The death of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky will doubtless provide plenty of grist for numerous conspiracy mills – indeed, he was the fount of many such tall tales, claiming the Russian government was behind not only the death of Alexander Litvinenko, but also engineered the bombings in Russian cities attributed to Chechen terrorist groups. The man who stood at the epicenter of London’s anti-Putin Russian community – where many of the oligarchs and other crooks have sought refuge from justice – was the equivalent of a Russian 9/11 "truther," who, as the judge in a recent court case involving Berezovsky put it, was an "inherently unreliable witness" who "regarded truth as a transitory concept."
His vast fortune – acquired under dubious circumstances in post-Soviet Russia – was largely gone when he died. He had recently lost a lawsuit against rival oligarch Roman Abramovich, and he also faced several other legal threats, including one by his former girlfriend which sought to freeze his assets. Reportedly nearly penniless at the time of his death, resorting to selling several valuable paintings and other items acquired over his rapacious career, according to his lawyer he "was almost living in poverty" at the end. Although the cause of his death is not known, according to news reports the exiled oligarch was found on the floor of his bathroom, which had been locked from the inside: friends say he was being treated for severe depression.
Although some of Berezovsky’s longtime supporters are hinting at foul play – the usual scenario of a KGB-Putin plot, as was cooked up in the Alexander Litvinenko polonium poisoning case – it seems likely the impoverished and dispirited oligarch either took his own life or else died of sheer stress.
If indeed it was suicide, then the timing may be key to understanding his motive. Barely a week before he was found dead, it was announced that the long planned official inquiry into the Litvinenko affair, scheduled to start in may, had been delayed to October. Various reasons have been given for the delay: the British government has been very slow to release documents to the court of inquiry. In addition, the Brits are insisting evidence of Litvinenko’s dealings with MI6, the British intelligence service that paid him monthly fees of £2000, be kept secret, and that certain witnesses be allowed to testify anonymously. Indeed, Sir Robert Owen, the coroner in charge of the inquiry, has threatened the British media with sanctions if they so much as hint at the identity of these witnesses.
To begin with, this murder – if murder it was – occurred in 2006. To say that the documents aren’t yet ready is hardly credible. While Litvinenko’s widow blames the Russians for the delay, what’s interesting is the intervention of Foreign Secretary William Hague, who wants to keep key evidence under wraps. It is generally assumed that the secrecy request has to do with Litvinenko’s widely known relationship with British intelligence, but this isn’t necessarily the case. While Mrs. Litvinenko remarked at the last hearing that it’s hard to imagine a body less interested in getting to the bottom of the case than the Russian authorities, perhaps it is the Brits who don’t want the truth to come out. After all, the Russians have agreed to hand over thousands of documents and have publicly stated their intention to participate in the inquiry, while the British agencies involved haven’t even begun to search, in some cases, for the requisite documentation.
Litvinenko was a protégé of Berezovsky: it was the Russian oligarch who funded Litvinenko’s anti-Russian propaganda campaign, through his "Civil Liberties Foundation," and it was the Berezovsky public relations machine that broadcast the accepted media narrative of the Litivinenko case: that the poisoning had been carried out by the "KGB" – always using the Soviet era acronym, instead of the actual name of the Russian agency known as the FSB – out of revenge for Berezovsky’s activities abroad. After fleeing Russia ahead of an indictment for massive fraud, embezzlement, and other financial crimes – crimes which lay at the very foundations of his huge fortune – the Russian oligarch went on a crusade to discredit and ultimately overthrow Vladimir Putin, and to support the Islamist insurgency in Russia’s former province of Chechnya. Under Berezovsky’s patronage, Litvinenko – a convert to Islam – wrote a series of books purporting to prove Putin and his supporters were behind virtually every terrorist attack in Russia attributed to Chechnyan terrorists. According to their story, it was all a hoax designed to perpetuate Putin in power.
While this was laughed at in Russia the same way we laugh at the Truthers who insist it was the US government itself that brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11 – via "controlled demolition," or whatever – the anti-Russian anti-Putin propagandists made use of it in the West, where it was uncritically repeated.
The British government cooperated with this nonsense, declaring Berezovsky a "political refugee," allowing him to avoid extradition to Russia to answer for serious crimes. They backed up the Berezovsky-manufactured narrative of Litvinenko’s death as a "KGB plot" – and now they are delaying the inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, laughably claiming that, six years later, they aren’t "ready" to go ahead.
Something doesn’t quite smell right here – and Berezovsky’s sudden death, probably by his own hand, should send alarm bells ringing for longtime observers of the Litvinenko case and Berezovsky’s role in it.
The narrative woven by the semi-official Western media around the Litvinenko case – that it was all a Kremlin plot to murder a marginal critic of the Putin regime – just doesn’t make sense. Why would the Russians kill him in a manner that would leave a radioactive trail stretching from Moscow to London?
Any serious effort to uncover the real facts of the case would give at least equal weight to a number of alternative explanations for Litvinenko’s bizarre death. To begin with, there are indications that Litvinenko was involved in a nuclear smuggling scheme, and according to news reports it wouldn’t be the first time. Since Litvinenko was being entirely supported by Berezovsky, it is worth asking what the exiled Russian oligarch’s role was in all this. Was Berezovsky involved in the smuggling of nuclear materials? If contamination from this led to Litvinenko’s death, surely Berezovsky’s role, if any, would come out in the inquiry – or is this what the British government is desperately trying to keep secret?
Litvinenko had also evidently gone into the blackmailing business, and was reported to be extorting several Russian Mafia figures, claiming to have sources inside the FSB that would provide the dirt on any number of Russian expatriates, threatening to make their darkest secrets public. As Litvinenko’s patron, surely Berezosky had knowledge and perhaps direct involvement in this project. If Litvinenko was killed by one or more of his intended victims, and this came out, then Berezovsky would likely have been implicated in the blackmail scheme. There are those who even speculate that Berezovsky was himself being blackmailed by Litvinenko.
If Berezovsky killed himself, it is worth asking: why? His closest friends and associates are even now saying he wasn’t the suicidal sort: that he was a fighter who loved life passionately. If Berezovsky took his own life, he must have had a very good reason. If he thought he was about to be exposed as having been complicit not only in perpetrating the fraudulent narrative around Litvinenko’s death, but also as having committed far more serious crimes that would have led to his irrevocable disgrace – nuclear smuggling, blackmail, and perhaps worse – then suicide would have been the only way out.
Throughout his life, Berezovsky was a ruthless player in a game that involved stolen billions, international intrigue, and the fate of nations. He looted the Russian economy, and fled when his crimes were uncovered, serving as the mouthpiece and financier of a Western-orchestrated propaganda campaign against the country of his birth. In the end, he wound up broke, and alone, pursued by the demons of his past. Whether those demons will catch up with him in death remains to be seen.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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