Berezovsky’s Last Confession

Last weekend’s sudden death of Boris Berezovsky generated a slew of questions. How did he die? Murder, heart failure, or suicide? Why? What’s the significance? It’s increasingly clear that Berezovsky committed suicide thanks to a mixture of financial ruin and depression. But perhaps the strangest mystery was the bomb Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov dropped when asked about the kingmaker’s death.

“Some time ago Berezovsky gave his own letter to Putin where he recognized that he had made many mistakes and begged pardon for his mistakes. Berezovsky also asked Putin for allowing the oligarch to return home.”

We do know that he wanted to return to Russia. He said as much in an “off the record” interview with Forbes Russia the Friday before his death.

F-R: Do you miss Russia?

B: Return to Russia… I want nothing more than to go back to Russia. Even after a criminal case was opened, I wanted to go back to Russia. Even after a criminal case was opened! I only stayed on the advice of Elena Bonner [the late widow of Russian physicist and exile Andrei Sakharov]. The main thing I underestimated was that Russia was too dear to me, that I couldn’t be an immigrant.

I have changed many of my past assessments. Including of myself. My views, as to what’s Russia and what’s the West. I absolutely idealistically imagined the possibility of building a democratic Russia. I idealistically imagined what a democracy in the heart of Europe would be. I underestimated the inertia of Russia and greatly overestimated the West. And this was happening gradually. I changed my view about Russia’s future. I shouldn’t have left Russia.

F-R: If you would have stayed in Russia, you’d be in jail. Is this what you want?

B: Now, looking back at how I spent those years in London…

Berezovsky looked ahead, then put his hand to his chest. His hand was shaking. He turned to me and looked me in the eye for a while. Finally he said:

B: I don’t have the answer to this question. [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky [Russian political prisoner, once the country’s richest man] saved himself.

Berezovsky looked at his feet, then quickly glanced at me and began to speak quickly as if trying to justify himself.

B: This doesn’t mean that I have lost myself. But I’ve lived through a lot more of my own revaluations and disappointments than Khodorkovsky. I lost the meaning.

F-R: Of life?

B: The meaning of life. I don’t want to engage in politics now.

Still, a letter to Putin asking for forgiveness and to return to Russia? No way. Few believed it could be true, including myself. I assumed it was one last dig at Russia’s mortal foe. It was a rare moment when I agreed with Masha Gessen:

Berezovsky would have appreciated Peskov’s apparent bit of fancy: It was a page out of his own playbook. Berezovsky was a master of political intrigue and manipulation. He never lost his taste for it, even when the consequences of a poorly played hand forced him into exile and, eventually, into near-bankruptcy.

Despite my skepticism, I admit I sure hoped Berezovsky’s letter was true. It would be karma coming full circle.

Unsurprisingly, speculation swirled around the purported Berezovsky letter. Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan quoted an alleged passage on air, “I made many mistakes. I understand how hard it is for me to ask, but I become unraveled and I implore you [Putin] for forgiveness.” Moskovskii komsomolets editor, Pavel Gusev (who of late is no stranger to scandal), said that he didn’t doubt Berezovsky wrote the it, adding that it was written in the former oligarch’s style.

Reporters badgered Peskov. What was Putin’s reaction? How did Berezovsky send it? Would the Kremlin publish it? The answers were: Don’t know. Through private channels. No, it was personal.

A blogger named Viktor Telegin even wrote a parody of the letter. When Public Post read a portion of Telegin’s version to Peskov, he retorted that “It was close, but I’m not certain and I can’t say.”

So did Berezovsky fall on his sword before Putin or not? It turns out he did, or at least, so says Katerina Sabirova, a close Berezovsky confidant, in an interview with The New Times.

What do you know about Berezovsky’s letter to Vladimir Putin?

Yes, I came to London in October and he met me at the airport. We went to his home. He told me that he thought that the only way he could return to Russia was to “make a move”–to apologize to Putin. He talked about it like it was his last chance.

For what in particular did he want to apologize to Putin?

He said that he didn’t see another way except to go to [Putin] on all fours. I think that it was Boris’ and his [ex-]wife’s idea. He discussed it with her for a long time on the telephone. They talked about it for hours. I was never present at their conversations. Boris left and I understood that they talked about the possibility of such a letter. He didn’t conceal that they talked about this letter. I didn’t believe that this letter would help. He said that it was all the same to him and he would see it as necessary to return [to Russia]. Elena [Berezovsky’s ex-girlfriend] convinced him to go back and make peace (with Putin.) Even his mother, Anna Aleksandrovna. I heard her say, “Borya, maybe you can make peace?”

Was there a letter?

Yes, I saw the handwritten text. He read it to me. He asked forgiveness and asked about the possibility of returning. It was such a whipping. He asked me what I thought about the letter. I said that they will publish it and you will look bad. And that it won’t help. He responded that it was all the same to him, that everyone will hang every last sin on him, and that this was his only chance.

So there you have it. And keep in mind, this isn’t coming from the Kremlin. But from one of the most liberal, anti-Putin publications in Russia.

Photo: Reuters