Readers may recall blog 1093 where we discussed the remarkable case of the London poisoning of the Russian asylum Litvinenko. I found the subject to be facinating enough to dig into a bit and familiarise myself with the background and it was there I first came cross Boris Berezovsky. He's actually linked to Litvinenko in a way which isn't being widely reported today and may be easy to forget.
In essence Litvinenko was a a Russian FSB agent who came forward and publically split ranks with the FSB (the boss of which was, note for the record, none other than Vladimir Putin) and informed the Russian heads of state (Yeltzin at the time) that the FSB was planning on killing Berezovsky. Met with limited response Litvinenko held a press conference and told the world, which meant Russia wasn't very happy with him and locked him up for a good while. Net result both Berezovsky and Litvinenko end up in the UK after being granted assylum.
Now, the interesting thing is that Berezovsky actually helped Putin get into power. Back then, as the Russia was making the transition to a capitalist economy, massive public assets were sold off. This ended up with the Ogliarch situation where a few tycoons ended up owning a heck of a lot of stuff, rich beyond imagining and all the power to go with it. However Putin didn't just doff the cap, he came to realise that the Ogliarchs held too much power and set about rectifying that. Either was a matter of the good of Russia or to cement his absolute authority is a point of debate.
Net result though, we have Berezovsky in London having been granted asylum since 2003. Now, Berezovsky has once before said some disparaging things about the Putin regime in the sense that he told a Moscow radio station last year that he would like to see Putin overthrown. The Russians then applied to have Berezovsky extradited, as this is a clear criminal offence either which way you look at it. This failed in the courts because he has aslyum status.
Now despite the fact that at the time Jack Straw, foreign secretary back then, said "advocating the violent overthrow of a sovereign state is unacceptable" and specifically warned Berezovsky that he faced having his refugee status revoked, it looks like he's up to his old tricks again.
In an interview with the Guardian he openly claimed to be essentially funding a Russian government coup. This is on the face of it remarkable because it will sorely test the patience of the UK hosting him as an refugee. The interview was telling in that because of the previous court defeat of the extradition attempt, he states that he doesn't think the decision to strip him of his refugee status is something the government can do.
Furthermore with Livinenko, he implies that the assassination of his political dissident chum is ample proof that he would be in grave danger by being returned to Russia. He's probably right too which basically makes any attempt to repatriate him quite difficult to do in a court of law.
However what I don't think Berezovsky has thought about very carefully here is whether harbouring this guy and appeasing our legal and moral obligations to provide safe heaven for a refugee is worth risking our entire International relationship with Russia. Clearly it is not.
So I expect right now some sort of negotiations will be going on. Following research to see if the legal situation can be circumvented, and then high level negotiations with Russia probably involving seeking an assurance from Russia that Berezovsky will not face capital punishment. And of course, the end-goal of allowing his extradition back to Russia.
If that's not happening, I think it should be happening. It's just not cricket for us to be habouring someone like Berezovsky who clearly has some self-preservation gene missing and an infinite capacity to anger an entire super power. I've no love for Putin's regime either, really, but clearly he's not going to go away any time soon and it would be better for this country to influence Russia diplomatically as friends than it would be to piss them off over something so trivial as harbouring a deposed ogliarch.
Send Berezovsky back to Russia and salvage an important relationship. Then next time someone seeks assylum in this country they might give it a little more respect than he has.