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Russia: Oligarch Berezovsky Says He's Quitting Duma

Russian business tycoon Boris Berezovsky has been polishing a new role as a Kremlin critic in recent weeks, slamming law-enforcement offensives against the oligarchs as well as the president's plans to centralize government. Today he announced he intends to resign from his post as Duma deputy. RFE/RL's Sophie Lambroschini examines his motives.

Moscow, 17 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Boris Berezovsky won a Duma seat last December running as an independent candidate from the tiny North Caucasian republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia. At the time, he said not being in office was preventing him from pursuing his liberal reform plans.

Seven months later, he says he is resigning for approximately the same reason -- that he can't achieve his aims while in office.

He says he refuses to be part of a compliant Duma that supports the Kremlin's plans to centralize power and crack down on business tycoons.

"I repeat that my main motive is that I don't want to be a puppet. I can't go every day to this show set up by someone whose choreography I don't like. I refuse to play."

Berezovsky says he is giving up his deputy status -- and the immunity from prosecution that it carries -- out of moral convictions and solidarity with other oligarchs. Four of Russia's richest industrial groups have been investigated by law-enforcement bodies in the past week, prompting talk of a war against the oligarchs. And Berezovsky himself has been targeted: an old investigation into his alleged defrauding of Aeroflot has been reopened. He called these actions "a policy to destroy Russian business."

He says he wants to set up what he calls a constructive opposition.

"It's better to have a non-constructive opposition than none at all, that's clear today. But the best of all is a constructive opposition. I think that the authorities, through their actions, have created all the necessary conditions for a constructive opposition. Necessary conditions means that the authorities groundlessly, in my view, without justification, began fighting with the political, the regional elite, the powerful business and in this manner created the prerequisite for their consolidation."

Berezovsky has long been portrayed as a shady businessman close to the Kremlin. So this new posture as a defender of democracy and a potential victim of the Kremlin's crackdown on oligarchs is being greeted with skepticism. Some analysts wonder whether a "constructive opposition" could be just a puppet opposition. A side reason that Berezovsky cited for resigning was refusal to take the blame for the continued ethnic tension between Karachais and Cherkess. He said the Kremlin has not listened to his ideas of how to defuse the tension.

Last fall, ahead of his election, Berezovsky had helped to broker a deal between the two groups. But according to political analyst Andrey Ryabov of the Carnegie Endowment, after the election Berezovsky played off one group against the another to increase his own value as peace broker. Then, the analyst says, the deputy lost interest all together, and the situation has been slowly festering. The republic's Council of Elders has requested for Berezovsky to be dismissed for not fulfilling his duty.

Berezovsky's resignation, however, is not yet official. He must address an official request to the Duma and have it accepted in a plenary session. The next session is scheduled for Wednesday.