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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Donates To Human Rights

Boris Berezovsky announced Friday that he is giving millions of dollars to human rights organizations and is planning to fund a new political party to oppose President Vladimir Putin, whom he helped bring to power in 1999 and 2000.

"I am really trying to help those who want to live in Russia," the former Kremlin power broker said in a video link from France. "One of the most important elements is forming institutions of civil society."

The International Foundation for Civil Liberties, which Berezovsky created in December with $25 million, has selected 163 organizations based outside Moscow — ranging from environmentalists to press freedom and prisoners' rights groups — each of which will receive annual grants of up to $15,000 for the next four years.

The grant recipients were chosen from among 300 applicants by a committee including such prominent human rights advocates as Alexei Simonov, president of the Glasnost Defense Foundation; Valentina Melnikova, who heads the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees; and Valery Abramkin, director of the Center for Penal Reform. The committee also includes Yury Ryzhov, a former Russian ambassador to France.

However, some critics have argued that Berezovsky's past business dealings and political manipulations, often seen as incompatible with democratic principles, call into question the integrity of his philanthropic activities.

"Berezovsky's entire reputation is connected to a political history that is far from straightforward and to his influence on political processes," media analyst Anna Kachkayeva told The Associated Press. "This makes the actions of people who try to cast him as a new dissident strange, to say the least."

But Abramkin, Melnikova and Simonov — all of whom attended Friday's conference — argued that the importance of the cause justified accepting the gift.

Berezovsky gave his first high-profile charitable donation last November, when he donated $3 million to Moscow's Sakharov Museum, named in honor of the Soviet dissident, renowned physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.

After the gift was announced, Sakharov's widow, Yelena Bonner, told The Washington Post she was well aware Berezovsky might have ulterior motives for donating the money, but he was the only one who offered help.

"Everybody is saying this is dirty money, but there are people who are richer than Berezovsky and they aren't doing it [giving money]. Maybe Berezovsky is doing it to change his image, but that's his prerogative," the paper quoted her as saying.

Pavel Arsenyev, head of Berezovsky's Moscow-based charitable fund, said $10 million of the $25 million would go to nongovernmental organizations, while other priorities would include support programs for prisoners, journalists and ethnic Russian communities in the former Soviet Union.

Berezovsky left Russia in November after prosecutors summoned him for questioning in an investigation into the embezzlement of nearly $1 billion from the national airline Aeroflot. He has denied any wrongdoing and has said the investigation is politically motivated.

Berezovsky said at Friday's conference that he planned to return to Russia by the end of the year after creating a political party to oppose Putin.

"The reason I want to return to Russia is politics. Now after one year of Putin's presidency, we have all the necessary conditions to form a real opposition."

Berezovsky said it was unlikely he would work on the project together with fellow oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky — a one-time rival who has fallen out of the Kremlin's favor due to a bitter conflict over his media empire — because Gusinsky "is not interested in politics."

When dozens of journalists left Gusinsky's NTV television after a management reshuffle last month, a number of them — including outspoken Kremlin critic Yevgeny Kiselyov — were given refuge on Berezovsky's TV6 channel, triggering some resignations among TV6 staff. Berezovsky said at the conference he was confident Kiselyov would be approved as the station's general director at a shareholders meeting later this month.

In the past, Berezovsky has admitted using his media holdings to influence national politics and elections.