Godfather of the Kremlin: the Life and Times of Boris Berezovsky
by Paul Klebnikov
Release Date: 01 September, 2000
In what will likely be the only English-language book about the central organized crime figure in Russia from the 1990s, Klebnikov voluminously overstates his case, but in an entertaining enough way. If you lived in Russia during this period, you can see the book's flaws and simply take the useful information (and there is a lot of it) for what it is. But if you didn't, and most people in America did not, then you will come away from this book believing that one man, Boris Berezovsky, was the sole incarnation of evil in Russia during this period, when in fact he was simply an ingenious opportunist who took advantage of a political and societal vacuum created by larger forces-- including the Western governments Klebnikov takes great pains to avoid criticizing in his book.
The cover looks like a still from a Third Reich "Know Your Jewish Enemy" pamphlet. It was also hard not to notice that Vladimir Potanin, the lone goy among the Russian oligarchs of the period Klebniokov describes, was the only Russian businessman to come across as a relatively ethical operator in the book. Other aspects of the book hint at a certain Other Agenda. You can judge for yourself. I do recommend that anyone interested in modern Russian history read this book-- Berezovsky is a crucial subject and Klebnikov was the only one to take the legimitae physical risk to write a high-profile book about him-- but readers should be aware of its flaws and limitations.
I read this book, initially with some interest, but its style would put everyone off who is interested in exploring the real recent events in post-communist Russia. Any serious researcher would first present the facts, then analyse them and use this analysis to draw conclusions. Paul Klebnikov however chooses a diferent path: present his views on Berezovski, on businesmen and politicians, on Russian reforms, and then use facts (or information about the facts drawn from various sources) to illustrate his views. Clearly this way every event is interpreted in the way that proves author's point of view, but the reader may not be so convinced...
Most reviewers try to judge this book by whether the description of facts in the book is true or false. This is an interesting question, but a pointless one, since, first, we have no way of knowing, and secondly, because out of thousands of events some are bound to be described accurately while others ought to be false.
Rather, we should judge this book by what we can draw from the text itself.
This book has to be read (if at all) in the context of the political struggle in Russia, in which it is common (as elsewhere) for one political or business group to use various publications in their fight against other groups. This book is clearly written to smear Berezovsky, other business figures as well as reformist Russian politicians. It is also easy to understand who could be the sponsor of such a book. Most characters in the book are described as looters, crooks, and liers, so it looks strange that there are some figures whose every word is presented as ultimate truth. Most of these figures are associated with the disgraced old Soviet regime, and specifically with Criminal Police or the KGB. The book says that the Criminal Police, the Militia was unable to fight crime effectively because it was poorly equipped, lacked resources and was obstructed by high officials. No word that this institution was corrupt from top to bottom even before Perestroyka (to the point that the deputy head of the interior ministry and Leonid Brezhnev's son-in law was jailed by Yuri Andropov - a rare event in Soviet history). Recent arrests of top police officers in Moscow show to everyone that this institution has become even more corrupt in recent years, so its 'sources' lacks any credibility.
Other information in the book is based on the interviews with "sources" from Soviet notorious secret police, the KGB and its successor, FSB. All people associated with this legendary organisation are described in positive terms. One of its generals, head of Boris Yeltsin's presidential guard, Korzhakov, is quoted so frequently, that the reader gets an impression that he should have been made the co-author. Given the notoriety this general demonstrated during early nineties, the reader will be well advised not to believe his accounts.
In a recent libel case heard in London, the employer of Klebnikov, the Forbes magazine, officially admitted that his allegations that Berezovsky was responsible for murders of various Russian figures (such a Vlad Listiev) were baseless. One wonders why Forbes still employs this guy. One article written by Klebnikov must have cost Forbes a fortune both in legal fees and reputation...
My view is that this book contains a lot of interesting information about recent Russian history, but its account of this history is substantially distorted and biased. For readers unfamiliar with recent events in Russian this book will be misleading. I don't recommend anyone but specialists to buy it.