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Oligarchs as Nation's Saviors? Berezovsky Justifies Himself

Published: October 20, 2000 (Issue # 613)


A GROUP of House Republicans in the United States has assailed the Clinton administration for supporting Russia's former president, Boris Yeltsin, whom they accuse of fostering corruption and allowing undue influence to big business during his time in office. Similar views are expressed by some reviewers of Yeltsin's memoirs, just published.

Unfortunately, these people neglect the context of Russian history. As a participant in a major business privatization deal of that period - for which I have been labeled an "oligarch" - I would like to put what happened in Russia in historical perspective.

When the Bolsheviks abolished private property in 1917, they put all expropriated wealth under the management of two organizations that were to become pillars of Soviet totalitarianism: the Communist Party and the secret police (eventually known as the KGB). To accomplish this end, the new managers physically eliminated the previous owners - tens of millions of them.

Three-quarters of a century later, in just a few years, Yeltsin carried out the reverse of the Bolshevik Revolution - and he did so bloodlessly and efficiently. By 1998, 75 percent of the property had been transferred to private hands.

Critics say that privatization was unfair - that the "oligarchs" got major assets for a fraction of their real value. To put this claim in context, I recall the events of the pivotal year 1996, which began with Communists having a majority in the State Duma and Yeltsin's popularity slipping below 3 percent while that of his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov, rose to nearly 30 percent.

It was at that time that Yeltsin and Anatoly Chubais decided to sell off a great many state assets quickly so that it would be difficult for the Communists to renationalize private property after Zyuganov's expected victory in the race for president. This was the background for my decision to bid for the oil company Sibneft.

For the auction, my partners and I needed at least $100 million but had only $60 million on hand. So we invited foreign investors - in the United States, Western Europe and Japan - to participate in our bid. No one gave us a penny, and George Soros, who always understood Russia better than others, told me: "The risk is too high. The Communists will take everything back. Russia is slipping into a black hole, Boris. Don't be a fool, take your family and get out, before it's too late."

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Monday, Oct. 20


Amateur pictures from World War I are on display for only one more day at Rosphoto’s exhibition “On Both Sides,” chronicling the conflict through the eyes of observers on both sides of the trenches. The price of entrance to the exhibition is 100 rubles ($2.50).



Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.


Take the chance to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”



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