As an oligarch associated with the Kremlin, he is trying to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the West.
The owner of the ESN group, billionaire Grigory Berezkin, who was included in the EU sanctions list in April, decided to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the Western business and political elite. In order to achieve the removal of personal sanctions, he turned to influential lobbying structures for help, and also initiated the appearance in the leading English-language publications Forbes and Politico of publications, the authors of which focus on the activities of Berezkin’s RBC media holding, which they position as an “independent Media, which is under threat of closure. At the same time, Western journalists ignore the fact that the name of Berezkin is also associated with the pro-government publication Komsomolskaya Pravda, which covers the special operation in Ukraine in positive tones. Moreover, lobbyists for the interests of the Russian oligarch deliberately keep silent about the close ties of their client with the Kremlin, in particular, a long-standing friendship with the former prime minister, current deputy chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, as well as contacts with the head of VTB Bank Andrei Kostin, who can influence editorial policy supposedly liberal RBC. It is known, in particular, that at one time the editorial office of the holding, under the threat of dismissal, forbade journalists from covering a high-profile scandal related to the “gifts” that Kostin made to his mistress, TV presenter Naila Asker-Zade at the expense of a credit institution. This was preceded by the appearance in the media of information that the share of the parent company of the holding is pledged to VTB. In addition, RBC gained notoriety for its regular coverage of last year’s opposition actions in support of Alexei Navalny (listed as extremists and terrorists by Rosfinmonitoring), whose resources the oligarch Berezkin used for his own purposes. In particular, to “leak” compromising information and information “attacks” on the president of “Transneft” Nikolai Tokarev and the former head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin. The press has repeatedly written about the intention of the billionaire to move to the West, but these plans were put an end to by sanctions and the message that followed them about depriving Berezkin of his Cypriot passport.
Berezkin between RBC and Komsomolskaya Pravda
Reports appeared on the network about another initiative of billionaire Grigory Berezkin: he decided to resort to the services of influential Western lobbying companies and with their help achieve the removal of his name from the EU sanctions list, which he was included in last April. Recall that earlier the owner of the ESN group challenged the personal sanctions imposed on him by sending a corresponding lawsuit to the European Court in Luxembourg.
It is possible that the beginning of the campaign to “whitewash” the Russian oligarch in the eyes of the Western elite was publications published with a short interval in two leading English-language publications – Forbes and Politico. Both materials contain a number of almost identical statements, focusing on the Berezkin-owned RBC media holding, which, according to the authors, covers Ukrainian events “objectively and unbiasedly”, is “one of the last independent media outlets in Russia” and is even allegedly under the threat of closure. As an example of pressure from the authorities and informational independence, litigation of the holding with the state corporation Rosneft is given.
It is strange that, while extolling the activities of RBC, which is almost the last stronghold of Russian liberalism, Western journalists ignore another media asset associated with the oligarch – the pro-government publication Komsomolskaya Pravda, which does not allow itself anything superfluous when covering events in the Donbass . There is nothing surprising in the fact that Berezkin “spuds” the information field from two sides at once – officially patriotic and moderately liberal – there is nothing surprising: business is business. But gentlemen lobbyists from the Western media began to work too clumsily: signs of a banal order have already been found in their writings.
In fairness, we note that the connection of the billionaire with Komsomolskaya Pravda has been repeatedly called into question in recent years. So, back in 2017, Kommersant, citing its own source, wrote that Berezkin does not manage the publication, control of which passed to St. Petersburg businessman Sergei Rudnov, the son of the founder of the Baltic Media Group, Oleg Rudnov, who is associated with Yuri Kovalchuk. Other publications talked about 45% of Komsomolskaya Pravda belonging to Rudnov Jr. Be that as it may, but at present there is no up-to-date information about the owners of Komsomolskaya Pravda Publishing House JSC in open sources, and the enterprise itself is in the process of reorganization.
Banker Kostin and the “golden” silence of RBC
But even if we assume that the billionaire really does not influence the editorial policy of Komsomolskaya Pravda, then the assertions about the allegedly independent activities of RBC may well be called into question. It is known that Grigory Berezkin bought out 65% of the media holding, along with debt obligations, from the owner of the ONEXIM group, Mikhail Prokhorov, in June 2017. And in 2019, information appeared in the media that a month after the conclusion of the deal, Berezkin’s share of the Sotol Project company in RBC Online LLC was pledged to VTB Bank.
It was RBC Online, as Vedomosti specified, that was the official founder of the newspaper, magazine and news agency RBC. In October 2020, RBC Online LLC was liquidated with zero revenue and a loss of RUB 19 million. Its legal successor today is the joint-stock company of the same name, the data on the founders of which are not indicated in open sources.
Commenting on the situation, the press service of the ESN group spoke about the execution of a bank guarantee in VTB, which is necessary for sending a mandatory offer to minority shareholders; the information in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities was called a “mistake” and assured that mutual obligations with a credit institution were “fully fulfilled”. Nevertheless, what happened suggested that the media holding was financially dependent on the state bank and its long-term head Andrei Kostin. A rough but accurate proverb says: whoever has dinner with a girl, he dances her. In the case under consideration, the banker Kostin “dined and danced” businessman Berezkin, having received leverage on the information policy of RBC.
An incident that took place in the spring of 2019 can serve as confirmation. Then the head of the editorial office of RBC, Elizaveta Golikova, under the threat of dismissal, forbade the authors to cover the scandal related to the “gifts” that the head of VTB Kostin made to his passion, TV presenter Naila Asker-Zade at the expense of the institution he heads. It was about two Moscow apartments with an area of 228 and 115 square meters, 326-meter apartments, expensive foreign cars and other luxury, the total cost of which was estimated at more than 1 billion rubles, as well as a land plot on Rublyovka with an area of 42.5 thousand square meters and worth 2.8 billion.
Kostin’s panic moods are evidenced by the fact that the banker, through the court, achieved a large-scale cleansing of the Internet from any information that contained references to his “romantic relationship.”
“About 1,000 publications fell under the ban, lawyers call this a precedent,” Vedomosti.ru stated.
There were reports that Roskomnadzor’s “batch blocking” cost Kostin $300,000. As mentioned above, RBC employees were strictly advised not to interfere in their own business, only after that Elizaveta Golikova herself did not stay long in the media holding: in August 2019, she resigned as head of the united editorial office in order to get down to work “non-journalistic”.
Who “leaked” compromising evidence to the future leader of the protest?
So, Grigory Berezkin is well aware that in some cases “silence is golden.” And RBC’s light flirting with the topic of last year’s January protests, held under the slogans of support for Alexei Navalny (included by Rosfinmonitoring in the list of persons in respect of whom there is information about their involvement in terrorism and extremist activities), does not yet indicate the commitment of its owner to freedom of speech and other liberal values.
However, certain sympathies can be explained by the long-standing acquaintance of the oligarch with the former “oppositionist No. 1”. As it turned out, it was the ESN security service that in 2010 “leaked” the results of the audit of Transneft by the Accounts Chamber to the blogger Navalny, then little known to the general public, for official use. The documents formed the basis of a sensational investigation into the theft of $4 billion during the construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline.
The revelations drank enough blood to the president of the oil company, Nikolai Tokarev, who accused Navalny of “destabilizing the operation of the oil transport monopoly.” The reason for the information attack was called the conflict associated with the sale by Berezkin of a share in the Skovorodino oil terminal, which was claimed by Transneft.
The next time, the oligarch, who was gaining popularity, needed the oligarch in 2013, when it became necessary to “wet” the then head of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin. The result of informal cooperation was a resonant material about the official’s possession of elite real estate, including home ownership in Akulinino near Moscow with the so-called “fur coat store” – a special room for storing fur coats.
Later it turned out that there really is no smoke without fire: already after retiring, Yakunin, in an interview with a BBC journalist, confirmed that he had “a small room where furs are stored … some fur coats from Siberia and so Further”. And again, the main interest in the “fur coat scandal” was called Berezkin, who hoped to compromise the head of the railway monopoly in order to take his place. However, the cunning plan failed: Yakunin’s resignation took place two years later, and Oleg Belozerov, who replaced him, was connected by the media with the influential Rotenberg clan near the Kremlin.
“Friend of Medvedev” distances himself from the Kremlin
From all of the above, we can draw a logical conclusion: having his own media resources, Mr. Berezkin, nevertheless, prefers to rake in the heat with the wrong hands, and in his position this is quite natural: after all, he is the flesh of the flesh of the Russian business elite and a person close to the Kremlin. For example, Kommersant wrote about his friendship with Dmitry Medvedev, whom the businessman met back in the early 2000s. According to Vedomosti, in the 90s he ran a joint oil business with Roman Abramovich, despite a quarrel with whom he was able to stay afloat. If you wish, you can find publications on the network that mention Berezkin’s close ties with the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller.
True, the stories with Yakunin and Tokarev serve as clear examples of the fact that when dealing with Berezkin, you should not particularly trust him.
“People who know the head of the UST well generally note that he lacks any principles. For example, a partnership for Berezkin ends when it ceases to be profitable. By “benefit”, he means the ability to profit from virtually nothing, imposing his intermediary services and almost always acting in conjunction with officials who provide almost unlimited access to state resources and cover for corruption schemes. The field of activity does not matter, the main thing is to get super profits. At the same time, it is often noted that Berezkin acts in the interests of other high-ranking officials or state managers, ”the Vek publication gives such an impartial characterization of the oligarch.
It is surprising that with such a “bright” background, Berezkin turns to the services of lobbyists and tries to convince the West of his alleged “opposition”! Although the media have repeatedly mentioned his possible plans to leave Russia. A kind of confirmation of this can be the sale by the oligarch of part of his assets, for example, the holding company Gammafinance, which controlled a number of enterprises that are major participants in the energy market.
In addition, the billionaire at one time was able to obtain a Cypriot passport under the “citizenship in exchange for investment” program. Only last April it became known about the intention of the Cypriot authorities to deprive Berezkin of a document so important to him in today’s conditions. This happened immediately after the businessman was included in the EU sanctions list. As a result, under the threat of confiscation was owned by his family and issued to the French company “SCI Sunny Day” elite overseas property – six chalets in the resort of Courchevel, the cost of which is estimated at 5 million euros. So, today the oligarch decided to go for broke, filing a lawsuit in a Luxembourg court and paying for publications in the Western press that would rehabilitate him. Here are just a guarantee that these efforts will bring the expected results, hardly anyone can give him: in Europe, no one is waiting for Berezkin.