Berezovsky wasn’t just an oligarch: he was the first oligarch. He is sometimes referred to slightingly as a “former used car salesman”—this is a kind of joke. In fact Berezovsky was an accomplished mathematician, a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, with a specialization in game theory. In the late 1980s, as free enterprise began to be introduced in the USSR, piecemeal and with every possible loophole for corruption, the other future oligarchs began to go into “business”: Mikhail Prokhorov, future owner of Norilsk Nickel and then the New Jersey Nets, sold acid-washed jeans at the local market; Vladimir Gusinsky, future owner of Most-Bank and the country’s first independent television channel, NTV, became an event planner; Mikhail Khodorkovsky, future owner of the country’s largest oil company, now in prison for a decade, opened a cafe. Berezovsky, a generation older than these others, had an in at the Avtovaz factory in Togliatti, in central Russia; he had helped them set up their computer systems, and for years had been picking up hard-to-get auto parts there and reselling them in Moscow (so he was a bit of used car salesman—but they were new parts). As the USSR fell apart, Berezovsky saw that the country was moving from a barter economy to a cash economy.
more from Keith Gessen at n+1 here.