Valdai Club Experts About Boris Berezovsky: Pure Evil or a True Patriot?

A grey cardinal, a con artist, fortune’s darling, the face of the era – Russian and foreign experts agree on one thing: the late Boris Berezovsky was an extraordinary and at the same time contradictory man.

Yevgeny Minchenko , who once called Berezovsky “the grey cardinal of the late 1990s” and “the man who decides almost everything,” recalled the role Berezovsky played in Russian politics in the Yeltsin years. While crediting his organizational skills, Minchenko emphasized that Berezovsky moved too fast for Russian politics in the early 2000s, when society craved normalization. He was not prepared to attempt to fit into the system of political relations that was taking shape at that time. 

Ariel Cohen called Berezovsky a “great dilettante.” He believes that there was a critical shortage of real politicians and real entrepreneurs in Russia in the 1990s, when Berezovsky emerged on the scene. Berezovsky, Cohen claims, “prioritized his own business and his own political interests over the need to develop independent institutions, the rule of law and genuine democracy in Russia.” Berezovsky struck deals proceeding from the realities of Russia at the time, which got him in trouble later on. Taking into account the heritage of the Soviet era it is hard to say now whether he could have acted any differently, the expert notes.

Cohen thinks Berezovsky was not a very good reader of people. He failed to protect his business interests and preserve his influence over the politicians who came to power in the early 2000s. Therefore, Cohen writes, “the loss of his business empire and his political power, as well as his depression are a sad monument to his tumultuous life and controversial career.”

Alexei Mukhin called Berezovsky “old and sick.” He recalled that in the last years of his life, the exiled oligarch suffered many disappointments and failures both in business and his personal life. Mukhin believes that all the trials and investigations had a serious impact on his health. “The outcome is clear,” Mukhin said.

Professor Richard Sakwa sees Berezovsky as a graphic example of how the business class, who led Russia’s transition to capitalism, failed to subordinate its interests to the needs of the state. “Berezovsky demonstrated the inability of this new business class, the so-called oligarchs in the 1990s, to subordinate themselves to the rule of law and indeed to the interests of state development, so, highly contradictory development. He was very closely associated with exploiting political opportunities,” he said.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.