Boris Berezovsky’s death may remain ‘unexplained’ in the language of the investigating police officers. But this side of forensic certainty there’s no shortage of explanations, speculations and theories.
Most of them centre around the possibility that Berezovsky was, in the language of his nemesis Putin, ‘whacked’ – this even though the body was found in the bathroom and not in ‘the shithouse’ that figured so prominently in Putin’s threats.
So did Putin ‘whack’ Berezovsky or didn’t he? Some say he did, some say he didn’t. However, no one says he couldn’t possibly have done, and ultimately this is what really matters.
Intelligence officers are trained to think that, if coincidences number more than two, they’re no longer coincidences. Regarding the event in that light, one has to observe that the British climate seems to be perilous for Putin’s enemies, while it’s more sparing of his friends and acolytes, such as Abramovich.
In 2006, for example, the high content of radioactive substances in London’s air did for Col. Litvinenko, though that time few claimed his death was ‘unexplained’. In 2008, Berezovsky’s partner Badri Patarkatsishvili, 52, died ‘from a suspected heart attack’ in Surrey, and surely a competent post mortem could have pinpointed the cause of death more precisely. Also in Surrey Alexander Perepelichny, 44, died while jogging last November. ‘His death,’ say the papers, ‘remains a mystery’, although Perepelichny’s planned testimony at a money-laundering trial could perhaps demystify matters a bit.
In all these instances Putin had not only a motive but also the means, for there’s little doubt that such a scientifically and technologically advanced country as Russia is capable of inducing heart attacks that look natural. So did Putin kill Patarkatsishvili, Perepelichny and Berezovsky (we know as near as damn he had Litvinenko ‘whacked’)? I don’t know. But he could have done.
Such a distinct possibility delivers yet another crushing blow to today’s useful idiots who point out that Russia has changed, presumably for the better. True enough, unlike his predecessors Lenin and Stalin, Putin ‘whacks’ his victims by the dozen, not by the million. But then the same could be said about his predecessors Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov – so were they democrats as well?
Fundamentally, what Reagan described as ‘an evil empire’ may now be less imperial than in the past, but it’s no less evil. Once we’ve established that, the number of its victims becomes a purely actuarial matter.
Evil regimes don’t necessarily murder millions – but they can. The differences between institutional ability and numerical fact are all purely tactical. Such regimes murder as many as they need to: dozens if that’s what it takes, millions if that’s what’s required.
For example, in the first few years of his rule Hitler kept his score sheet several orders of magnitude lower than what he ran up in the subsequent few years. Did he suddenly become more evil? Of course he didn’t. Hitler didn’t change; the situation did.
Be that as it may, I’m hard-pressed to find it in my heart to mourn Berezovsky. Nil nisi bonum… and all that, but in his heyday Berezovsky was exactly what the title of Paul Klebnikov’s book said he was: ‘Godfather in the Kremlin’.
(Incidentally, by way of literary criticism the author himself was in 2004 gunned down in central Moscow. Putin’s colleagues immediately spread the rumour that Klebnikov, Forbes bureau chief, was killed by a jealous husband. Two jealous husbands apparently, for there were two submachine guns involved in the drive-by shooting.)
Such people sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. Berezovsky in particular went much further than most other gangsters tend to do. Typically, these gentlemen cultivate political contacts as a way of protecting their business interests. Berezovsky and Abramovich reversed the process: they used their ill-gotten cash to run the country, more or less.
Both men, then loyal partners, called the shots within the Yeltsyn camarilla, as the president was drinking himself to death. Having used Berezovsky’s media empire to re-elect Yeltsyn against overwhelming odds (his approval rating was a mere six percent going into the campaign), the partners essentially appointed the cabinet. And it was Berezovsky who engineered Putin’s ascent to the Kremlin.
‘The godfather’ thought the obscure KGB colonel would be putty in his hands. Inadvertently but predictably, once the figurine was moulded it turned into a monster capable of devouring its creator. Abramovich, his nose of beagle sensitivity, realised this, which is why he’s still thriving in the London climate, his billions intact. But Berezovsky’s olfactory sense was too dulled by hubris.
So he died. Whether he killed himself, died of a heart broken by loss of power and wealth or was murdered is immaterial. Berezovsky tried to fight the monster of his own creation and died in the attempt.
One can only hope that his death will help our useful idiots to become less idiotic, to learn to recognise monsters for what they are. Mind you, I’m not holding my breath.