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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berezovsky Flip-Flops on Plan for Coup d'Etat

APPosters of Berezovsky reading, "Give us money" lying in a garbage container during a Young Guard rally on Saturday.
Self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky said in comments published Friday that he was plotting a coup to remove President Vladimir Putin from office by force.

"We need to use force to change this regime," Berezovsky told British newspaper The Guardian. "It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure."

Asked by The Guardian whether he was working to bring about a revolution, Berezovsky said: "You are absolutely correct."

Berezovsky also claimed to be in close contact with members of the political leadership who share his views.

"There is no chance of regime change through democratic elections," he told The Guardian. "If one part of the political elite disagrees with another part of the political elite, that is the only way in Russia to change the regime. I try to move that."

Berezovsky declined to name his contacts, saying they could be killed if identified. He said he was providing them primarily with financial assistance.

Following the appearance of his interview with The Guardian, however, Berezovsky took steps to soften his stance.

"I do support direct action. I do not advocate or support violence," he said in a statement released on Friday afternoon.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Berezovsky said Saturday that he wanted to bring about regime change by using "force like in Ukraine and Georgia." In both of those countries, opposition leaders took power after nonviolent demonstrations.

Berezovsky's remarks, which came on the eve of opposition demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, drew a sharp response from Moscow. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on British authorities to extradite Berezovsky, who fled to Britain after Putin's election in 2000 and was subsequently granted asylum and a British passport.

"He has taken actions that under British law require his handover," Lavrov told Itar-Tass.

Berezovsky shot back in a telephone interview Friday. "I don't care at all what the foreign minister says. Not at all," he said.

A British Home Office spokeswoman said Friday that for Berezovsky to be extradited, a British court would have to determine that he had committed a crime punishable by at least a 12-month prison sentence under British law.

London's Metropolitan Police said Friday that it was assessing Berezovsky's remarks to determine whether an offense had been committed. A recording of the interview was posted on The Guardian's web site.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in a statement released Friday that she was aware of Berezovsky's comments, "appearing to call for the overthrow of the current Russian government by force."

"I deplore such sentiments. We expect everyone living or working in, or visiting the U.K., whatever their status, to observe our laws and regulations. The Home Office will now seek to collate full information on the alleged comments so that a review and full assessment can be made," Beckett said.

In Moscow, the Prosecutor General's Office said Friday that it had opened a criminal investigation into Berezovsky's comments, which it characterized as "an open call to overthrow Russia's constitutional order."

In a statement posted on its web site, the Prosecutor General's Office also said that on Monday it would renew its request for British authorities to strip the tycoon of refugee status in connection with the investigation.

Prosecutors will also attempt to have Berezovsky extradited to face criminal charges in Russia, the statement said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that he hoped Berezovsky's "unbelievable comments" would prompt British authorities to review his status.

"We don't know why he was granted asylum in the first place," Peskov said. "We hope his latest comments will undermine his illegal efforts to stage a violent coup."

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said Berezovsky would not escape punishment.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the majority of Russians would not support Berezovsky's attempts to foment revolution.

"Mr. Berezovsky helped the previous powers rob the country," Zyuganov told Interfax. "Now he wants to be a revolutionary. It won't work. The masses will never follow him."

Berezovsky brushed off threats made by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika on Friday that his remarks would bring new criminal charges.

Chaika said Berezovsky was wanted not only for planning a violent coup, but also for stealing $50 million from Aeroflot.

"Chaika has referred the matter to the relevant agencies [in Russia]," said a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General's Office. "He will request that Britain annul Berezovsky's asylum status."

Berezovsky's lawyer Andrei Borovkov said later Friday that his client would face new charges of embezzling and laundering $8.25 million from Aeroflot, Interfax reported.

Berezovsky has called for the overthrow of the Putin government in the past. In January 2006, he told Ekho Moskvy radio that Putin was an illegitimate and anti-constitutional president, and said he had been plotting to depose him for 1 1/2 years.

Then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that Berezovsky could forfeit his refugee status if he continued to agitate for Putin's ouster.

Straw said in a statement released at the time that the British government would "take action against those who use the U.K. as a base from which to foment violent disorder or terrorism in other countries."

Yury Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the Indem think tank, said Berezovsky had no serious intention of staging a coup.

"Everyone knows he is bluffing," Korgunyuk said. "He needs to create the image that he is fighting the regime. But in reality, that is not the case."

Korgunyuk said Berezovsky had chosen an "excellent method" for upsetting the Kremlin, which "fears revolution more than anything."