Boris Berezovsky and Putin’s Catch 22
Andrei Piontkovsky is the
Director of the
The former Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky has stated he is plotting the violent overthrow of
President Putin from his base in
In the 1930s Lev Trotsky repeated, in numerous interviews
for Western newspapers and radio stations, that he had a vast number of
supporters in the
It is difficult to judge how far these claims were based on delusion and how far they were based on cynical political and psychological calculation.
Assuredly, many top dogs of the Russian Communist establishment of the time were giving vent to their disgruntlement in private. But most probably Lev Davydovich harbored few illusions regarding the Soviet establishment. On the other hand, he was fully acquainted with the paranoid psychology of the man he so recklessly underestimated when describing him as the “most outstanding mediocrity in our Party.” Having deliberately set up the entire Soviet “elite” (military personnel, secret policemen, etc., etc.), he supposed that the repressions unleashed by the paranoid dictator would be so monstrous in scope that they would detonate an explosion of outrage which would then sweep away the Stalin regime.
The first part of his prognosis proved accurate,
but the follow-up forcible overthrow of Stalin somehow did not follow. In the
show trials, the elite corroborated in great and imaginative detail everything
Comrade Trotsky had trumpeted urbi et orbi and then and with a sense of having performed
their duty to the Party, they climbed the scaffold with cries of “Long live
Comrade Stalin!” The final chord in this heroic symphony was the blow
struck with an alpenstock by Ramón Mercader, Hero of
Seventy years have passed and, as in Hegel’s bad
infinity, we hear once more, only now from
So what does that leave? If our supreme leader was able to believe on February 23, 2004 in a conspiracy to seize power, and possibly also assassinate our Most August Ruler, and that the author of this plan was the exceedingly mild-mannered Mikhail Kasyanov, why should he not believe in a ramified conspiracy among these elites, orchestrated from abroad by the fugitive oligarch behind whom there stand, needless to say, those familiar “traditional powerful and dangerous enemies of Russia who dream of weakening and dismembering her”?
The Kremlin provocateurs and propagandists do not have to invent anything in order to scare either their boss or society. Boris Berezovsky obligingly offers them all the arguments they could possibly need, once more dazzlingly confirming my characterization of him on the pages of Grani on his sixtieth birthday: “For the past six years Berezovsky has been acting as an extremely valuable foreign agent for Putin by trying to ‘head,’ and thereby discrediting, any opposition to Putin’s regime.”
Finally, let us note a strange aberration in the political mindset of such exceptional people as Trotsky and Berezovsky. Did Trotsky, who undoubtedly passionately desired to see Stalin removed, really not understand that the overthrow of Stalin’s Communist regime would put him, along with all the other “Old Bolsheviks,” in the dock, where they would have to answer, not just for fictitious crimes dreamed up by Stalin , but for the entirely real crimes against humanity that were committed in the course of the civil war they unleashed on Russia?
At my instigation, a call has been inserted in the program of the Yabloko Party for the “removal from power of the Putin regime by all possible constitutional means.” We will attempt to do this for many reasons, not least to enable a trial to take place in Russia of all those guilty of organizing the series of outrages which led to the Second Chechen War: Basaev’s raid on Dagestan, the blowing up of apartment blocks (with their occupants) in Moscow and Volgodonsk, FSB “exercises” in the basement of an apartment block in Ryazan, etc.
Once he was in emigration, Berezovsky began
claiming, and clearly knew what he was talking about, that these explosions
were the work not of Chechens but of the Russian authorities. In the
process, he omitted to mention who was effectively ruling
The shameful secret of how the Putin regime was conceived binds Putin and Berezovsky with a single chain. It seems strange that they fail to understand this. Or perhaps they know it full well, and that is why they pass the ball to each other so deftly.
That is partially the reason why the nature of the conflict over Putin’s successor is quite different from the successor-2000 problem.
In 2000 the successor had to be marketed to an
electorate 100 million strong. We all remember what a huge firework
display was required, involving Basaev’s raid on
Dagestan and the blowing up of apartment blocks in
All that is required is for Putin to reach agreement with the inner circle of his entourage, five or ten of the boys of the Petersburg Brigade. This is where the problems begin. The conflict is already spilling out of Churchill's “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as the terrible truth becomes evident to Putin’s cronies that He really does want to get out: " Long has the weary slave planned his escape." In The Brigade, however, a certain equilibrium has been established and “The Chief” cannot simply give orders or make arrangements there, let alone appoint successors. He needs to negotiate the terms of his departure, if he can, with his business partners.
Most see his longing to get out as easily
explicable in a still youthful and no doubt wealthy man: he does very
much want for the next twenty years or so to be another
kind of Roman Abramovich. As a certain Russian billionaire irrefutably
remarked, we Russians should, after all, be allowed to compensate ourselves for
decades of tragedy and deprivation. This feeling is undoubtedly present
in the psyche of the boy from the
Putin understands very well the pitiless laws of the system he has built up step by step over the past seven years. If he takes that final step of agreeing to a third term, he is accepting a life sentence. He will move into a new existential realm; he will enter that world of shadows from whose bourne no traveller returns. The darkness at noon of the Kremlin will engulf him forever. Not only will he never become a Roma, or Vova, Abramovich, he will never become anyone or anything again.
When Joseph Stalin lost, if he did, the argument on
the agrarian question to Nikolai Bukharin in 1929, he
could still, if he had so wished, have gone to work at the Institute of Red
Professors teaching a course on “Marxism and the National Question” to students
in the Workers’ Faculty. Alternatively, he could have gone home to
Only a few years passed before, as the ruler of one-sixth of the Earth, resigning his position would have been tantamount to standing up against the nearest wall in front of a firing squad. He had another twenty long years of that before his beloved comrades-in-arms found him where he had been lying unconscious on the floor in a pool of his own urine for twenty-four hours.
But let us return to our present-day hero. The more doggedly he tries to get out, the more they hate him; and the more desperately he wants to break free and never let these people hold sway over his life and destiny. Unfortunately, beyond the confines of his immediate entourage he has nobody. Beyond there is a scorched earth of his own making in which tens of thousands of “Our People”, his “Nashi”, are marching in T-shirts bearing his portrait.
Two Jungian archetypes were impressed forever on the infant psychology of the future president, and they often burst through from his unconscious to the verbal level: the cornered rat, and the boy clutching candy in his sweaty fist.