In 1996, US-born journalist Paul Klebnikov wrote a cover story for Forbes magazine in which he compared Russian mathematician-turned-businessman-turned-politician Boris Berezovsky to the Sicilian mafia. The article was published anonymously, but was widely believed to be Klebnikov’s work. Klebnikov soon received death threats and left Russia for the relatively safety of Paris. However, he later expanded the article into the 2000 book Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia. In 2003, Berezovsky sued Forbes for libel in a British court and won a partial retraction of the original article.
In 2002, US geopolitical analyst Jeff Nyquist, reviewing Klebnikov’s book, wrote: “The most widely acknowledged fact is that Kremlin oligarch Boris Berezovsky gave the al Qaeda-connected Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev $1 million prior to the 1999 Dagestan incursion that triggered the latest Chechen conflict.” Nyquist continues:
In his book, Godfather of the Kremlin, Forbes senior editor and historian Paul Klebnikov noted that Berezovsky supplied the Chechen terrorists with cash (according to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov). Having interviewed the leading players of the Chechen drama, Klebnikov described the Second Chechen War (that began in 1999) as a “double game.” Klebnikov explained this game in the following terms: “To the extent Berezovsky represented the interests of the Yeltsin regime in Chechnya, the Kremlin had been undermining the [Chechen] moderates, supporting the extremists financially and politically, and consequently sowing the seeds of conflict.”
The best-case scenario would be that a hare-brained Kremlin scheme backfired. “The worst-case scenario,” Klebnikov admitted, “…is that the Berezovsky strategy with the Chechen warlords was a deliberate attempt to fan the flames of war.” To make the case clearly: the Kremlin financed the Wahhabi extremists (i.e., commanders Basayev and Khattab) who invaded Dagestan in August 1999 and triggered the Second Chechen War.
While Berezovsky’s death on March 23, 2013 may have been a suicide induced by the woes of debt and losing a lawsuit against Roman Abramovich, Klebnikov was definitely murdered in Moscow in 2004. His killing remains unsolved to date. For Kremlin watchers, one is inclined to ask whether President Boris Yeltsin’s hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin, was behind the deaths of these two men, who knew too much about Moscow’s intrigue in the North Caucasus.
In light of the two ethnic Chechen brothers suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings–one dead, the other hospitalized in serious condition–US officials need to answer these questions, the sooner the better.