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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

INSIDE RUSSIA: Who Will Be Berezovsky's New Buddy?




While most Russians are spellbound by the spectacle of the clashing elephant and the whale, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Boris Berezovsky, some observers are wondering if the real reasons for the dispute have any bearing on its exterior appearance.


"I don't make unreliable systems," Berezovsky once said as a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and this has been true ever since. So how then did the master of intrigue come to behave recently like some half-cut bandit with a gold chain around his neck, hissing through his teeth in a restaurant: "More powerful people than that get sacked." It's hard to believe that he could not anticipate the reaction.


Berezovsky has always distinguished himself in two things: being able to transform the patronage of powerful people into huge financial gain, and being able to forget about former patrons when new, even more influential, ones appear.


The first was Vladimir Kadannikov, head of the AvtoVAZ car company and former deputy prime minister. No sooner had Berezovsky established friendly relations with then-presidential chief of staff, Alexander Korzhakov, than Kadannikov was consigned to the refuse heap of history. And when Berezovsky got direct access to the president, Korzhakov also became obsolete. For a while it seemed that Berezovsky enjoyed the highest krysha or "roof" of protection there was to be had in the land, but now the state of the president's health makes this roof very shaky indeed. In short, after Kadannikov and Korzhakov, it's now Yeltsin's turn. After all, it makes sense to sell out your patrons while they are still worth something.


It would seem logical that any new ally of Berezovsky's should be a strong presidential candidate, but unfortunately he doesn't have a sure candidate at hand. For some time Alexander Lebed has been unsuitable because his popularity rating has dropped sharply and because he has a worrying habit of blindly disregarding pre-election promises.


The most advantageous strategy, therefore, may be the partial sale of his ORT television station to someone who is both willing to pay handsomely and also interested in cooperating with the "gray cardinal." One such new ally could be Rupert Murdoch, whose visit to Russia in December already saw the creation of a new advertizing company for ORT, founded by LogoVAZ, ORT, TV 6 and Murdoch's News Corp. Clearly Murdoch has no need of any Russian advertizing agency f the overall budget of News Corp. almost matches Russia's 1998 budget. His only interest can be in gaining a hold on the monopoly national television station, the sale of 20 percent of which is now under discussion.


The deal is rather like the creation of YUKSI, a once planned merger of the YUKOS and Sibneft oil companies. Both cases assume the stronger partner shoulders Berezovsky's financial worries while giving him the right to control financial (in the ORT case, informational) flows. The YUKSI deal did not happen because YUKOS owner Mikhail Khordorkovsky realized in time that this sort of joint business he should do without.


One can only hope that Murdoch proves to be no less shrewd. Otherwise Russia faces the most unpleasant variant of Murdoch financing ORT and Berezovsky dictating informational politics.


Yulia Latynina is a staff writer for Expert magazine.