Exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky has urged the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to persuade Prime Minister Vladimir Putin not to run for the presidency in March.
In a letter published by Ekho Moskvy radio on Monday, the London-based tycoon and outspoken Kremlin critic asked Patriarch Kirill to “try to help Putin gather his wits.”
Putin is widely seen as a favorite to win March’s vote despite growing public discontent and mass demonstrations against vote fraud last month.
Berezovsky, one of the people who helped bring the former KGB agent to power in late 1990s according to his biographer Paul Klebnikov, warned that “protest rallies may turn into the thunder of a cannonade.”
“If blood is shed, Putin will be held accountable before the people, before his conscience and history. But you will answer before God,” he told the patriarch.
“It is in your powers today to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” he said. “Help him hear the voice of the people.”
Kirill’s office said that the patriarch would ignore Berezovsky’s call.
“In his televised speech Patriarch Kirill answered all questions concerning the present day situation and said that he was for dialog between authorities and opposition, for gradual, not drastic changes in course. The patriarch has answered all questions and is not going to respond to Boris Berzovsky’s call,” Protopriest Vladimir Vigilyansky, the head of the patriarchate’s press service, told RIA Novosti.
In November 2007, a Russian court sentenced Berezovsky to six years in jail in absentia for stealing millions of dollars from the Russian airline carrier Aeroflot in the 1990s.
In June 2009, he was sentenced to a further 13 years in absentia for stealing thousands of cars from carmaker Avtovaz, also in the 1990s.