Is an alliance between the Communists and Boris Berezovsky possible? Will Gennady Zyuganov accept the dollars of “Russia’s chief villain”? Will Yushenkov and Pokhmelkin return the money Berezovsky has contributed to Liberal Russia? And even: Is Berezovsky working as an agent for the Kremlin? The newspapers continue to ask these questions of themselves and their readers; the media response to this new political development, skillfully presented by the “great manipulator”, has been stormy. It should be noted that few are uninterested in the monetary aspect of the story.

Vremya Novostei was quick to spell out the essentials: “Whether Zyuganov takes Berezovsky’s money or not, everyone will believe that he has.” True, the leader of the Communist Party is denying any friendship with Berezovsky or financial support from him. But Alexander Prokhanov has stated that he is prepared to make use of Berezovsky’s support – noting that Lenin and his comrades-in-arms didn’t scruple to accept money from the German general staff.

As the Vek weekly emphasizes, there is no doubt that in terms of fighting against the “anti-people regime”, the Communist Party would use Berezovsky’s promised $100 million far more effectively than the dwarf-parties of the liberals. Not to mention the fact that according to Lenin, the struggle for democracy is the first stage in the struggle for socialism; so all is going according to plan, and the leftists may accept Berezovsky’s money with a clear conscience.

Berezovsky himself has no doubts that it will happen. “I’ve never encountered a case of someone refusing to accept money,” he said confidently in an interview with Vremya Novostei. He does have some reason to be confident: even the civil rights movement couldn’t resist Berezovsky. For all the “many howls of marginalized human rights activists” (in Berezovsky’s words), the Sakharov Museum survives today thanks to his financial support.

On the other hand, Berezovsky easily parried Zyuganov’s declaration that “Mr. Oligarch” could not be a member of the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia: “Actually, I’m not applying for membership.” Understandably enough: as Carnegie Endowment analyst Andrei Ryabov commented in Gazeta, for a significant proportion of Communist voters, Berezovsky is persona non grata, and unwelcome, no matter what tempting offers he might make.

His erstwhile friends haven’t been understanding either: the political council of Liberal Russia has already decided to expel Berezovsky from the party. Valeriya Novodvorskaya told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that it wasn’t easy to convince all council members that Berezovsky is asking the impossible by insisting on an alliance with the left. Eight council members didn’t give in to persuasion, and didn’t vote for the expulsion. Novodvorskaya’s verdict: “That means they have no place in Liberal Russia.” Thus, due to Berezovsky, the Liberal Russia party is now busy purging its ranks.

Meanwhile, the fate of the fugitive oligarch remains undecided: he has the right to appeal to the party congress. Only the congress can dismiss him from his position as one of the party’s co-leaders. Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that the problem is that only Berezovsky can call a party congress: “Liberal Russia has no other sources of funding for such an event.”

Overall, it appears that the loss of this funding source will be a fairly painful blow for Liberal Russia. Party leaders have spoken heatedly of having other sponsors, but those sponsors openly admit that they’re unlikely to be able to replace Berezovsky.

There is another aspect to the money issue. Rossiiskaya Gazeta put it as follows: should the liberals, having parted company with Berezovsky over a matter of principle, return the money he has contributed to setting up the Liberal Russia party?

The two sides are citing different amounts. Pokhmelkin and Yushenkov, two Liberal Russia leaders, speak of $1 million; Berezovsky says he has contributed $5 million. But whatever the actual figure may be, it’s clearly quite substantial.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta says the liberals have two options: first, they can choose to “return the money of this embarrassing sponsor, wash their hands which have been sullied by his handshakes, and set off on a new voyage across the clean waters of liberalism”. Or they can keep the money, but then “leave the foundations to the sponsor, and start rebuilding their party from scratch”.

But the leaders of Liberal Russia have chosen otherwise: “They’ve accused Berezovsky of being two-faced, but they haven’t returned his money. They could barely bring themselves to utter a grudging word of thanks.”

As a farewell, Berezovsky has been warned that his attempt to use the Communists as a battering-ram against the Kremlin will end in tears. Valeria Novodvorskaya spoke to Gazeta about the unfortunate prospects for the turncoat oligarch if the Communists, with his financial support, ever actually come to power: “The first thing his new allies would do is hang all the liberals, entrepreneurs, and Berezovsky himself – if he ever dares return to Russia. But meanwhile, they’ll use his full pockets and ample coffers.”

Elena Rykovtseva, deputy chief editor of Radio Liberty’s Moscow office, noted wittily in the Moskovskie Novosti weekly: “More and more often, Boris Berezovsky is hearing the words: Thanks, and goodbye. But he never hears the words: Thanks, but no thanks.” Some time ago, when Berezovsky offered to fund the Sakharov Museum, Elena Bonner said she would not refuse Berezovsky’s “dirty” money – because no one was offering “clean” money. Since then, “a more practised society” has been less concerned with qualms about taking Berezovsky’s money than with seeking ways of saving face while doing so. After all, Elena Bonner accepted his money. When Yevgeny Kiselev’s team of former NTV journalists parted company with Berezovsky, they found it necessary to “thank him for all he has done for us”. Alexander Prokhanov was even more explicit: “Berezovsky’s money is not his own. It is the people’s money. You can thank us for the fact that this money will once again be put to use for your benefit.”

According to Elena Rykovtseva, “in his endless boxing matches with the media and the political community, Berezovsky has changed from being a contestant to being a punching bag; first people beat the money out of him, then they simply beat him.”

However, there are some people on the left who are trying to save their reputation in these dubious circumstances. An influential Communist Party functionary – Alexander Kuvaev, first secretary of the Moscow city party committee – told Literaturnaya Gazeta that “rumors of possible rapprochement between the party and Berezovsky have arisen neither spontaneously nor accidentally”. Kuvaev is convinced that such rumors are a provocation: “The regime is concerned about the rising popularity of the Communist Party, and is using this method to smear the party and its leaders.”

Komsomolskaya Pravda presented another version of events, proposing to assess the outcome of Berezovsky’s party-building on the right, as a result of which “the barely-united right-wing liberals found themselves split into two teams – one loyal to Putin, the other in harsh opposition”.

From the very start, says Komsomolskaya Pravda, Liberal Russia didn’t have much of a chance of recording a decent result in the parliamentary elections. But now it may be concluded that the right-wing opposition to the Kremlin has already been destroyed.

Komsomolskaya Pravda continues: “The job is done – and now Berezovsky runs across to the left wing.” What’s more, he isn’t making contact with the moderate leaders of the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia, those who favor democratic socialism and centrism; no, he’s talking to Alexander Prokhanov, “the spokesman of the nationalist and communist part of the left”.

According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, subsequent events could mirror what happened to the right wing. The moderate leftists will not agree to an alliance with Berezovsky; but the radical leftists, “recalling Lenin’s maxim about tactical alliances with the devil himself being acceptable for the sake of victory”, will not decline his offer. The result: another split, this time on the left.

Komsomolskaya Pravda says this leads to the impression that Berezovsky is acting in accordance with a “mysterious and elaborate plan” which he and the Kremlin have worked out together. But the likelihood of this theory may be called into doubt by some simple reasoning: “At present, the Kremlin has no need to use such cunning methods” – since neither the right-wing nor the left-wing opposition pose any threat to it.

Sergei Markov, director of the Political Research Institute, writes in Literaturnaya Gazeta: “Putin now dominates the political arena absolutely. There is virtually no opposition oriented toward the future.” That is why “the small fragments of the old opposition” are trying to unite, says Markov: “They think it will make them stronger.” But even if they do form an alliance, the benefits will be purely tactical: “In strategic terms, they will weaken each other, of course.” Nonetheless, Markov notes with a touch of pathos: “By locking themselves together, they clear the field for a new opposition to Putin, one which looks to the future. The kind of opposition Russia needs.”

According to Markov, Berezovsky is the one who is more interested in an alliance: he needs to break out of the political isolation in which he has found himself since he went to London. For that purpose, the Communists are quite suitable; around 30% of voters support them.

What’s more, Sergei Glaziev – co-chairman of the coordinating council of the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia, and a fairly successful rival to Alexander Khloponin at the “show election” in the Krasnoyarsk territory – claims that no fewer than half of voters support the left. Glaziev notes: “So not only Berezovsky, but other political players will be approaching us with offers of some form of cooperation. But that doesn’t mean the Communist Party will be accepting those offers.” Glaziev considers it particularly important that the Communist Party leaders had nothing to do with this idea of an alliance between Communists and liberals – it is Berezovsky’s personal initiative. However, none of the moves and plans of the cunning Berezovsky are capable of undermining the Communist Party’s reputation.

As an illustration of the differences in the views of the Communists and the “patriotic oligarch”, Glaziev dwells in detail on one of his favorite topics: the issue of “rent for natural resources”.

Glaziev recollects that President Putin spoke in his first annual address to parliament of “the need to return to the state any excessive profits from the use of natural resources”. The Communists drafted a bill to that effect. However, the Cabinet replaced the “rent for natural resources” concept with “a tax on the extraction of natural resources”. And that tax is essentially “a surcharge on the cost of raw materials, which consumers are forced to pay”. Thus, what has been achieved is precisely the reverse of what was intended.

Glaziev says it’s possible to cite many similar examples: “As soon as we reach agreement with the president on implementing any economic policy directions – if they run counter to the interests of the oligarchs, they are blocked.” Nonetheless, the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia has developed a plan which would “enable up to 80% of rent for natural resources to be returned to the state treasury”. According to Glaziev, the president is apparently “prepared to support us”. If he does, it will be possible to speak of “the first step toward real cooperation”.

Glaziev emphasizes that in order to take such a step, President Putin will have to show some political will: because these plans run counter to the interests of “the oligarchic clans which presently determine the government’s policies”.

In Glaziev’s view, the president’s capacities are actually limited: “On paper, he has vast powers – but one needs to be able to use them.”

Understandably, it would be difficult for Berezovsky, who has stakes in Sibneft and Russian Aluminum (as he has once again confirmed in a recent interview), to find a common language with someone like Glaziev, who insists on the need to return rent for natural resources to the state. However, matters are much more straightforward with Alexander Prokhanov.

In the second part of the notorious interview he granted to Prokhanov, chief editor of the Zavtra newspaper, Berezovsky put it plainly: “I’m in favor of a dialogue with the patriots, since no matter how misled they might be, they do love Russia. And I wish to return to Russia.”

This is followed by some touching lamentations from the exiled oligarch: “My culture is there, my country is there. I don’t understand why my wife should suffer because we can’t go to a Russian theater. I don’t understand why my children speak French to each other.”

Ilya Milstein comments in Novoe Vremya magazine that Berezovsky might have found the right strategy: “Expressions of passionate love for the Motherland, in many hues and tones, are very fashionable nowadays… The next elections – parliamentary and presidential – will be true patriot games, in which the most sophisticated will win.”

As he prepares to pour his millions into supporting the Communists – “or someone even tougher” – the London-based exile is hoping that after their victory they won’t forget him, “as President Putin forgot him”.

However, says Novoe Vremya, Berezovsky is wrong: “Because both Prokhanov and Zyuganov will take his money – but as for returning to Russia, or even regaining his former status as virtually the second most powerful person in the government… No amount of money would be enough for that.”

Novoe Vremya says that the cunning Berezovsky appears to be surprisingly naive in this.

Andrei Kolesnikov says in the Konservator newspaper that maybe the problem lies in the fact that London is too far away from Russia. “So Berezovsky is probably unaware that Prokhanov is a mainstream author these days, nor that Alexander Dugin has attained legitimacy among the political consultants and is now no different from Gleb Pavlovsky or Sergei Karaganov.” Calling them an opposition is now a big stretch: “Everyone is still running to the Kremlin for instructions on matters of political positioning. Everyone, regardless of age, sex, or political beliefs.”

Therefore, Berezovsky’s moves can hardly be viewed as bound to succeed. Novoe Vremya says: “And one can only marvel at the strength of his love for his distant Fatherland. It would seem that no one in Russian history has put so much money into this noble sentiment and great aspiration: to return home. Whether as a liberal, or a patriot, or whatever the case may be. Leaving behind all his villas, estates, palaces and islands.”

But not everything is so dramatic. As Berezovsky himself said in his interview with Gazeta: “I love living. I devote at least half of my waking hours to that. The other half… I spend on various frivolities, such as wondering what will become of Russia. That’s how I amuse myself – and you as well, I hope.”

In the same interview, Berezovsky said that his fortune remains as large as it ever was (though not specified precisely): $2-3 billion. “I lost part of it, but the value of the remainder has increased.”

Undoubtedly, a person with that kind of money can create many difficulties for the Kremlin if he wants to do so. And Berezovsky does.

Profil magazine notes that as a politician, Berezovsky “is certainly a product of the Yeltsin era, when the situation at the top was a war of everyone against everyone”. The warring sides urgently required a mediator who could reconcile their conflicting interests and push the necessary decisions through the government. In the process, the mediator himself naturally became a central figure, on whom those decisions depended.

Understandably, a true mediator can’t allow himself to be tied down to any particular ideology; and Berezovsky followed this rule strictly. He was a democrat, and he fought corruption in the government created by the democrats; he was anti-communist, and he defended the rights of coal miners.

Once Putin became president and started building up his hierarchy of governance, Berezovsky found himself out of the loop. In the absence of any real opposition, political games are meaningless – for all his efforts, the latest being the alliance with Liberal Russia.

Now Berezovsky is betting on the Communists; according to Profil, this could lead to nothing more than another scandal. But even then, we can confidently predict that Berezovsky the political gambler won’t give up: “He will continue to seek even the tiniest crack or ledge in the Russian political system which might give him the smallest chance for another attempt to swim against the current.”

According to Alexander Privalov, an observer for Ekspert magazine, the most important point about the headline-grabbing story of Berezovsky and the Communists is that it signals the start of the election campaign: “They couldn’t find anything more sensible to use as a fanfare. And that’s not Berezovsky’s fault.”

Privalov says we have to acknowledge not only that the pre-campaign part of Putin’s four-year term has come to an end, but that it has been wasted, from the political point of view.

Of course, a number of sensible laws have been passed; but Privalov says this is more a case of “metapolitics – like metaphysics”. As for political practice, “it remains what it was – a battle over the shape and make-up of the fields of power around the feeding-trough”. No balanced versions of national strategy have been produced during this time: “There isn’t even a clear agenda, so there is nothing to discuss. And no one to discuss it.”

The United Russia party, which had sensibly kept silent until now about any political innovations, recently gave vent to the much-discussed idea of raising the barrier in parliamentary elections to 12% of the vote.

According to Privalov, United Russia is thus hoping to be the only party in the Duma apart from the Communists; and it has seriously come to believe in itself as the ruling party. “The fact that a wave of the Kremlin’s hand would suffice to strip that title from United Russia, and give it to any other party at all (as Unity received it in 1999), surpasses their analytical capabilities.”

Thus, three years of political stability have passed by “like an empty dream”. In foreign policy, the entire arsenal of “strong moves” enabling Russia to appear to an advantage has been exhausted. “The time we have gained by these tactical moves has been lost. What shall we use to surprise the rest of the world tomorrow? We have just about run out of options.”

The same applies to domestic politics. “It appears that the present political elite has already produced all the political tools it has managed to accumulate for the approaching elections.” These tools aren’t exactly dazzling in their variety: “The plan for a barbed-wire fence around the ruling party – and the plan for a liberal-patriotic playground for any inclinations toward protest.”

Of course, elections with no real alternatives are nothing new in Russia; but Privalov still believes there is some risk in the second abovementioned plan; as in any venture undertaken by Boris Berezovsky, the acknowledged “evil genius of the Kremlin”.

Meanwhile, according to poll results from National Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) published in Vedomosti, President Putin’s approval rating has once again climbed to unprecedented heights.

VTsIOM found that if the presidential election had been held in September, 58% of voters would have supported Putin – that’s 11% more than in August. The figure for confidence in the president has also risen, to 54% against 47% in August.

VTsIOM says these figures are the highest since Putin became president.

Meanwhile, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov is at only 7% (3% less than in August).

In that notorious interview with Alexander Prokhanov, Berezovsky stated rather categorically that “Putin has his approval rating, but he has no authority” – yet this is only a catchy phrase.

We can’t rule out the possibility that the Communists will eventually decide to take Berezovsky’s “dirty” money and use it. After all, there may not be enough “ideologically clean” resources to fight a regime whose approval rating continues to rise, inexplicably and inexorably.