Monday, April 22, 2013


Boris Berezovsky, the self-exiled Russian oligarch found dead at his home in Britain with a ligature tied around his neck, feared assassination.

I got a personal taste of this fear when I met the supposed billionaire at London’s Dorchester Hotel seven years ago.  He showed up with a bullet proofed Bentley and two very large bodyguards.  He wasn’t scared of me.  But he was petrified of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his arch-nemesis—and Putin’s proclivity for poisoning his perceived opponents, either with polonium or lead.

Short, dark, and shifty-eyed Berezovsky scanned the grand lobby for assassins (usually, tycoons leave this to their goons) and quickly determined we’d be safer in his private club, where members’ guests (myself included) are compelled to pose for mug shots as a condition of entry.

And although The Ambassadors Club was a mere hundred yards down Park Lane, Berezovsky insisted we climb into his tank for the ten-second ride.

This was a man who valued his life.  And had good reason to believe at least one very powerful person wanted him dead.

As New Russia’s New Stalin, Putin, a product of the KGB, had a decade earlier embarked on a systematic plan to eliminate Russians perceived by him to have betrayed the Motherland.

This was, after all, a Communist tradition, commencing with the assassination of Leon Trotsky.

First we had Edward Lee Howard, a defector to Moscow from the CIA, who supposedly broke his neck “falling down the stairs to his basement” soon after he was discovered to have compromised the former KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov and embarrassed the Russian special services.  (Ed’s dacha didn’t have a basement.)

Thus followed a series of shootings and beatings, resulting in the death of Russian investigative reporters and assorted political opponents.

But the boldest assassination was that of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB officer resident in the UK, who suffered an agonizing death after drinking tea laced with Polonium 210, which inadvertently subjected others to radiation poisoning.

A former KGB officer executed that hit, as ordered by Russian FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, and approved by Putin.

So Boris, who had been close to Litvinenko, had much to fear—paranoia that even Zyprexa and Abilify would not suppress.  But this guy took precautions not medication.  And he was never treated for depression, the usual cause of suicide.

So how does Berezovsky come to die with a ligature around his neck, as if he were an ill-fated character in The Godfather?

It is reported that two officers from Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), which kept tabs on him, visited this one-time Godfather of the Kremlin on the eve of his demise.  

Did they carry such bad news that the almost-broke billionaire decided to end it all at whim, having already planned a trip to Israel the following week?

Putin’s press machine zoomed into gear (or was already geared), not only blaming the Brits but also leaking a story (true or not) about Boris having penned a missive to Putin begging forgiveness and permission to return to Mother Russia.

Back to my meeting with Berezovsky in London seven years ago:  He spoke with passion of overthrowing the Russian president he helped handpick from obscurity (to replace the drunkard Yeltsin), returning to Russia, and running the country himself.

I, apparently, was not the only person to whom he spouted off.  A few weeks later, his insurrectionist stance got reported in the media, resulting in a censure from the British government after protests from Putin.

I mentioned my bizarre meeting with Boris to a friend who happened be a senior member of SIS, asking if continued contact would have any upside.  My friend looked at me mournfully.  After a few moments silence, he said quietly, “There’s nothing but death associated with Boris Berezovsky.”