Petr Aven spoke to Meduza about his book, The Age of Berezovsky, and talked about Boris Berezovsky himself: “He was doomed from the start”

In an interview with Meduza, Petr Aven discussed the creation of his book The Age of Berezovsky, and what people really thought about the businessmen, including political figures and Aven himself. During the interview, Aven spoke to the media outlet about why the 1990s are still remembered so strongly in Russia, and are often described as ‘tumultuous’. He also discussed Berezovsky’s life story, which is retold in the book and found its heyday during those years. Below are some of the most interesting and memorable quotes given by Aven as part of the interview.
On his recollections of the 1990s
❝❞ “On the one hand, our country completely failed to reflect on and analyse the 1990s, at the same time as mythologising them. When you think of Europe, it seems to me that it spent a lot of time trying to understand its past, including before and after the war. And that journey from 1945 to the time of the Beatles was possible in part thanks to this powerful attempt at reflection.

We haven’t managed anything like that. We don’t discuss our past at all – we don’t analyse it, we don’t think about it, we repress it and we try to forget much of what happened. Europe isn’t the only point of comparison. Look at what happened [in Russia and the USSR] between 1917 and 1937. The changes were massive – a transformation of the social system. But over the course of 20 years, entire volumes of memoirs and fiction were written, and films were made. They still help us understand those events.”

On Berezovsky and their relationship
❝❞ “A lot of the people I speak to in the book discuss this. They’ll say I’m coming to the wrong conclusion, and that Berezovsky wasn’t some great hero of the 1990s. But to me that’s how it feels. Maybe it’s because I was friends with him, we were close, and in my youth he was simply an older comrade.

To me, he had a number of qualities that made him a hero. He was a man with a huge range. He… he was everything at once. Sure, Berezovsky wasn’t a mathematician, but he was a Doctor of Technical Sciences. He wasn’t a businessman, but he made billions of dollars. He may not have been a politician either, but he played an incredible role in the 1996 and 1999 campaigns, and in our history as a whole. He was somehow nobody and everybody at the same time.

He was able to hold court with an incredibly broad circle of people: businessmen, politicians, crime bosses, and folk artists. This breadth really marked him out from his peers, and made him an interesting topic of conversation for the people I spoke to when writing the book. He was a man of his time, and for many he remains a symbol of that time.”

❝❞ “Berezovsky was absolutely certain that the end justifies the means. In this sense, he was a tactical man. As it turned out, the 1996 elections showed that practically anything was permissible… But Berezovsky wasn’t thinking that far ahead – he had to win in the here and now, and at any cost.

Berezovsky wasn’t the only one responsible for that outcome, and he suffered as a result… During the 1996 campaign, Chubais was clearly thinking tactically too, but a huge strategic mistake was made. This completely killed people’s faith in the liberals, which of course is terrible. It’s one of the reasons for the situation we’re in today.”

❝❞ “He was doomed from the start. I recently remembered Mikhail Fridman saying, after the first day I introduced them, that Berezovsky would meet an unhappy end. His ambitions were quite simply boundless, and he couldn’t see where the limit was – in this sense he was doomed. Ultimately, of course, he lost out when Putin became president, when all of his activities became completely superfluous and actively harmful to people. Berezovsky was doomed, but he couldn’t see it at first. To put it simply, his entire life path had led him to this point. He didn’t know when to stop.”

❝❞ “That man… We didn’t just know each other – we were best friends. And my attitude towards him is complex, even contradictory, and it’s something that I couldn’t fully express even by writing this book. It’s hard for me to find the words. My attitude towards him changes even now, when I remember the good times and the bad. This is a difficult attitude to have towards a person who’s close to you.

The word “miss” is a good one. We lived a large part of our lives together, and that will always remain. I miss him like any loved one.”
On writing the book and the interviewees
❝❞ “There are probably a lot of imperfections in the book, especially since I was writing it as a hobby after work while I was focusing on my main job… But it does seem as though I was able to build a rapport of trust with the interviewees. When you’re confident about your subject, this rubs off on the person you’re speaking to.”

❝❞ “I pieced together an entire mosaic of different opinions and listened to completely opposing views, even with regard to my questioning style. One of my critics said I agreed with my interviewees too much, while another said that in fact I put a lot of pressure on them and imposed my point of view. Really, I was just trying to be unbiased. On the one hand, of course, you need to establish an agenda for the conversation, but at the same time you need to give everybody the opportunity to express their opinion. It is thanks to the large range of diverse opinions I collected that, in my view, a more objective picture of Berezovsky’s personality and activities is emerging.”

❝❞ “I wish there was more trust in the book. A publicist shouldn’t participate in the events being described, and should be away from the action. I think this format of interviews is therefore more reliable… I’d also like for the book to change people’s minds about Berezovsky. I don’t want everybody to think the same way, and in life everyone will treat the same person differently, of course. People have friends and enemies – some people like them and others don’t. I want the book to generate a range of different responses.”

❝❞ “In 1991–92 a revolution took place in Russia, and it was just as momentous as 1917. But we don’t talk about it at all… The most important books about the late USSR and the new Russia were written by the American David Hoffmann. I think we need to write these books ourselves, which is why The Age of Berezovsky exists.”

❝❞ “My guiding principle was to seek out people I was close to and with whom I could speak frankly. It’s difficult when you don’t know somebody well – I needed people who trusted me and whom I trusted. Also, given our long-standing personal connections, people were more willing to agree to talk – even those who hadn’t given interviews before. This is how we managed to have very open discussions.”
Read the full interview:Meduza