A Dangerous Game

  • 2005-10-05
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis dropped a bombshell when he said on Latvian television that billionaire exile Boris Berezovsky should be barred from entering the country because he posed a "threat" to security. The threats posed by Berezovsky's presence were not explained, but after a meeting between President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Kalvitis, the head of state seemed to support blacklisting the billionaire as well.

The move by Kalvitis was nearly as inexplicable as this year's two visits by Berezovsky himself. Kalvitis, a member of the People's Party, made his statements after Andris Skele, some would say the real power behind the People's Party, met with the former Kremlin kingmaker. While Skele claimed that he only listened to the education proposal, the meeting was as baffling as the presence of Neil Bush and his mobile education machines.

Why would Skele risk whatever reputation he has by meeting with Berezovsky? For a party that often plays the nationalist card meeting with a Russian exiled billionaire (not to mention part-owner of television station ORT, which broadcasts propaganda against the country), this would appear to be a political disaster.

And what was the billionaire doing here? Was his visit really connected with an education program that is considered prohibitively expensive for American schools, let alone cash-strapped Latvian ones? The content of the program and its appropriateness for Latvian school children is another question altogether.

Kalvitis later told Latvian radio that Berezovsky wanted political power in the country, and he acted after receiving information from Moscow on Berezovsky's alleged crimes there.

After criticism emerged in the Latvian media, Berezovsky blamed fellow billionaire George Soros for the negative pieces on Latvian Television and in the daily Diena. Soros' name has appeared from time to time in Latvia, either to explain a vast conspiracy or to deflect attention. Animosity between Soros and Berezovsky has its origins in Moscow, where the two had a falling-out in the mid 1990s, after which a so-called "bankers' war" erupted.

Others have focused on Berezovsky's sole motivating desire to serve as an irritant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man who ended Berezovsky's rule in the Kremlin. The exile has been trying to strike at Putin ever since, and reportedly provided financial resources for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, a cataclysmic defeat for Putin who personally visited the country and provided his own support for the incumbent.

Some local politicians appear to be abiding by the rule of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and if true, it could only prove to be a terrible mistake. It would be foolish to turn Latvia into a battleground between Putin and Berezovsky. Local oligarchs who want to protect their turf cannot be excited about a billionaire entering the country with more resources and wealth than all of them combined. Others have pointed to multitudes of business deals that are ongoing behind the scenes, but few concrete details have emerged outside of the odd photograph and insinuation.

Latvia can and may well blacklist Berezovsky, but few answers have emerged to explain why some in government are looking to make this move, all that remains for the public is a legion of conspiracy theories.