Lord Mandelson seems to be irresistibly attracted to Russian oligarchs. By attraction I don’t mean the kind of love that dare not speak its name, God forbid.
No, the affection consuming Lord Mandelson in this instance is selfless, disinterested and typically requited love of money. A man of strong will, he’s always able to control his scruples about the provenance of the lucre for which he lusts so powerfully.
This commendable self-control has got Peter Mandelson into all sorts of trouble on all sorts of occasions. Several times (I’ve lost count) he was kicked out of Blair’s cabinet when well-documented doubts were cast on the probity of some of his dealings.
On the last occasion Mandelson said ‘plague on both your Houses’ to Parliament and decamped for a much more lucrative post as EU Trade Commissioner. It was in that capacity that he struck a close friendship with Russia’s aluminium king Oleg Deripaska – perhaps the richest in the line of the so-called oligarchs.
Since aluminium is one of Russia’s major exports, and Europe its biggest recipient, Deripaska’s interest in cultivating the Commissioner’s affection isn’t one of those mysteries for which Russia is so widely known. Peter’s reciprocity, I’m sure, was based on the Good-Samaritan urge to help a fellow man to make a few more billion.
To that end Peter accepted Oleg’s lavish hospitality on the latter’s yacht and, to give the affair a bipartisan feel, George Osborne tagged along. Other than a weakness for good food and drink, perhaps he was contemplating the possibility of converting to Russian Orthodoxy, to follow in the footsteps of his brother who has converted to Islam. Deripaska could be counted on to put in a good word with the Patriarch – he must know him from all those Kremlin piss-ups.
Or else George was preparing a fallback position for the time he’s no longer in government. A directorship in Deripaska’s holding company perhaps? Why on earth not? If a former Chancellor of Germany can shill for Gazprom, why not George doing the same for his new bosom friend Oleg? No reason at all.
That however is conjecture. What is fact is that Peter Mandelson has just been appointed non-resident director of Russia’s biggest publicly listed conglomerate Sistema, 62 percent of which is owned by Vladimir Evtushenkov, yet another oligarch.
It’s a marriage made in heaven – both sides stand to gain, neither has anything to lose. Peter’s gain is transparent: he’ll get $325,000 a year plus a cut of any increase in Sistema’s mammoth value.
What Evtushenkov gets out of the deal is less immediately clear, but we can try a reasonable guess. Mandelson’s connections in British and especially European circles must be valuable to a chap with a Russian name but a pan-European heart.
You see, in addition to his multifarious business interests, Evtushenkov holds the post of Honorary Consul of the Duchy of Luxembourg in Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals. One can understand his affection for the Duchy, a pleasantly picturesque area at the heart of Europe. Coincidentally, it’s also a money laundry compared to which Cyprus is a baby’s playpen, but surely Evtushenkov’s interest in it has nothing to do with that. Neither does Mandelson’s, I hasten to add.
All this is perfectly aboveboard. It’s also fair: Peter has been offering his political advice free of charge to any party willing to listen. It stands to reason that now he’ll be paid for his business advice, springing from his acumen and vast experience.
One just hopes he’ll watch his step: another scandal just may besmirch his already off-white reputation beyond repair. And Peter should never leave behind his long spoon when supping with the devil of Russian oligarchy. Those chaps play for keeps, and London has proved it’s not such a safe haven after all.