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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Laments Money Wasted on Putin

Pining for his once-immense political influence, tycoon Boris Berezovsky on Thursday lamented that he spent part of his fortune on boosting President Vladimir Putin, who has turned his back on him.

Berezovsky accused Putin of skewering democracy and dissent - but dismissed concerns that his own influence-peddling under former President Boris Yeltsin was in any way undemocratic.

?There are huge damages to the world that I tried to create over the last 10 years, and I mean not only time and material help, but money,? Berezovsky said in an interview with The Associated Press from New York. ?There are huge damages from what Putin has done to me over the past year.?

Berezovsky, a wily former mathematician, is in self-imposed exile from Russia to avoid a criminal investigation that he calls politically motivated. He said Thursday he had no plans to hurry back to Russia anytime soon.

He claimed to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance Putin's election this spring - and to have helped Putin win an unspecified sum from two Swiss companies targeted in the investigation. The Kremlin has denied the claim.

?I gave my own money, not just from my companies but from my own pocket to ... support the presidential campaign. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars,? Berezovsky said. ?Putin's election campaign received money from Forus and Andava, which I founded to help Aeroflot.?

Berezovsky is one of Russia's most prominent ?oligarchs,? mighty moguls who built business empires through shady privatization deals in the 1990s and used Kremlin ties to advance their own business interests. He was also widely seen as having great influence over Yeltsin's decision-making circle, perceived as a reward for his financing of Yeltsin's re-election campaign in 1996.

Berezovsky still has holdings in Russian media, oil, cars, aluminum and airlines. But since Putin's election, Berezovsky has fallen from Kremlin favor - and is under criminal investigation, which he says proves Putin's slide toward authoritarianism.

?I regret that the president turned so short-sighted and weak,? Berezovsky said. ?He got scared of an opposition, and reverted to his old-school KGB ways.?

Human rights groups have accused Putin, a former KGB agent, of cracking down on independent journalists, environmentalists and rebels in breakaway Chechnya. Putin maintains he is cleaning up Russian politics and business after years of chaos and corruption.

Russians cheered when Putin promised to stem the oligarchs' influence, having long reviled the tycoons for building fortunes while the rest of the country sank into poverty. Still, some oligarchs remain in Kremlin favor.

?It wasn't the oligarchs who damaged the Russian democratic process, it was the oligarchs who were 90 percent responsible for pushing it forward,? Berezovsky argued.

The companies Berezovsky said financed Putin's campaign, Andava and Forus, are suspected of misappropriating $970 million from Russia's national airline Aeroflot. Berezovsky has repeatedly ignored summons for questioning in the case.

?It was all clean. These companies made a profit like any successful Western company,? he insisted.

Also Thursday, Berezovsky announced he was donating $3 million to the Sakharov Museum and human rights center in Moscow, which had planned to close on Friday because it had no money. He said he made the move to protest Putin's alleged authoritarianism, but some museum officials expressed skepticism of his motives.