Friday, March 03, 2006

Berezovsky - Coup de Grâce for Coup d'État?

On Thursday, BBC reports that Russian authorities demand the extradition of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky on charges of an attempted coup d'état. How Berezovsky would overthrow the Putin regime is still obscure, but the affair adds to the already tense relations between Moscow and London. It may also be a Kremlin attempt to muzzle Berezovsky, who paradoxically has turned into a leading supporter of the Russian oppostition and pro-democracy movement.

Russian allegations might be prompted by an Ekho Moskvy interview with Berezovsky on 25 January. In the interview, the ex-oligarch said that Putin's "regime has lost all legitimacy" and that the president is "leading Russia into the abyss". Putin is "violating the constitution and, today, any forceful actions by the opposition will be justified". "That includes a forceful seizure of power, and that's what I've been working on," Berezovsky reportedly said.

In an attempt to mend UK-Russian relations, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declared that Berezovsky could lose his political asylum in Britain. Straw also declared that the government would "take action against those who use the UK as a base from which to foment violent disorder or terrorism in other countries". This adds to Berezovsky's already precarious position in Britain. Only a few years back, Russia demanded his extradiction on fraud charges - a demand not granted by the Britons.

There is little doubt that Berezovsky might orchester the overthrow of Putin, if he had the means and the opportunity to. However, as it is glaringly obvious that he lacks this, Russian allegations seem utterly ridiculous. The image of dark forces abroad has little similarity with reality. Reflecting on Berezovsky as the mastermind to oust Putin and gain power in the Kremlin, one comes to think of Trotsky. Exiled and isolated, Trotsky's mere existence posed a threat to the soviet regime and the - by then - faltered revolution. Is it the same with Berezovsky? Does he know too much about Putin's road to power and eventually must be silenced? It is a well-known fact in Moscow that Berezovsky was one of the people who put Putin in the Kremlin in the first place, which adds a certain flavour to current charges. That he also became one of the first oligarchs that Putin turned on once in power, might have come as a surprise, if not knowing the intricacies of Kremlin palace policies. As an effect, Berezovsky went into self-imposed exile in 2000. A malicious question might well be which coup d'état Berezovsky now is charged for: The successful that brought Putin into power or the current coup-cuckoo?

Finally, has Putin simply invented this attempted coup d'état as a coup de grâce for Berezovsky? Does the Kremlin seriously consider the exiled and immensely impopular Berezovsky a threat to power? Or is it Berezovsky's mere existence that is unbearable for Putin? As for Berezovsky, whose name derives from the Russian national tree - the birch - might only have this left as a symbol of his lost homeland. To most Russians, he instead remains a hated symbol of the 1990's and Berezovsky would perhaps better suit the Kremlin as a "Satan Defiant" than behind bars. The regime's omnipotence must, however, be satisfied and then there is little choice but to cut down any "birches" in the way to resurrected Russia's road to glory.

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