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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Courting Governors For Party

Boris Berezovsky the consummate political strategist was out in the regions this week working on his latest project f the creation of an opposition party.

He was courting influential governors whose support could help make his party a reality, governors with reasons to be disgruntled with the Kremlin under President Vladimir Putin.

Berezovsky met in Orel with regional Governor Yegor Stroyev, chairman of the Federation Council, and then flew to Yekaterinburg to meet with Eduard Rossel, governor of the Sverdlovsk region. Kirsan Illyumzhinov, president of Kalmykia, also said he met with Berezovsky recently.

Berezovsky has openly criticized Putin over his steps to tighten control over the 89 regions and to crack down on leading businessmen, actions that he said smacked of a return to Soviet-style rule and could very well backfire.

"By putting unjustifiable pressure on the regional elite and on big business, those in power have themselves created conditions favorable for the creation of an opposition," Berezovsky said in an interview published Wednesday in Le Figaro and reprinted by Noviye Izvestia newspaper.

"There is a critical mass of people who have had 10 years of freedoms who will not want to go back to joining the rank and file. Will they have enough courage to unite and create an organization? I think they will," he said.

Berezovsky said in televised remarks that he wants to create "a constructive opposition, which strengthens the power, not destroys the power."

Berezovsky, a media and financial tycoon, has long played a behind-the-scenes political role, and he takes credit for helping put Putin in power.

While he said Thursday that electing Putin for president was "the best choice we could have made," he said the ideology of the party he wants to create is "different" from Putin's ideology.

"We believe that Russia is ready for democracy," Berezovsky said. "Putin wants to see Russia ... become a democratic state, but he is wrong in his choice of the route."

Berezovsky was elected to office for the first time in December's parliamentary election, but he resigned his seat in the Duma last month and announced plans to form an opposition party.

Berezovsky said the base of the party's support would be the regional leaders. They provided Putin with strong support during his presidential campaign but were among the first targeted as Putin began consolidating power.

When Putin first proposed removing the regional leaders from the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, Berezovsky was the first who dared to criticize the plan publicly and he opened the way for others.

Stroyev was among those who later spoke against the legislation as it moved through parliament, saying that it was against the Constitution.

Neither Stroyev nor Berezovsky said anything about their meeting Tuesday in Orel. Citing "informed sources," Interfax reported that they discussed questions related to "creating a constructive dialogue with the existing power."

In addition to his role in the Federation Council, Stroyev, whose region is in the Red Belt where Communist support is strong, has significant influence over other left-leaning governors.

Berezovsky was followed to Orel by Igor Shabdurasulov, a former Kremlin deputy chief of staff and seasoned public relations man, who met Friday with Stroyev. Berezovsky has announced plans to create a holding company for his media outlets and said he wants Shabdurasulov to head it.

Berezovsky then flew out to meet with Rossel, whose Sverdlovsk region is an economic powerhouse. Like Stroyev, Rossel, who heads a group of governors from the Urals and western Siberia, carries weight with other regional leaders.

Rossel has a history of strained relations with the Kremlin. Appointed governor in 1991, he was fired by then-President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 after he pushed for the creation of an independent Urals republic and even suggested it have its own currency. He was elected to the post in 1995 as Russia shifted from appointed to elected governors.

Rossel openly supported Putin during his election campaign earlier this year, helping him collect the 500,000 signatures needed to nominate him for president. But when Putin tightened his grip on the regions, Rossel openly expressed his disappointment.

"I came specifically to meet with Rossel," Berezovsky told reporters after the meeting. "I have met with Stroyev, I have met with many other governors."

Judging by statements made Friday by Putin's new presidential envoy in the Urals District, which includes Sverdlovsk, Rossel's relations with the Kremlin are likely only to get worse.

"I told him directly that it is very difficult to say that we are satisfied with the actions [of the regional government]," General Pyotr Latyshev said at a news conference after talks with the governor.

Latyshev called Sverdlovsk the most corrupt region in his district and for this reason his staff would focus more energy on Sverdlovsk.

Illyumzhinov, who has enjoyed almost unlimited powers in Kalmykia, said Friday that he met "recently" with Berezovsky, Interfax reported. He said Berezovsky did not, however, ask him to join his party. Kalmykia has been among the regions targeted by the Kremlin in its drive to bring regional laws into accordance with federal legislation and the Constitution.

In his efforts to unite the regions, Berezovsky may be able to draw on his experience as executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1998 and 1999, when he used his business and political skills to forge closer ties between former Soviet republics.

Berezovsky has chosen the politically dead season of August to set off on creating his party. He seems to sense that the time is ripe for uniting the disillusioned governors.

Sergei Markov, director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Studies, said there was a niche for an opposition party, which when Yeltsin was in office was occupied by the Communists.

"The Communist Party ... is unable to create an alternative. It belongs to the past," Markov said.

He said most politicians would be afraid to spearhead the creation of a party in opposition to Putin, but a superb strategist like Berezovsky might be able to pull it off.

But for the party to succeed, Berezovsky would have to find someone else to lead it while he continued to work behind the scenes. "Berezovsky is one of the most hated and unpopular politicians," Markov said.