Why So Much Attention on Berezovsky?

Last Friday, the news agencies reported on the meeting between the deputy chairman of the Security Council, Boris Berezovsky, and Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basayev, in which they discussed the problems of freeing Russian journalists held hostage. Nothing more was said about the visit. It can be said, however, that of the five or six deputy chairmen of the Security Council, too much attention is given to this one and not much is known about the activities of the others.

Berezovsky's negative popularity rivals only that of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais. It even seems that not liking Berezovsky is considered to be good form even among those who support the current powers that be. What has been said and written about Berezovsky would be enough to ruin the reputations of scores of people. Berezovsky has managed, however, to keep his position in the highest echelons of power, and the authorities seem to have reconciled themselves to what is being said about one of their highest officials.

There is probably something that allows them not to pay any attention to the most extreme statements about Berezovsky (such as, for example, that he is one of the godfathers of the Russian mafia). It is surprising that he himself has never engaged in polemics against his accusers. The only exception is the "Forbes" article on him, for which Berezovsky is taking the magazine to court in London. But aside from the "Forbes" suit, one can get the impression that he is absolutely indifferent to what is said and written about him. But this is not true.

Last Friday, after returning from Chechnya, Berezovsky spent several hours -- well into the night -- meeting with two dozen Russian journalists as a guest of the Moscow Charter of Journalists. This is an informal association of well-known members of the press and other news media -- from Izvestia and Kommersant weekly to NTV Television and Radio Liberty. This association was created several years ago and often invites influential people who speak openly and often off the record. It should be said that politicians, such as head of the presidential economics department Alexander Livshits, Chubais, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson and the president's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko, among others, have all eagerly attended the small sessions.

Berezovsky turned out to be the first guest to announce that everything he said could be quoted. So I used the occasion to ask him what he thought about some of the problems he must now face.

He is convinced that the Helsinki summit was poorly prepared and a defeat for the Russian side and that Russia should prepare to integrate with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Russia must continue negotiations even with those Chechen leaders whom the public find most odious, including Basayev and Salman Raduyev. Berezovsky is working on this personally.

Among other things, Berezovsky said he never felt any complexes over his nationality, which is to say his Jewish ethnicity.

Berezovsky can be seen as a combined "inoculation" in political life against intolerance toward Jews and capitalists in high office. For the time being, it is difficult to know if the Russian political body will endure this inoculation or whether it will lead to further complications.

is economics editor for Izvestia.