Wednesday 16 March 2022

Visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons?


In a climate of increasing action against Russia and its oligarchs, Baron Lebedev of Siberia has said that it is crucial that "crucial we do not descend into Russophobia", a point supported strongly by Michael Gove, who said in an interview that we must avoid “an approach in the UK that said that everyone of Russian ancestry was somehow persona non grata”. They are right, of course, but in a classic piece of distraction, they deliberately miss the point, which isn’t about being anti-Russian at all. There are millions of ordinary honest Russians who don’t support what Putin is doing, and many other basically honest Russians who only support him as a result of being fed a highly controlled diet of propaganda. However, if we were to draw a Venn diagram with two circles – a large one denoting the millions of honest Russians with whom we should have no quarrel and a very much smaller one denoting that group of Russians who became very rich in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and whose continued wealth depends on the tolerance of the Kremlin – how much overlap would there be? If the subset ‘honest Russians who just happened to make a fortune out of the end of the Soviet Union’ exists at all, which I tend to doubt, it would be a very small group indeed.

Gove has also argued that "There is a distinction to be drawn between the actions of parents and the actions of children", echoing a point made a few days ago by James Cleverly (walking proof of the fact that nominative determinism is not a thing) who said that “my father was a former chartered surveyor but I’m not, so what your father did for work is, I’m not completely sure, totally relevant”, in defence of the fact that the PM has elevated the son of a KGB agent to the House of Lords. I somehow doubt that they’d take quite the same attitude to the son of a bank robber who became rich because his father gifted him a large part of the proceeds of his nocturnal activities. Although that might, actually, be a better parallel. And, as an aside, where sanctions have been imposed on Russian individuals, they have very frequently been applied to family members as well, given the common practice of transferring assets between relatives. Rightly or wrongly, tarring the offspring with the same brush is the norm in this situation, not the exception.

As far as I’m aware, we don’t know the detail of how Lebedev père acquired his riches; we do know that most of the assets of the former Soviet Union ended up in the hands of very few people, and that that number includes a number of former KGB agents. And we do know – because one of them has told us – that at least some of the auctions were rigged and that a great deal of bribery was involved. And we also know that Lebedev fils owes his wealth entirely to the transfer of monies from Lebedev père. Dirty money doesn’t become clean as a result of being transferred from father to son (and neither does it become clean – which may come as a shock to some – as a result of being donated to the Conservative Party).

It is argued that Lebedev Senior is an outspoken opponent of Putin, afraid to leave Russia for fear that he won’t be allowed to return. Given that he reportedly offered to act as a back-channel for communication between Johnson and Putin over the Skripal affair, one might be forgiven for wondering how strong an opponent he really is. Oligarchs who seriously turn against Putin end up fearing rather more than living in exile. He is, at least, being tolerated. The question being asked is about whether Junior should remain a member of the House of Lords and allowed to continue to operate in the UK – the real question is why Senior has not been sanctioned at all to date. Not so much a question of whether the son should be punished for the sins of the father as whether the father is being excused because of the influence of the son. After all, the son has a number of close friends in influential places, and the current Prime Minister has often been a recipient of his largesse. Having a rich friend to fly Johnson to his villa in his private jet to attend ‘bunga bunga’ parties, after one of which the then Foreign Secretary was seen at the airport on his return journey looking “dishevelled”, “like he had slept in his clothes”, and apparently having difficulty walking in a straight line may leave the PM feeling somewhat indebted to the kind donor. It may also just possibly leave him open to the acquisition of kompromat. The real security risk might be a lot closer to home than Baron Siberia.

The source of the wealth of the Russian oligarchs didn’t suddenly become suspect when Russia invaded Ukraine; it’s been obvious and blatant for years. The acceptance of it as a normal part of life in the City of London has not been driven by any great moral principle, it’s more about greed and the desire to grab a share of the booty. Applying sanctions selectively and slowly tells us more about the extent to which the UK’s establishment has itself become corrupted by contact than it does about taking any moral high ground.

1 comment:

dafis said...

Interesting article that. Put more succinctly one could just say - UK Gov and our City institutions rank high among any survey of the corrupt, lying scheming bastards to be found west of Moscow !
Of course that may flush out noble defenders of the current order in the UK although few of them ever seem to show their faces and offer comment. I suspect many more rock up for a read just to guage how close to the mark critics of their rotten regime are getting.