Once Upon a Time in Russia (10 page)

BOOK: Once Upon a Time in Russia

It had taken a deal with the devil—or, more accurately, seven of them—but the “Davos Pact” that Berezovsky, through Chubais, had achieved, was functioning perfectly. Swallowing his own anger and animosity toward Gusinsky hadn't been easy; but there was no question that the banker and media magnate had been an enormous part of the equation. The journalists who worked for NTV were very well respected, and when they told the public that a return to communism would mean a return to the dark ages of Stalin and abject poverty, people listened.

Meanwhile, Berezovsky's gang of bankers had provided Chubais with an almost limitless war chest. The numbers were debatable, but
Berezovsky believed that together they had spent in the hundreds of millions on the campaign—more than any American president had ever spent to get elected. The voting was still close, and there would be a runoff, but Berezovsky now felt confident that Yeltsin would prevail. And when he did, Berezovsky knew, he and the other Oligarchs were going to benefit enormously. Between them, they already accounted for almost fifty percent of the nation's GDP. Seven men, with the wealth of half a country in their hands—and they were in the process of buying not just an election but a government.

Of course, such a statement would be a dangerous thing to say out loud. But Berezovsky had never been particularly good at limiting himself, controlling what he said. Already, his newest business colleague—Roman Abramovich, whom he now thought of as his protégé—was worried about being publicly associated with Berezovsky's political ambitions and machinations. Abramovich felt that the image of a man involved in the formation of Sibneft, essentially attempting to fix the election, could reflect badly on the company. To that end, they'd had a number of conversations about Berezovsky backing away from any public associations with the oil concern. Berezovsky had happily agreed; the truth was, he had no managerial interests, in fact he knew nothing about running an oil company and had no reason to be involved in any of its operations. His skill set had been in getting the thing off the ground, getting it privatized, and protecting its interests through what he was doing for Yeltsin. Account ledgers, business decisions, the corporate day-to-day—these held no interest for him.

As long as the money kept pouring in—as long as the deliveries of suitcases, carryalls, and envelopes full of American dollars kept arriving at the Logovaz Club to prop up ORT—and Berezovsky's increasingly lavish lifestyle—he was content. So far, Abramovich
had made good on every request Berezovsky had made; a million here, five million there. Berezovsky wasn't certain how much the man had already sent him, but it had to be well over thirty million dollars. And there would be much, much more to come. Berezovsky didn't care what his official association with Sibneft might be—as long as the money kept flowing.

Abramovich was efficient and reliable. More than that, Berezovsky had grown to truly like the young man on a social level. They had vacationed together, dined together, celebrated each other's birthdays all over the world. The young man was ambitious, as Berezovsky had first perceived, but shy in public, choosing to eschew the limelight and keep himself out of the press at all costs. In fact, the public had begun to refer to him as the secret Oligarch—a man whose picture had never been taken, an invisible, rising star. Abramovich didn't care what the public thought; he simply wanted to grow his business, his empire.

In a few more days, Berezovsky was confident that the election would give Abramovich all the protection he needed to continue moving forward. Yeltsin was going to win, and the payoff for the men who supported him would be unprecedented.

Berezovsky was about to reach for another poster from his propaganda department to titillate Badri—when he was suddenly interrupted by a frantic commotion coming from the other end of the floor. He looked up in time to see his young, annoying assistant, Ivan, rushing toward him, holding a cordless phone. The bodyguards around Ivan looked terrified—obviously something important was happening. Berezovsky's first fear was that Yeltsin had suffered another heart attack; the old man had already endured four that Berezovsky knew of. Hell, it was hard enough battling Communists, but even Berezovsky was going to have difficulty coming up with a
scheme to battle against the failure of Yeltsin's own heart. But as Ivan reached him and began to speak, Berezovsky realized the problem wasn't with Yeltsin's heart at all—but with his right hand.

“They've been arrested,” Ivan sputtered, as he skidded to a stop in front of his boss. “Chubais's men, they were coming out of the White House with a cardboard box. The security agents are reporting that the box had more than half a million dollars inside. Cash, no receipts, no papers.”

“Security agents? Whose security agents?”

Ivan finally calmed down enough to clearly explain the situation. It appeared that Korzhakov had made his move. His private security forces had arrested two of Chubais's campaign assistants, carrying a box of cash on their way out of the Russian White House.

A bold and terrifying move. Even, possibly, the precursor to a coup. Korzhakov had to know that Chubais wouldn't stand for his men being arrested, no matter what the charge. And to do such a thing in public, in the middle of the election?

“Arkady Yevstafyev and Sergei Lisovsky,” Ivan continued. “They're being held at gunpoint right this minute. But they still seem to have their cell phones, and they've spoken to Chubais. General Lebed is already on his way to get them released.”

Berezovsky shook his head. He looked at Badri, but his friend's face was unreadable behind his cigar. Korzhakov was obviously growing desperate. A month earlier, he'd been all talk, even though he had raised many hackles when he had made a statement implying that he thought the election would lead to a civil war—and that it should be canceled. Now it seemed as though he was attempting to start that civil war himself.

The charges themselves didn't matter. Hell, with the amount of money Berezovksy and the Oligarchs were pouring into the campaign,
you could throw a rock at any man walking out of the White House and knock over a box filled with cash. Korzhakov was attempting to escalate the battle for Yeltsin's favor—and this time, Berezovsky believed, the man had gone too far.

Berezovsky grabbed the phone from Ivan's hand. It was time to circle the wagons. He intended to call everyone he could; Chubais, he was informed, was already on his way over. They would gather at the Logovaz and wait out the night; it was as safe a place as they could find. But Berezovsky knew that in this moment, the most important member of their group wouldn't be an Oligarch or a campaign manager.

Money and ideology were powerful cards—but a president's daughter trumped everything.

The minute Berezovsky heard Tatiana's voice on the other end of the line, he knew that one way or another, the Korzhakov situation would soon be resolved.

•  •  •

By 3:30 in the morning, the air in the club still rang with the voices of some of the most powerful and wealthy men in Russia—but the edge of fear that had gripped Berezovsky earlier had begun to recede. Tatiana had already visited and left. Badri was still sitting beneath the television, watching the screen even more intently. General Lebed, on Chubais's behalf, had made a number of appearances over the airwaves already—speaking directly to the cameras: “It appears that somebody is trying to disrupt the elections. Any attempt at mutiny will be put down mercilessly.”

Intense words
. Berezovsky's cheeks had heated up as he had watched the general speak, and he had been able to see from Badri's expression that the situation was reaching an end.

Berezovsky had only heard one side of the phone calls between Tatiana and her father, but he was certain that, as of tomorrow morning, Korzhakov would be finished. More than that, he believed that Yeltsin was going to fire three of his previously most powerful confidants: Korzhakov, with whom he had shared vodka, climbed onto tanks, and run a country; Mikhail Barsukov, current head of the FSB, who had presumably allowed these arrests to happen and was a big supporter of Korzhakov's; and Oleg Soskovets, the deputy prime minister, a former Red Director from the steel industry, as right-wing as they came.

It would be enormously painful for the president, but it would send a clear pro-democracy message. Yeltsin wasn't going to take the election by force; he was going to take it by vote. The loss of Korzhakov would hurt Yeltsin deeply, but it might very well ensure his victory.

With Korzhakov gone, Berezovsky and his Oligarchs would find themselves in an even stronger position. Berezovksy's role in the Family would become more integral, and he would be closer to Yeltsin than ever. He might even be involved in the search for someone to fill the vacuum at the head of the FSB. Yeltsin would be looking for someone exceedingly loyal, a true yes-man, a cog who knew when to turn, when to stay still.

But that was something for tomorrow, and the days after that. For the moment, Berezovsky could clear his mind of such things, and allow himself to relax. Badri lit another cigar.

The Georgian was right.

It was time to celebrate.


Two bears can't live in one cave.



December 1997,

FSB Headquarters, Lubyanka Square

realized, he should have known that something out of the ordinary was about to happen the minute he entered the stark, cement-walled office on the third floor of the mammoth building. Nine fifteen a.m., and the briefing was already in full swing. Three other agents were gathered in the room, two of them seated on institutional-style metal folding chairs, a third leaning against the far wall next to a heavy wooden bookshelf, overflowing with legal texts, police procedure manuals, and unmarked suspect files. At the front of the room, seated at the heavy wooden desk by the only window, in unusually good humor—his departmental superior. The man was laughing heartily, at the tail end of a joke that Litvinenko had no intention of asking him to repeat.

After the fact, Litvinenko might have guessed that his normally finely tuned awareness of the world around him had been dulled by a surprisingly long period of normality—if such a word could ever have been appropriate in the life of a secret service agent. Yet, in the eighteen
months since the election that had secured his patron Berezovsky's position for the foreseeable future, Litvinenko's world had slid into a pleasant rhythm; days spent working for the FSB on numerous investigations involving the gangsters who continued to battle it out on the streets of Moscow, and early evenings often spent meeting with Berezovsky at the Logovaz Club to discuss matters that made Litvinenko feel he was a part of an elite world of wealth and power.

Certainly, Berezovsky's stock was riding high. Berezovsky had been appointed the deputy secretary of national security, perhaps as a reward for the election that he had massaged toward victory, and he had suddenly found himself involved in the conflict between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Chechnya, which was almost universally opposed by the Russian public. But that conflict seemed to be heading toward some sort of resolution.

Of course, Litvinenko knew better than anyone that Berezovsky was his own best propagandist. The stories he told in their evening sessions grew more extravagant the more the vodka flowed—or the more ears were turned in the Oligarch's direction. These stories ranged from the merely humorous to the fabulously extreme—from tales of Berezovsky single-handedly saving Yeltsin, democracy, and capitalism, to stories about his rapidly growing portfolio of businesses—Sibneft, ORT, and now Aeroflot, the national airline—to narratives that seemed so insane it was impossible to know if they could be true—such as the story of Berezovsky rescuing, again single-handedly, a group of hostages held by Chechen rebels by showing up in person on his private jet, and trading the poor civilians' safety for a hundred-thousand-dollar Patek Philippe watch.

It was certain that Berezovsky did have relations with the Chechens; but Litvinenko suspected that most of the conversations with the terrorists had involved Badri, the Georgian, who had the
proper “demeanor” for dealing with the type of men who wore Kalashnikov rifles to business meetings. Whatever the case, Berezovsky was riding high—and that meant Litvinenko was also living well. Berezovsky had never been richer; his wealth had been estimated to be close to three billion dollars, though nobody knew for certain. Directly after the elections, Abramovich's oil company had sprung up in value by, some said, more than a factor of twenty. Berezovsky, in turn, was receiving payments on an almost weekly basis. It seemed that all he needed to do was pick up the phone and dial, and a suitcase would arrive filled with US dollars. For his part, Litvinenko understood that sort of business relationship; after all, Berezovsky could pick up the phone and dial him, too, and Litvinenko would hurry straight to his office—his FSB badge in one hand, his automatic in the other.

But ever since Vlad Listyev's murder, so long ago, Litvinenko hadn't needed to draw his weapon even once at Berezovsky's behest. Now that Korzhakov was gone and Tatiana Yeltsin seemed squarely in Berezovsky's camp, Berezovsky himself had the most powerful krysha of all. In fact, he had solidified his position with the Family even further by hiring Yeltsin's son-in-law to run Aeroflot. Litvinenko had begun to believe that the only thing bigger than Boris Berezovsky's delusions of grandeur was Boris Berezovsky's actual life.

Litvinenko's life might not have been quite as grand—but it was certainly happy. He and his ballroom dancer were well provided for, and he saw most of what he did for the FSB in basically noble terms. The world around them was still gripped by chaos, but he was essentially a beat cop, and his job was to try to clean up as much of the mess as he could.

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