Writing in The Mail on Sunday, the freshly minted lord, Evgeny Lebedev, takes a broad swipe at those who, like me, take exception to his elevation to the House of Lords.
“Anyone who thinks I am a Boris-crony or a Putin-stooge,” he says, “obviously isn’t one of the 28 million online readers of The Independent in this country.”
Guilty as charged. Actually, the official reach of that online publication is 22 million, but let’s not haggle about pennies. In substance, Lebedev is correct: yes, I do think it’s patently obvious he’s a Boris crony and a Putin stooge. And no, I’m not one of however many Independent readers there are.
Lebedev accuses his detractors of “a racism that considers the House of Lords to be no place for someone such as me”, singling out The Guardian “where stories invariably describe me as ‘Russian’ or ‘Russian-born’ in their first sentences”.
I know exactly how he feels; I too detest being described in that fashion. But there’s a difference between Lebedev and me. I relinquished my Russian (then Soviet) citizenship in 1973, seven years before Lebedev was born.
He, however, remains not only a British subject but also a Russian citizen, which means dual allegiance and a right to dual protection. The link between the two was established in the ancient legal principle “Protectio trahit subjectionem, et subjectio protectionem”.
Hence, while tarring me with a Russian brush betokens lazy and inaccurate thinking, thus describing Lebedev is a simple statement of fact. But one has to compliment him on the masterly use of fail-free tricks: anyone called a racist nowadays is expected to crawl back into his hole, tail between his legs.
Another term he casually drops into his narrative is McCarthyism – whatever the context, that can’t fail to push the right, or rather left, button. Again, compliments are in order.
Lebedev clearly learned his disinformation tradecraft at the knee of his father Alexander, a career KGB officer. (Not ‘agent’, as his son describes him. If I were his daddy, I’d chastise little Zhenia for his ignorance: an officer is a fully employed master spy who runs a network of agents. It’s the same difference as between an editor and a freelance hack.)
As part of that tradecraft, he knows how to deceive without lying. For example, he describes himself as “a first-generation immigrant, who came to this country when I was eight”. Quite. Except that he came to Britain at that young age not as an immigrant, but as the son of a KGB officer working under diplomatic cover at the Russian embassy.
Another tradecraft gem: “… together with my father [I] have invested more than £120 million to save two great national newspaper titles…”. I especially like that “together” business: an innocent reader may get the impression of some kind of equal partnership.
In fact, Evgeny, who was 29 at the time and had never made any serious money, simply acted as a front for his father, who in turn acted as a front for his lifelong employer. Alexander Lebedev, incidentally, is still listed as a co-owner of the papers, even though his son refers to them as “mine”.
Then Lebedev describes The Independent as “a global publishing giant”. Every word there, except “a”, is dubious. Since few people outside the UK have ever heard of The Independent, the “global” claim must be based on the Saudis who own 30 per cent of the title. “Publishing” is only tangentially appropriate for a strictly online publication. And “giant” is misleading in the absence of information on paid circulation.
Continuing in the same vein, Lebedev is “proud of the fact that this title is one of very few in Britain with no political alignment whatsoever”. Again, this is another example of deceiving without lying.
It’s true that The Independent isn’t the official organ of any political party. But it’s definitely a mouthpiece of an ideology.
Its listing identifies its political alignment as “liberal”, which, translated from the modern, means left-wing. The Independent supports the republican cause, which makes its editor’s presence in the House of Lords rather incongruous. It was also in the Remain camp, campaigning tirelessly for a second referendum.
Then Lebedev complains that “ardent believers in the narrative of omnipresent Russian influence in the UK see my interactions with the British elite as some sort of Kremlin influence mission.”
Perish the thought. Newspapers owned de facto by a KGB officer, made rich by his alma mater, toeing the Kremlin line? Surely not.
I’ve said it a thousand times if I’ve said it once: it’s impossible to make a Lebedev-like fortune in Russia without being some kind of Putin agent. The nature of the agency may differ: it could be money laundering, influence peddling, propaganda, espionage, disinformation or any combination thereof. But one way or another, all those ‘oligarchs’ are the puppets to Putin’s wire-puller.
Lebedev brags of his large donations to charity, which is commendable by itself. But in his case that activity isn’t by itself. It’s in no way inconsistent with the role of an agent of influence. If you had millions and wanted to rise to the pinnacle of British society, wouldn’t you spread your largesse around?
And the primary source of his money, the Putin camarilla, isn’t naturally driven by charitable impulses. Its every expenditure is always aimed at pursuing its interest, whatever that might be. Infiltrating its men into the upper echelons of Britain certainly qualifies as such a worthy cause.
Boris Johnson’s picks for ennoblement range from nepotistic (his brother, a man of modest attainment) to ill-advised (Claire Fox, recent communist and IRA fan) to downright subversive (Lebedev). Just the sort of thing we’ve learned to expect from our leaders.