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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

INSIDE RUSSIA: Berezovsky's Wheel of Misfortune




Last week, President Boris Yeltsin rebuffed numerous recent press articles claiming that the scale of corruption within Russia's left-wing government has exceeded all imaginable proportions by dismissing the Communists' main foe, Boris Berezovsky, from his post of executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States.


Berezovsky had already dug himself into a hole. Not because he started lashing back at Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov for the campaign against him. And not by declaring himself an anti-communist, neatly tying his personal differences with the equally hostile Primakov into the context of the Communist support of Primakov's government.


Berezovsky dug that hole a full year and 1/2 ago when he struck at the "young reformers" for diddling him out of his share of Svyazinvest, winning a convincing victory over Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. It was then, back in August 1997, that the foundations were laid for the financial crash that occurred a year later.


Berezovsky earnestly believed that he could build a special type of economy in which the government, under the pretext of fulfilling its social obligations, collects money into the budget and then from there distributes it to the oligarchs. Such an economy was created and, for a while, a large, simmering saucepan of borshch, swimming with the fat of the Russian budget, sat before the oligarchs.


But then the borshch ran out, the pot burned and the West wouldn't stump up the money for a new one. Unfortunately, this sort of economy is as unstable as an inverted pyramid and, remarkably, that pyramid always topples to the left.


In Russia, you can misappropriate things in two ways: very subtly, or very primitively. The colorful Berezovsky personified the former. Now, in place of his elegantly crafted schemes come such artless, lumbering devices as "support for agriculture through allocation of preferential loans," and a colorless prime minister whose speech contains as much real enlightenment as prison soup does meat.


Like the old woman in Pushkin's tale of the fisherman and the fish, Berezovsky wanted to be sovereign of the seas but ended up with a broken washtub. Yet few apart from his personal enemies will derive much satisfaction from his dismissal. For several months now he has been very much on the defensive in his position as CIS executive secretary and has not posed any particular threat to the fabric of the country - unlike its current government.


In the economies of ancient times and the Middle Ages, rich and powerful people were regarded with suspicion. The place of perpetually multiplying wealth, called "capital" in the market economy, was occupied by metaphors like the "wrath of the gods" and the "wheel of fortune," conceptions of the temporality of human destiny that, as Herodotus wrote, "do not allow that some or other people are eternally happy."


In any economy where power is the main condition for the accumulation of wealth, the wheel of fortune still exists in place of capital. It is odd that Berezovsky, the great strategist, ended up under that wheel rather than paying heed to this natural law as he built such an economy in Russia. And it is a crying shame that 150 million Russians had to go under the wheel with him.


Yulia Latynina is a staff writer for Expert magazine.