Putin's Enemy Berezovsky Denies Funding 'Pussy Riot'

World | September 12, 2012, Wednesday // 18:38
Bulgaria: Putin's Enemy Berezovsky Denies Funding 'Pussy Riot' Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky speak to reporters outside a court in London, Britain, 31 August 2012. EPA/BGNES

Self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky denied on Wednesday allegations voiced on a Kremlin-run television channel that he had financed anti-Putin punks Pussy Riot.

"I don't have anything to do with Pussy Riot and I didn't discuss any project with them," Berezovsky told the Moscow-based Ekho Moskvy radio station.

"But if I had thought up such a project, I would have been very proud," he added, as cited by RIA Novosti.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were jailed for two years each last month over a February 21 protest against Orthodox Church support for Vladimir Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential polls. A number of international celebrities, including U.S. pop diva Madonna and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, had spoken out in support of the group during the controversial trial and the verdict drew sharp international criticism.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that Pussy Riot should not have been jailed and that a "suspended sentence" would have sufficed. Putin had said he hoped the court would not punish the group "too severely."

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, 66, is a former Kremlin insider who made his fortune during the rule of President Boris Yeltsin.

But he fled Russia shortly after Putin came to power and has been living in London for over a decade. He is wanted on a number of criminal charges in Russia, including murder and large-scale fraud.

There was no mention of his alleged involvement with the group during last month's trial.

Berezovsky's name was linked to Pussy Riot in a 90-minute "Provocateurs" program, hosted by veteran TV journalist Arkady Mamontov, which was aired late on Tuesday evening on the state-run Rossiya 1 central TV channel and sought to portray the actions of the group and their supporters as a "demonic," foreign-backed plot aimed at inciting revolution in Russia.

An investigator involved in the case, Artyom Ranchekov, called the group "revolutionaries and demons" during the program, which was Mamontov's second investigation into the group in recent months. Ranchekov was removed from the probe into the group's actions before the case went to trial.

"Berezovsky is like Satan to these people, to Putin," Pussy Riot's de facto spokesperson, Pyotr Verzilov, told RIA Novosti. "For them, he's the worst thing that can be named."

A lawyer for the group, Mark Feigin, said that the program was a "lie from start to finish" and "pure Kremlin propaganda."

"There was not a single word said in their defense," he added. "Why was no mention made of Berezovsky at the trial?"

The program featured an interview with Alexei Veshnyak, who was presented as an aide to Berezovsky from 1999-2004. Veshnyak alleged that Berezovsky had revealed to him plans to use the controversial art group Voina, or "War," to attack Russia's major Christian faith. Tolokonnikova and her husband, Verzilov, are members of the guerilla art group.

"It was a colossal mistake to attack the Russian Orthodox Church," Veshnyak said. "I tried to convince him not to do it."

Berezovsky admitted that he had known Veshnyak for "many years," but also said that he was closely connected to the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

Veshnyak also appeared to compare Berezovsky and the Pussy Riot group to Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, who he said had urged the wartime destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church as a necessary step toward conquering the Soviet Union.

The studio audience also heard the audio testimony of an anonymous woman who alleged that she had been approached by musicians connected to Russian pop group T.A.T.U. to take part in an anti-religion project "against Putin that would shatter Russia's moral values and "make zombies of the youth."

The program, she said, was to be funded by "some Americans willing to pay a great deal of money." She did not specify when this project was proposed and her identity was not revealed over "fears for her safety."

And U.S. political analyst William Dunkerly suggested in a video link-up from the United States that the London-based public relations company Bell Pottinger had been offering "up to USD 100,000" to Western rock stars for statements of support for Pussy Riot. Berezovsky is widely reported to be a Bell Pottinger client. He admitted, however, that these were just rumors and he had "no concrete proof."

Bell Pottinger declined to comment when contacted by RIA Novosti.

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Tags: Pussy Riot, boris berezovsky, oligarchs, oligarch, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin, Russian President, Russian Orthodox Church, Russians, Russia, Arkady Mamontov, Mark Feygin
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