Berezokvsky's tragedy is that he did Putin's work for him: humiliating himself, bankrupting himself, nullifying himself
Early Saturday evening, the news of Boris Berezovsky's death in his Surrey mansion's bathtub broke. Police are still determining how he died – indeed, have brought in men in hazmat suits in case he was irradiated to death, like fellow refugee Alexander Litvinenko – but one thing is for sure: whatever (or whoever) killed him, Vladimir Putin will be smiling as another one of his enemies, albeit a gadfly rather than a dragon, is crossed off his list.
Now, it's quite possible – likely, even – that Berezovsky committed suicide. He had recently staked his wealth on a multi-billion prosecution of Roman Abramovich for alleged business misdeeds – and lost.
The judge in the case was harsh. More than harsh – vitriolic: “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.
“At times the evidence which he gave was deliberately dishonest; sometimes he was clearly making his evidence up as he went along in response to the perceived difficulty in answering the questions in a manner consistent with his case.”
Given this moral evisceration and the enormous legal bill which followed – estimates for combined costs ranged from £50 million to £100 million – on top of a £100 million divorce settlement in 2010, it is easy to see how he did not see his future prospects as especially bright.
Indeed, he gave a gloomy interview to Forbes Russia only recently: “I’ve lost the point… there is no point [or meaning] in my life. I don’t want to be involved in politics. I don’t know what to do. I’m 67 years old. And I don’t know what I should do from now on.”
Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko, has (explicably given her experience, if not with evidence) jumped to the conclusion he was murdered: “From my point of view it is not likely that he committed suicide. He had a lot of enemies. He was an outspoken person and never tried to hide what he thought.”
BEREZOVSKY ROSE WITH the class of oligarchs in the early Nineties who robbed blind Russia's utilities and resources. As Michael Burleigh writes in today's Telegraph:
“The Jewish maths professor went from a rouble salary, equivalent to £12 a month, via a lucrative car dealership, to controlling the oil company Sibneft, then the national carrier Aeroflot, and, last but not least, the television station ORT.”
He became a political player, inveigling himself into Boris Yeltsin's circle, only to be rejected by Vladimir Putin when he rose to (almost perpetual) power. Putin's era was the rise of the state (and by state, we mean Putin): all oligarchs had to submit or at least stay out of the way (Abramovich, Usmanov) or face jail (Khodorkovsky) or worse.
Berezovsky, like several fellow oligarchs, fled to Londongrad, hoping for a safe haven, or at least to be out of the reach of Putin. What he didn't realise was that the oligarchs' manifold enemies would take their game abroad, whether that game was irradiate-the-spy or put-a-bullet-in-the-banker. You can almost sense a certain joy in those behind the killers, scoring such skilful shots on foreign territory.
Berezokvsky's tragedy is that he did Putin's work for him: humiliating himself, bankrupting himself, nullifying himself. When opposition to Putin needs organisation, funding and calm heads, Berezovsky ultimately provided none of these and has left none of these. Don't think of his death as a waste: think of his life as one – for those he could have helped.