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Outside View: Fearing oligarchs -- Part 2

By SERGEI MARKOV, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   May 3, 2007 at 1:50 PM
MOSCOW, May 3 (UPI) -- Russian oligarchs as such -- regardless of whether they are on the run and sought on criminal charges pending at home or in self-exile -- are a dangerous liability, not an asset, to the overall well-being, image and future of both Russia and Britain. This threat obviously touches not only upon bilateral political relations but in the longer-term business and security interests as well.

It would not have mattered at all if billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky was living in a vacuum, playing a virtual scheming and plotting game, but he has company of comrades in arms -- the still powerful has-beens like Mikhail Chernoy, the former aluminum baron of Russia, Leonid Nevzlin, the No. 2 of Yukos oil, Vladimir Goussinsky, the ex-media mogul, and Akhmed Zakayev, the Chechen actor turned militant jihadi. All of them have been investigated in Russia; most are rumored or documented to have blood on their hands and have criminal charges against them.

Take, for instance, Chernoy. He has been investigated or blacklisted on suspicion of money laundering, illegal business deals and connections to the Russian mafia by half a dozen European countries and barred from entry by the U.S. authorities. Two former CIA directors are reported to have resigned from the board of the Intelligence Summit -- the industry's former and acting members' annual gathering -- upon getting the news that Chernoy was sponsoring the event. However, he is welcome in Britain and reportedly is shopping for real estate and a soccer club.

Zakayev, Berezovsky's friend and one of the closest associates of the late Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who planted the dirty bomb in Moscow's Izmaylovo Park back in 1995, claimed in 2002 that the separatists may resort to attacking nuclear facilities in Russia. A former protege of Berezovsky, Alexander Litvinenko, was -- as reported by the Western media quoting the Italian rogue dealer Mario Scaramella -- involved in a nuclear-materials black market. His comrade-in-arms Leonid Nevzlin is sought by Russia on several contract killings charges. Together this group shares the wealth of several billion dollars, common hatred towards the Kremlin, sophisticated connections and support worldwide and, possibly, access to nuclear materials.

Other features that unite them are the lack of moral barriers and unwillingness to stop at anything they consider an obstacle.

The cozy reception to these people, at least explainable when coming from real-estate agents, boutique salespeople and bankrupt soccer-club management, is peculiar, to say the least, when offered by the authorities.

However wealthy or mighty this handful of personalities may be now, they are hopefully not the economic, social or -- God forbid -- political solution for Russia; neither are they a reliable tool of influencing the political processes in Moscow. They do not care whether a tyrant or a democrat sits in the Kremlin; all they seek is turning the clock back and getting back to the times of unrestricted pillaging. And the means of reaching the goals do not really matter to the oligarchs with an agenda.

Unless the strictest forms of public, media and governmental scrutiny replace the continuous conscientious naivete -- or something worse -- to keep them in check, not only another political bomb of dirt but a real dirty bomb can detonate. And this can happen not necessarily in Russia, but in any Western capital, including London, with an intention to implicate "the bloody Putin regime," a "hand of Moscow," "resurrected KGB" or whatever else the media will be eager to call the culprit. But at that tragic point the Britons would have no others but themselves to blame.

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(Sergei Markov is a professor at Moscow State University and the head of the National Civic Council of International Affairs in Moscow. He is also an adviser to the Russian government.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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