Once Upon a Time in Russia (4 page)

Certainly, over the past ten years, Korzhakov had earned Yeltsin's trust—and, more important, his ear.

“Alexander Vasilyevich,” Berezovksy said, lowering his voice so the larger man had to lean in to hear him. “Moving forward, it isn't tanks that will keep our democracy alive.”

“Again, we are back to money.”

Berezovsky shrugged.

“Money, but more important than money—media.”

Korzhakov ran the towel over what was left of his hair.

“Ah, yes. You and your hippie newspaperman are going to save Mother Russia.”

Berezovsky smiled, though he knew there was at least a tinge of venom behind the bodyguard's words.
Your hippie newspaperman.
The description might have been used in a derogatory manner, but that didn't make it any less accurate.

Berezovsky's entrance into Yeltsin's inner circle and, indeed, the Presidential Club—had been the result of much strategy and choreography, the core of which had revolved around Korzhakov's “hippie newspaperman,” a journalist named Valentin Yumashev. The young man—shy, handsome, and usually poorly attired—had been working at a liberal, youth-skewed political magazine—which Berezovsky's LogoVAZ had funded as a location to place car ads. Berezovksy had always thought that the man's talents were being wasted writing articles about democracy aimed at teenagers.

The opportunity to use Yumashev's skills for something more worthwhile had presented itself about a year ago, when he had been hired as a writer to pen the president's autobiography after interviewing President Yeltsin for an article. Seeking a publisher for the book, Yumashev had eventually approached Berezovsky, who had realized that his involvement as publisher would bring him closer to Yeltsin and give him some level of entrance into the halls of political power.

Even better, Yeltsin had immediately taken to the writer on a personal level—and, yet more significant was that Yeltsin's youngest daughter, Tatiana, had struck up a relationship with the handsome Yumashev. Almost instantly, Berezovsky was able to ride upward with
Yumashev's fortune, and went from being an outsider to part of Yeltsin's inner circle—a group of influence known outside the Kremlin as the Family. A man like Korzhakov—a product of the old world, a former KGB general who had made his bones in the military—might have blanched at the sight of a businessman and a twentysomething writer ascending so quickly into Yeltsin's orbit, but there was little he could do. He mocked Berezovsky behind his back—but he had no choice but to listen when Berezovsky spoke long and loud enough.

And this idea—this golden idea—was something Berezovsky knew was worth speaking about until his throat—or the bodyguard—gave out.

“We aren't talking about newspapers, Alexander Vasilyevich.”

Korzhakov waved a meaty hand.

“Right, your television station. As if we don't have enough trouble with Gusinsky and his pornography as it is.”

Berezovsky stifled the urge to spit.

“Gusinsky's swill is the exact opposite of what I'm proposing.”

It was obvious that Korzhakov knew he'd hit a nerve, and his eyes told Berezovsky he was enjoying the moment.

On paper, the two Oligarchs, Gusinsky and Berezovsky, appeared to be cut from the same cloth—both were from Jewish backgrounds, both had risen from obscurity to great financial wealth by taking advantage of perestroika. But the mere mention of the rival businessman's name made Berezovsky's scars twitch beneath his bandages.

Whereas Berezovsky had taken a roundabout route to his fortune, exploiting the inefficiencies in the car market, Gusinsky had taken a more direct approach, building a banking conglomerate with the help and protection of Moscow's Mayor's office. Once the coffers of Most Bank had made Gusinsky immensely wealthy, he had turned his attentions to the media, building an independent television
station to rival the state-owned network—which, while a ratings behemoth, was still a clunky remnant of the Communist era. Gusinsky's NTV might not have actually manufactured pornography, but its quest for popularity had led to programming that had ruffled feathers in the administration, especially when it had begun airing programs that took a critical view of Russia's recent involvement in the Chechen conflict.

“NTV is little more than a nuisance,” Berezovsky continued. “I'm talking about a real television network. ORT.”

Korzhakov raised an eyebrow. Общественное Российское Телевидение Russian Public Television, the state-owned network, dwarfed Gusinsky's startup. In fact, with almost two hundred million daily viewers, it was bigger than all the American networks combined. It was also leaking money, losing almost a quarter billion dollars a year. And, as everyone knew, it was one of the most corrupt institutions in modern Russia.

“You want the president to give you ORT?”

It was a blunt way of wording things, but Korzhakov had always been a blunt instrument. The truth was, Berezovsky had not invented the concept of privatization. The planned economy had vanished—and something needed to take its place. Privatization, the idea of taking companies away from the state and essentially handing them to financiers and businessmen, was technically the brainchild of an economist named Anatoly Chubais, a brilliant young deputy in the Yeltsin government. It had begun as a noble idea—a way to offer the nation's resources directly to the people, in the form of vouchers that acted as stock certificates. But the voucher program had failed almost immediately, a victim of the massive inflation that had helped make Berezovsky so wealthy.

This had led to a shift, from a voucher program aimed at the
common man to options sold to the only people who had enough money left to purchase them—the small group of businessmen who had taken an early advantage in the new economy. The more desperate the government became to fund itself through Chubais's program, the more leverage the Oligarchs attained. When one of the largest oil companies in the nation went into a privatization auction, a company valued at many billions of dollars ended up selling for close to two hundred fifty million. Timber, copper, automobiles, textiles—one after another, Russia's major industries ended up in the hands of a small group of like-minded businessmen.

“You've got it backwards, Alexander Vasilyevich. I want to hand ORT to the president.”

Korzhakov looked at him, those blunt gears turning behind his gaze. In two years there would be another election; Korzhakov knew as well as anyone how fragile the fledgling government was. Having the nation's largest television network in Yeltsin's pocket might very well make the difference.
And if it didn't?
Well, there were always more tanks.

Berezovsky began to lay out his plan. He and a group of colleagues would put up enough cash to buy forty-nine percent of ORT at auction, leaving the government in charge of the majority fifty-one percent. They would use the network to prop up Yeltsin's democratic ideals, everything building toward the 1996 campaign. Everyone was going to come out a winner.

Almost everyone.

“I can imagine how your friend Gusinsky is going to react.”

Berezovsky shrugged.

“Perhaps he will understand, it's simply good business and good politics. Or perhaps he can be made to understand.”

Korzhakov didn't respond. This was not the first time Berezovsky had discussed Gusinsky in such terms; at some point in the
past, he might even have used the word
terminate
in casual conversation. Always, Korzhakov, who had fired mortars at the Russian White House, brushed away his suggestions. Berezovsky saw no distinction between a political rival and a business rival. Both could have a change of heart when looking down the barrel of a gun.

Sooner or later, Korzhakov would recognize Gusinsky—with the Moscow mayor in his pocket—as the adversary he truly was. If not, Berezovsky was prepared to go over the bodyguard's head. Other members of the Family would be receptive. Tatiana and Yumashev could convince Tatiana's father, if Korzhakov refused. After all, according to the rumors, Gusinsky had already built a private army of heavily armed bodyguards—some said over a thousand strong—stationed near and around Media-Most's building in the heart of Moscow. Gusinsky was formidable, with the support of the mayor of the biggest city in Russia; but a mayor wasn't the same as a president.

“ORT,” Korzhakov mused. “A little bit of business, a lot of politics. How you've changed, Boris. And all it took was a bomb going off next to your car.”

Then he jabbed his thick paw toward the bandages covering part of Berezovsky's scalp.

“You don't exactly have a face for TV.”

Berezovsky smiled, but, inside, his mathematical mind was already churning forward. It wasn't
his
face that two hundred million people needed to fall in love with; he wasn't the one running for president.

“Let me worry about the business,” he said. “You take care of the politics.”

Before either of these things, Berezovsky thought to himself, there was a goose that needed hunting.

CHAPTER FIVE

December 2, 1994, 11:00 a.m.,

36 Novy Arbat Street, Moscow

“N
OW IT'S FOUR. DEFINITELY
four. Twenty yards back, the gray Mercedes. Since about six miles ago.”

Anton Gogol felt his fingers whiten against the steering wheel. He tried to keep his voice steady and professional, but his insides were growing tighter with each passing second. He could tell that his colleague seated next to him in the passenger seat was equally disturbed. Though eight years his senior, the “security specialist” made no effort to hide the trembling of his fingers as he slid a double-barreled shotgun out from beneath his seat and placed it gingerly on his lap.

Then he nodded toward the rearview mirror.

“And the other three? They've been with us since the dacha?”

“Nearly that long.”

Ivan Doctorow nodded, then spoke quietly into the transponder in his upper jacket pocket. Anton had no doubt that the bodyguards in the other two cars of their motorcade were already aware of the tailing vehicles. If anything, Anton was the least experienced
among them, having joined their unit just a year ago—and only three years after he'd finished his training service with the now defunct KGB. Then again, he doubted that any amount of training would have prepared him for the situation that was rapidly developing around them.

When Anton's motorcade had left his employer's country home forty minutes ago, there had been no indication that this would be anything more than a routine trip to the office. A blustery, snowy Friday in December, the sky the same gunmetal hue as the barrels of the shotgun that now sat on his partner's lap. Anton had made this drive countless times in the past year, sometimes in the lead car, now fifteen yards ahead of him on the multilane highway, sometimes seated in the driver's seat right in front of his employer—separated from the Oligarch by a deceptively thin sheet of smoked Plexiglas. He usually preferred the trail car, as it involved a relatively simple set of expectations. One eye on the taillights of the bulletproof limousine at the center of the motorcade, the rest of his attention on the rearview mirror and the highway behind them. Even in these turbulent times, a well-armed motorcade was enough to discourage even the most brazen of threats. On top of that, Anton's employer's reputation—and the small army he had built himself—had insulated him from the troubles of many of his peers.

Which made the current situation all the more concerning.

“FSB? Some subset of the local police?” Anton asked.

Ivan shrugged.

“Unmarked cars, foreign make. The windows are too tinted to see if they are wearing uniforms.”

“How does he want to handle this?”

Ivan showed no emotion beyond the slight tremor in his hands as he listened to the piece in his right ear.

“It's only another few miles to the office. Middle of the day, major highway at rush hour. Nobody would be foolish enough to try something here.”

Anton nodded, though he could taste the bile rising in his throat. He wasn't going to question his more experienced partner, but he certainly read the morning newspapers. His boss hadn't hired half a platoon of ex-KGB men because he was hoping to fix a parking ticket.

They continued on in silence, Anton trying to focus on his employer's limousine. For all he knew, there were sniper rifles now trained at the back of his head. He reminded himself that the rear windshield was bulletproof, and that it was extremely difficult to hit a target from a moving vehicle. Neither thought gave him much comfort.

Thankfully, after another excruciating few minutes, he caught sight of the off-white, high-rise headquarters in the near distance; the impressive complex was hard to miss, towering over a huge parking lot and the multilane highway. Just the sight of the building took some of the tension out of Anton's body. As the first cars in his motorcade turned off the highway and into the parking area, Anton had to keep himself from pressing too hard on the gas. The last thing he wanted to do was overtake his employer's limousine. Still, he couldn't stifle the beginnings of a smile—until he noticed that Ivan, in the seat next to him, had turned a sickly shade of gray.

Anton looked again into the rearview mirror—the four unmarked cars had also turned off the highway, drawing to a stop next to one another in the far corner of the parking lot. Anton exhaled. If the people following them had simply been trying to scare them, they would have remained on the highway.

Anton's colleagues in the other two cars had obviously noticed
the odd behavior as well. Without warning the lead car suddenly accelerated, tires spitting smoke as the vehicle tore toward the front entrance of the office building. His employer's limousine followed right behind, and Anton acted without thought, his foot suddenly heavy against the gas. The roar of his engine nearly drowned out the squeal of rubber against asphalt.

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