Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In which our hero demonstrates beyond doubt that we often have far too much time on our hands. And things aren’t looking too bright for one of Mr Putin’s more high-profile critics. My advice? Avoid the tea

This is something I cobbled together after a trip to Spain last year. I rather like it, but that doesn’t mean that you will. Suck it and see, as they say. File under Artsy-fartsy.

. . .

Who is it safe to piss off in Russia and who is it wisest not to? Well, I can’t say who one can rub up the wrong way with no fear of reprisals, but it is becoming ever more obvious that Valdimir Putin, c/o The Kremlin, Moscow, is a lad best kept your side. That seems to be a lesson Chelsea’s very own Roman Abramovich has taken to heart but which Boris Berezovky didn’t.
Another of the money men apparently sailing close to the wind is Alexander Lebedev, who owns London’s Evening Standard, but lives in Moscow. Incidentally, he is always described as a ‘former KGB agent’ but I’ve always felt the word ‘agent’ to be so vague as to be almost meaningless. For most of us it conjures up the image of a highly trained killer who wouldn’t think twice about accepting a drink from you, then screwing your wife, but I understand the reality is rather different, that is to say pretty bloody mundane.
I don’t for a minute doubt that these guys aren’t capable of making a pot of tea with radioactive baloney (or whatever it was they used to kill the guy who ran ten miles every day), but 99pc of their time is spent pouring over lists of holidaymakers arriving in Moscow and St Petersburg and deciding who it might be worth trying to flog a timeshare in a mooted development in Odessa. Maybe that was the kind of ‘agent’ Lebedev was. The only other things I know about him is that he and his son Evegeny have managed to get the Standard back into profit, despite now giving it away, and the Lebedev pere is up on a charge of ‘hooliganism’ for punching someone on life TV. (See – if he’d been a real agent rather than a pen-pusher he would most certainly have karate-chopped the man and found himself on a murder charge.)

One man who has not been doing his very best to keep in Mr Putin’s good books is Alexei Navlany. In fact, he is most definitely a thorn in Mr Putin’s side and he is reckoned to have cost Mr Putin an ‘overwhelming’ majority at the last set of elections. He was also a leading light in the street protests which followed the election and the regular blog he writes also doesn’t win him to many brownie points with the Kremlin – calling them ‘corrupt’ is one of his milder claims.

Mr Navalny now finds himself charged with corruption and has appeared in court in a town called Kirov, which (I read is 550 miles north-east of Moscow), quite some distance for us Brits for whom a 40-mile trip down the road is an unwelcome schlepp. (For the record my weekly commute from Cornwall to London and back is 234 miles each way and I’m glad I have to do it just twice a week. It’s not that bad, but I’m glad it’s not much longer.)

Obviously I am in no position to judge how solid, on the one hand, the case is against Mr Navalny or, on the other, how trumped up the charge is. He is said to have embezzled 16 million roubles from a timber firm for whom he was working as an advisor. He claims the charge is nonsense and one simply trumped up to discredit him. The thinking is that were he charged with some other offence related to his political work, it might seem to obvious and that getting him into clink on a charge of corruption would not only get him out of the way but would also damage his credibility.
Then there’s the matter of a new law which has been based banning those with previous convictions from standing for election. But (and I am obliged to be fair here, despite what I think is more likely than not), all I can do is report what I have read on various news websites. But it does seem – this is my taking off my ‘impartial’ hat – that not being on Mr Putin’s side doesn’t pay many dividends if you happen to live in Russia.

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