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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Donates $3M to Museum

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An unlikely tandem was forged Thursday as the cash-strapped Sakharov Museum announced its acceptance of a $3 million grant from Boris Berezovsky, who has been living in self-imposed exile abroad after fleeing a criminal investigation he has called politically motivated.

The museum — which aims to promote the ideas of human rights and civil society, and is named after Nobel Peace Prize-winning Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov — has been plagued by grave funding problems and had been planning to close its doors as early as Friday.

The donated sum is almost twice the museum's total budget over the four years of its existence, which was about $1.7 million. That money had come from foreign grants, the bulk of which were from the U.S. Agency on International Development, which stopped funding this fall.

Berezovsky said in a statement he considered supporting the museum both "a great honor" and a necessary measure to prevent "authoritarian rule [from] depriving each and every person of [his or her] rights."

Berezovsky, a businessman and one-time Kremlin insider, went abroad in November after prosecutors summoned him for questioning as a suspect in the investigation into the embezzlement of about $1 billion from the national airline Aeroflot. He has not returned to Russia since then.

Berezovsky has called himself a "political emigrant," claiming the probe was retribution for his opposition to President Vladimir Putin, whom he accuses of authoritarian tendencies.

Sakharov's widow and the spiritus movens behind the museum, Yelena Bonner, said at Thursday's press conference she has accepted the grant on the explicit condition Berezovsky will have no influence on the museum's work and political stance.

"I am convinced Boris Berezovsky was sincere in his gesture," Bonner said, adding that she understands Berezovsky would profit politically from the association with Sakharov's name.

"But the fact is everybody knew of our financial problems and the danger we were facing, and Berezovsky was the only one who decided to help us," she said. "And I think the survival of the Sakharov museum is extremely important for Russia."

The museum's director, Yury Samodurov, was the only museum official to oppose accepting Berezovsky's donation.

"Our museum should not turn for help to oligarchs whose fortunes symbolize the defeat of Russia's democratic revolution in the economic sphere," he said.

Formally, the grant went to the Andrei Sakharov Foundation — a U.S. NGO established to help fund the Moscow-based Sakharov Museum, said the foundation's vice president, Bonner's son Alexey Semyonov. He added that the money would be used as an endowment, with the museum spending only the interest on the sum.