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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Losing power: Boris Berezovsky
All this week, the BBC is talking to people who once held a position of global influence but have since lost it, giving them the chance to reflect on their feelings as their world collapsed. Here, Russia's first billionaire Boris Berezovsky.

Boris Berezovsky was one of the Russian oligarchs who acquired massive wealth by taking control of state assets after the fall of communism. When Mr Berezovsky, who controlled several banks and TV stations, was accused in Russia of defrauding a regional government of US$13m, he fled and moved to London, where he now lives under the name Platon Elenin.

I met our President [Vladimir] Putin for the first time at the very beginning of the 1990s. He was very helpful. He became a friend, and at that time I started doing business in Switzerland, and he travelled with me to ski and so on.

Boris Berezovsky
I am very bad at understanding people. I don't know who is a traitor, who is good, who is bad
Boris Berezovsky

We were not very close friends, but we were friends and, as you remember, Putin went into the presidential election [on a promise to continue] the policies of President [Boris] Yeltsin.

He declared democracy necessary, freedom of the mass media, freedom of political life and the market economy. But when he became president, in a very short time he completely changed his mind.

I was completely against all that, and not without arguments. I had a lot of arguments why it was a mistake.

Before Putin became president I asked for just one privilege: that I would have at any time the opportunity to present my position - and that he could present his arguments if my position was against his.

Of course, the final decision is his, because he is president and he is responsible for decisions, not me.

But I just wanted to have the privilege to discuss [an issue] with him, and he accepted that.

But I recognised that he doesn't really want to accept the reality that it's impossible to win in Chechnya, that the continuation of fighting in Chechnya will increase terror, not reduce terror.

And the limitation of the power of parliament, and [Putin's declaration of] "vertical power", destroyed the Soviet Union and it will destroy Russia.

When I recognised that Putin did not want to accept my arguments, I openly presented my position in parliament, and in the mass media. He didn't like that.

Russian political hope

And the final [straw] was when he said that he wanted to take, under his personal control, the leading TV channel of Russia, ORT.

At that time, 51% belonged to the state, 49% belonged to me. He said that I wanted to personally manage ORT, and I should immediately return my shares in ORT to the state.

Vladimir Putin
I said no way. I disagreed with that and it was our last meeting. Two weeks later the prosecutor's office opened a case against me.

I recognised that it was already a serious political battle. Three months later they put my friend [the former deputy director of Russian airline Aeroflot Nikolai] Glushkov in jail. I recognised there was no way for me to stay any more, and I left Russia.

Certainly, it was a very difficult decision for me.

I am very bad at understanding people. I don't know who is a traitor, who is good, who is bad.

But I'm good in understanding process, and I understood well that if Putin started to reduce democracy in Russia, he would have started to break the basic mechanism of democracy.

There is no chance that he will stop one day. He will go for the next circle of authoritarians in Russia, and I don't want to participate in that.

Moreover I want to fight against all that, and it's the reason why I don't feel [it is a bad thing] that I'm not in power. I have a lot of other opportunities to present my position to others.

I'm sure that Putin doesn't have the chance to survive, even to the next election in 2008.

I am doing everything in my power to limit his timeframe, and I am really thinking of returning to Russia after Putin collapses, which he will.

Today my number one priority in life is politics. I enjoy that. And I am sure that if I decide to continue to participate in Russian political life, I shall participate in power.


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