Russian Godfathers, BBC2

by | Dec 8, 2005 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It was an exceptionally profound insight into the often opaque intrigues of Russian politics, although it was irritatingly flawed by a huge bias towards the subject of the episode, exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

What was good about it?

• The detailed chronicle of Berezovsky’s efforts to regain power in his homeland after he had installed Vladimir Putin as successor to the ailing Boris Yeltsin, only to be exiled after the former KGB officer turned against him and many of the other oligarchs, or to give them a more Anglicized appellation, fiscal vampires sucking the very lifeblood from the veins of the populace.

• Andrei Vasiliev, the charismatic editor of Berezovsky’s sole surviving paper in Russia, Kommersant, “the Russian Financial Times”, who was prepared to argue with his boss about his impetuous plans to direct money away from Kommersant and into other “projects”.

• The revelation that the Orange Revolution in Ukraine after the rigged election was not quite as impromptu and populist as once thought. Much of the rabble-rousing was financed by the vengeful Berezovsky. Of course, with their lives having improved little under a Western-thinking president, the naïve Ukrainian people are finally waking up that they were little more than pawns in the war between America and Berezovsky on one side and Putin on the other.

• The confirmation that Berezovsky v Putin isn’t akin to Heaven v Hell, or any conflict with such moral transparency, but more resembles Mammon v Satan in a grappling match.

• The unintentionally amusing assessment of Berezovsky from PR expert Lord Tim Bell: “He believes in democracy and human rights more than anyone I’ve come across.” Lord Bell’s former clients include Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

• The hilarity of George W Bush’s dissatisfaction with the jailing of Berezovsky’s fellow oligarch Mikhail Khordorkovsky for nine years after a dubious trial. “Here,” he whined, “you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

• Sir Ian Holm’s measured narration.

What was bad about it?

• The one-sided nature of the narrative which sought to cast Berezovsky as some kind of wronged Robin Hood, trying to depose the evil emperor from his throne to bring prosperity and joy back to the proletariat. Berezovsky lives in an opulent mansion in Egham in Surrey; you know the kind of pad that evokes in anyone not of the upper classes a desire for a return of the 90% top tax bracket.

• Berezovsky’s bodyguards had studiously attended the College for Clichéd Bodyguard Mannerisms as they were all gum-chewing, sunglass-wearing goons who clasped their hands over their groins to make their shoulders seem broader.

• The way in which Berezovsky’s past was delved into with all the doggedness of a bored athletics official scraping the sand back into place after a foul in the long jump. It was claimed Berezovsky was responsible for fleecing thousands of Russians of their life-savings as they clamoured to invest in his car factory; what they were oblivious to was the old “small print clause” ploy, which enabled the crook to claim all their money and not pay them anything in return.

• This was all the analysis of Berezovsky’s past. Other than that, he was painted as a patriotic martyr who had charges “added daily” to his supposed list of crimes as if to associate Putin’s conduct with the barbarous purges of Stalin. It was also mentioned he was a Jew, again to hint that Putin’s persecution could be rooted in anti-Semitism.

• The lack of scope given to precisely why Berezovsky wants Putin removed from power. Berezovsky’s associates mumbled on about why Putin was so bad for Russia without ever clarifying the source of their ire. It soon became manifest the real beef they have with Putin is that he admirably stripped them of the “right” to extort money from the population through their pursuit of all the worst foibles of capitalism. They didn’t even touch on the slaughter in Chechnya, which is far worse than exiling a grumbling oaf to a life of luxury in Surrey.

• The constant use of the word “democracy”. No word in the English language has lost more of its potency in the past decade than “democracy”. Berezovsky constantly referred to it as his reason for wanting to regain power in Russia, but it’s apparent he is simply a megalomaniac. The already rich and powerful can subvert the truth and manipulate voters through the allegedly impartial media, and so achieve their goals scented with the specious, validating aroma of “democracy”.

• Lord Tim Bell complaining that Berezovsky was the victim of a “dirty tricks campaign” by Moscow, which was seeding repulsion to his client in the global media. Exactly what Berezovsky was doing to Putin.

• When Berezovsky returned to Latvia for the second time since his exile (on the first occasion he had to race to the airport to escape the clutches of Russian forces), he cunningly brought with him the human shield of Neil Bush, the president’s brother, which ensured Russia dare not apprehend him. He also smothered his visit with the fallacious saccharine taste of altruism, as his visit to embarrass Putin was made under the guise of funding “children’s education”. Children are expedient dummies always used by politicians to project an illusory impression of compassion when they are tools to bypass the intellect of the voter and hit hard at their instinctive need to protect their offspring. Watch for the number of amoral politicians heralding “protecting, the children, our future” in elections.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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