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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Starts Opposition Movement

A diverse group of intellectuals has joined controversial tycoon Boris Berezovsky to form a movement of "constructive opposition" to what it calls the Kremlins authoritarian tendencies.

In a statement titled "Russia at the Crossroads," published Wednesday on the front page of newspaper Izvestia, nine signatories including writer Vasily Aksyenov, filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, former Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Igor Shabdurasulov and economics journalist Otto Latsis said freedom of speech, enterprise and thought are under threat.

"The current situation is marked by the weakness of civic institutions, which are the basis of civil society," the statement said.

Berezovsky said during a news conference Wednesday that his aim was to bring about an "intellectualization" of power. "Our statement is not a populist appeal, but one directed at thinking people," he said.

Berezovsky announced his movement as President Vladimir Putins popularity is soaring to record levels. One poll put his approval rating at 73 percent last week.

Those ratings come after a period of feverish activity in which Putin pushed legislation through parliament dramatically curbing the authority of powerful regional leaders, even as law enforcement bodies targeted some of the countrys most influential businessmen.

The Kremlin says its aim is to rein in rampant crime and corruption. Critics say the president is aiming to create an authoritarian regime.

"People are completely without memory," Berezovsky said. "Around 700,000 people came to the funeral of [Soviet dissident] Andrei Sakharov. Ten years later, only 12 came to a memorial service."

Berezovsky left the specific purpose and future of his movement unclear.

"The actual form of our movement will depend on societys reaction," he said, adding that given enough support, the movement may form a political party.

A sometime Kremlin strategist, Berezovsky was widely credited with helping bring President Putin to power. But he has increasingly spoken out against the presidents actions in recent months and said he resigned his post as State Duma deputy in July to form a movement of opposition.

Analysts said Berezovskys movement has little chance of attracting much support. "Its a demonstrative step aimed at publicizing his stance," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem research group. "Berezovsky is one of the few people who can slap Putin publicly.

"But his name would discredit any movement of which he is part," Korgunyuk added.

Berezovsky met with several regional leaders last week. Asked why no governors had signed his statement, Berezovsky said they were afraid.

"The governors want to see the authorities reaction to make up their minds how to participate," he said. "I can assure you many of them will participate, but its not clear if it will be in an open or secret fashion."

Berezovsky brushed aside his key role in organizing the pro-Kremlin Unity Party last year, saying the organization was formed solely to help elect Putin. "The country was under a real threat that [Moscow Mayor Yury] Luzhkovs and [former Prime Minister Yevgeny] Primakovs Fatherland-All Russia movement would come to power," he said.

"Unity had a one-time goal, thats why it has no ideology," Berezovsky said. "But the situation now is cardinally different."

Both Berezovsky and filmmaker Govorukhin, a State Duma deputy and Fatherland-All Russia member, said the new movement might cooperate with the Luzhkov-Primakov organization. "The two groups will cross paths and move forward side-by-side," Govorukhin said.

Berezovskys media outlets, campaigning on behalf of the Kremlin last year, smeared Fatherland-All Russia in a bitter war of rhetoric, provoking Luzhkov to respond that Berezovsky was "Satan."