Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky's Self-Devaluation

Last week the newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti helped its competitor Kommersant out of a very sticky situation and damaged the reputation of Kommersant's owner Boris Berezovsky in one fell swoop.

On July 24, Berezovsky published an open letter in Kommersant that he called "The New Redistribution." All of the journalists I talked to about the letter perceived it primarily as a provocation by Berezovsky against his own newspaper. Not so much because Berezovsky begins by discussing the Yukos affair and ends by accusing President Vladimir Putin of leading the country into a new civil war. And not even because he calls on his readers to oppose civil war by taking to the streets and participating in a campaign of civil disobedience. The thing is nearly half of Berezovsky's letter paints a portrait of "Putin the criminal" that makes a number of allegations -- including names, companies and sums -- intended to prove that Russia's current leader is up to his eyeballs in corruption.

Facts and opinions are different animals. It's very hard not to react to allegations based on facts. But how should the Kremlin react? By issuing an official denial? In that case everyone would immediately decide that Berezovsky is on to something. By spinning the allegations in the state-controlled media? But who believes what they are told in the state-controlled media? The only option left is to go after the source of the allegations. Berezovsky may be far away, but Kommersant is right here in Moscow. True, an attack on Kommersant would play into Berezovsky's hands by offering yet more proof of a corrupt regime strangling the free press.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

The weekly Moskovskiye Novosti ran a full page of articles that meticulously and thoroughly picked apart all of the "facts" presented in Berezovsky's letter, I suspect even before the presidential administration had time to convene a working group to deal with the situation. As it turns out, the charges in the letter are a little stale. They're based on unconfirmed rumors and long disproved information taken for the most part from sources that no one in their right mind would consider reliable.

Berezovsky has been shamed and made to look a fool by an independent newspaper that is no great friend of the current administration. This fact alone lends credibility to the denunciation. The employees of Kommersant can sleep easy. From this point on, their owner could publish his insinuations about Putin in every issue and no one but the poor readers of the newspaper will be bothered one bit.

For Berezovsky himself, however, this story could have more far-reaching consequences than it might seem at first glance. His "use-value" on the political market derives first of all, of course, from his enormous wealth, and the letter changes nothing in this regard. But Berezovsky also relies on the general perception that he possesses information capable of bringing down the current regime. The Kommersant open letter leads one to believe, however, that he actually has no serious damaging material on Putin. Otherwise he would certainly have made at least a portion of that material public in his letter.

He may well know where the bodies are buried, but only as far as the administration of Boris Yeltsin is concerned, back when Berezovsky was a Kremlin insider, a member of the Family and one of the chief beneficiaries of the model of property distribution that is causing the current president so much trouble. No doubt the Putin administration would just love to get its hands on this kind of "dirt" on its predecessors.

So as it turns out, Berezovsky's lightweight letter in Kommersant has nixed his value as a defense witness for the system he helped to create, while it has increased his value as a witness for the prosecution. This further strengthens my conviction that Kommersant will not be touched, and that efforts to secure Berezovsky's extradition from Britain may only be redoubled.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals. []