev?
BB: When all this was only beginning, I met with Hodorkovsky here in London, a year before he was arrested. And unfortunately I predicted to him what would happen to him. I just did not think it would happen so quickly. I did say to him, though, that he overestimated his own capabilities, and underestimated how criminalized the power in Russia had become.
I have no doubt that the current regime will not let Hodarkovsky out of prison. In essence, letting Hodorkovsky out of prison would be equivalent to regime change. That’s the way the circumstances have aligned. We have no doubt that Hodorkovsky is imprisoned illegitimately; that if he is imprisoned then all leading Russian businessmen should be imprisoned as well, because Hodorkovsky was one of the most scrupulous about his business. I know this. So this is outrageous. So it’s clear that Hodorkovsky will be in prison exactly as long as the current regime is in power.
MS: I would like to involve a listener in our discussion. George from Moscow, please, what’s your question?
Listener: Hello. Boris, what’s your opinion on the question of how legitimate is the regime that is now established in Russia for other countries, first of all England and the USA?
BB: I think I understand your question: you mean how much they accept the regime here, correct?
Listener: Yes. You understand, how not straightforward these terrorist acts are…
MS: The same could be said about the elections. Please, Boris?
BB: What I think is not necessarily the truth. There is a clear understanding among the political elites in the West about what’s going on in Russia. They understand that the elections were largely illegitimate, because there was no equal access to voters for all candidates. I am talking about the elections of 2004, about the access to mass media, etc. What happened in 2008 is street thieves came to power, and that is clear to all as well.
But another issue is how much the West can oppose this. The answer is not at all. The Western political elites are completely demoralized and deintellectualized, they can’t see beyond their own noses and don’t understand the consequences of their own decisions. That’s true everywhere. Take any important decision of either the former administration of USA, or the current administration, they are all shortsighted and almost all mistaken. The very thesis about a “reboot” button [that newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave to representatives of the Russian Federation in 2008 as symbol of new relations between U.S. and Russia] means clear misunderstanding of politics in general. How can one look into the future without looking back, not understanding what happened in the past? So the answer is very simple: they understand everything, but will do nothing.
MS: OK, one more question: “How are we to view Ramzan Kadyrov? On his territory he squashed all bandits. Those who survived ran away to neighboring regions.” A logical conclusion is that we should find a Kadyrov for every Caucus tribe, so that he can act with the same cruelty to rule the territory. When this is done around the Caucus, the bandits will have nowhere to run except Mecca—dreams caller Alexander. What say you?
BB: Humans have dreamed of the same thing as Alexander for many centuries.
MS: Hitler had dreams too.
BB: Yes exactly. And the result is always the same. I understand this mentality, I am not faulting anyone, but this is not a far-looking position. To speak of Kadyrov personally, this character is, yes, uneducated, bold, and, no doubt, willful. And what’s happening in Moscow today, the horrors that his people do in Moscow is a result of the kind of politics that is suggested in your question.
MS: Another question: “How did you calculate that Putin’s estate is 40 billion dollars?”
BB: I view Abramovich as a full business-partner, I calculated Abramovich’s estate and said that Putin’s estate cannot be less than that of Abramovich.
MS: Don’t you consider Timchenko a partner as well?
BB: I said that Putin’s estate cannot be less than Abramovich’s estate. As you correctly said, he has other partners, like Timchenko, Koval’chuk, Deripaska—therefore his estate is even greater.
MS: Vladimir from Kaliningrad, please?
Listener: Good evening. A question for Boris. I live in Kaliningrad, and I see how the flow of money from Moscow is stolen on its way, how corruption and criminal elements are blossoming. Don’t you think that if Russia was broken down into smaller parts, like Kaliningrad region, Baltic region, as they thought of doing in 2000 until this campaign was chased away by Moscow, that corruption would be less, people would live better, we would get closer to Europe?
MS: This is a voice of separatists…
BB: You raised this question yourself. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I am deeply convinced that Russia can be an effective state only as a federation, better yet—a confederation. Kaliningrad region is a good example of how people’s lives could be better if the center was not trying to control the economy, judiciary, education, and so on. Kaliningrad region has unique opportunities that are not realized. At one point I suggested to allow an experiment where people from Kaliningrad region would have a visa-free entry to the countries of EU. I wanted to show how people’s lives would change when they would not need visas, when they would be a part of the civilized Europe. I hoped through this experiment to get a visa-free entry to EU for the entire Russia. That would be a radical idea.
MS: Here your opinion is in agreement with the government’s.
BB: The government’s opinion is in agreement with mine, because I proposed this in 2000.
MS: Here we have two of your critics asking, one about the stocks of AVVA and AvtoVAZ, and the second, whether there is a criminal element in YOUR estate?
BB: About the second question. Luckily, I had an opportunity to prove my innocence when, on several occasions, courts here in Great Britain, in complete cooperation with the Russian Federal Prosecutor’s office, investigated the issues with AvtoVAZ, LogoVAZ, Aeroflot, etc. I would not have received a political asylum if my actions could be somehow construed as criminal. That’s first. Second, as to AVVA, as you mentioned, although there are several pending cases against me in Russia, not one of them deals with AVVA. It seems they tried to get me on any and all charges, but they are silent about AVVA. They are silent for one reason: there was a complete report on AVVA stocks. Yes, the project was not realized. When AVVA was started, as you recall, there was the financial crisis of 1993, and we could not amass enough capital. Not one kopeika has gone missing, they were converted into stocks of Volga autozavod (AvtoVAZ), and this conversion benefitted stockholders of AVVA. Unfortunately, not all stockholders troubled themselves to convert their stocks, although they were given enough time—over a year—to do that. Maybe they did not trust the conversion—I don’t know. But to reiterate, there was no fraud, no trick in the conversion, and especially no criminal element.
MS: Boris, what do you think will happen in Russia in the electoral cycle of 2011-2012?
BB: I believe that either Russia will pull herself together and throw off this regime, or, if this does not happen, Russia will fall apart.
MS: “Do you think that the story with Alexander Litvinenko’s murder is fully investigated”—asks Vassiliy
BB: I believe it is. I think the UK detectives have no unanswered questions, though there is a political question. I don’t think that the current UK government is ready to escalate the conflict with Russia further. And I don’t want to give a verdict as to whether they are correct in this position. Sasha was my friend, a very close friend. Regardless, I believe that human interests must be above political interests. In the end it is always wrong when political interests come before human interests. But I don’t want to throw stones at the UK authorities. Not because I got political asylum here—believe me, I can criticize all I want, and I have done so, and I have been answered. But here the government has actually independent branches, independent judiciary, independent investigation. And I am sure they have answered all questions. As they have definitively said. The English mentality is very different from the Russian mentality. They are very careful about words. They won’t say “liar” and instead they will say “he is probably not telling the truth.” So when they do an investigation and make their conclusions, I believe what they say.
MS: Vassiliy is interested, “Are you happier now as a billionaire-oligarch than you were as a Soviet engineer?” And Serge asks, “ What do you lack to be completely happy?”
BB: We’re having this discussion right before Easter. And the question is the most important one, what does one need to be happy, what does an Orthodox Christian need to be happy? Happiness is only possible through suffering. So when I made my first big money it was a shock to me. Thank God, until then I was working in science for 20 years, and I had enough presence of mind to change priorities, to understand that cars, apartments, suits, watches—this is all unimportant. There are more important priorities to be happy. That’s when I started to get involved in politics, and then was forced to emigrate. For me happiness is in the notion that I remained myself, that I was not manipulated by the circumstances, by the government apparatus, by the great Russian power that is still one of the greatest powers in the modern world. This is my source of happiness—that I am not depressed, not scared, not a pessimist.
MS: Alexey asks, “will you write your memoirs?”
BB: I am writing, have been writing for a long time. I don’t think it will be published while I am alive, but if I finish it, or finish a large portion, my children, my grandchildren will read it.
MS: Thank you.