His detractors may claim that my friend Vlad lacks any morality. Shame on them!
Vlad has morality coming out of his… well, ears. And he has the courage of his convictions. To wit: he attended a live TV forum, knowing in advance that Panama would come up.
Sure enough, he was asked to comment on “the so-called Panama dossier, featuring the musician Roldugin, who’s your friend”.
A lesser man would have dismissed the implicit ugly rumours as a lie. Vlad’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov chose that very tack when asked whether his Olympic skater wife indeed had vast offshore accounts.
Absolutely not, said Dmitry, pulling his shirt cuff over the £400,000 watch his wife is supposed to have given him as a wedding present. Alas, The Guardian published facsimiles of the documents verifying the skater’s ownership of offshore laundries, making a red-faced Dmitry ask questions like “Oh, you mean those accounts?”
Vlad is too big a man to demean himself by lying. Instead he attacked the insinuations head on.
Well, perhaps ‘head on’ isn’t exactly accurate. Actually, after saying “I’ll try to be brief”, Vlad took six minutes before getting to the actual question.
That was time well spent. For Vlad explained how Russia’s enemies have always tried to push her down to her knees.
He touched upon, in a non sequitur kind of way, the ‘90s “when everyone liked to supply us with potatoes and use Russia in their interests”. From there it was an easy transition to the West’s disapproval of Yeltsin over his policy on Yugoslavia, the current Western invective over the Ukraine and the Crimea, and Putin’s refusal to extradite Snowden.
Russia’s enemies, explained Vlad, are envious of her economic success – even though there seems to be little to envy. In fact, the size of Russia’s economy has doubled since the ‘90s, and Russia’s armed forces are ready to challenge the global monopoly America takes for granted.
“Events in Syria,” said Vlad, “have demonstrated Russia’s ability to solve problems… far from our own borders”. True, Russia has achieved the improbable feat of both withdrawing her army from Syria and launching a massive build-up there.
Vlad, however, was too modest to point this out. Instead, after four minutes of meandering through recent history, he took tentative steps towards answering the question about Russia’s heir to Pablo Casals.
‘Tentative’ is the operative word, for Vlad approached the issue from the angle of geopolitical psychology: “Our opponents are mostly worried about the unity of the Russian nation. In that connection, attempts are made to rock us from inside… to undermine society’s trust in the organs of power…”
Contextually the Panama scandal represented one such attempt, but Vlad didn’t say the Panama papers were forged. His KGB training told him it’s impossible to falsify 11 million documents. Instead, referring to himself as ‘yours truly’, he highlighted the absence of his own name from any of them.
“So there’s nothing to talk about,” concluded Vlad. Not quite. That’s like saying that, since the defendant wasn’t caught with a smoking gun, no amount of circumstantial evidence would suffice to convict. In fact, people have been hanged on one tenth the evidence against Vlad.
His close friends and family have been busily laundering bribery money, raising the question of which public official in Russia could command bribes in the billions.
The bribes are mostly indirect: buying equities and then selling them the next day at a huge profit; signing an equity contract, then immediately breaking it and paying a $750,000 penalty; getting $600 million credits with no collateral or repayment; buying shares worth $25 million for $100,000. Yet crypto-bribes all these are, and only Putin handles enough funds to justify such palm-greasing.
After this six-minute preamble, Vlad finally got around to Roldugin whom he’s “proud to call a friend”.
This was my favourite part, for Vlad not only offered a highly plausible, nay irrefutable, explanation but also showed a subtle understanding of artistic creativity.
Roldugin, explained Vlad, “is a creative person”. That judgement is hard to fault, assuming that the cellist came up with the Panamanian trickery all on his own.
But Vlad meant something else. “Many creative people… try their hand at business.”
Now I’ve lived my life surrounded by creative people, and in my experience most of them are rubbish at business, or certainly not good enough to make $2 billion.
But then, according to Vlad, Roldugin isn’t so much a businessman as a benefactor. “He has spent almost every penny he made on buying musical instruments abroad and bringing them to Russia. Expensive things… He donates them to various state institutions.”
Those ‘things’ have to be jolly expensive to cost $2 billion, which is the documented amount of funds passing through the creative cellist’s hands. Irreverent Russians are already quipping about Stradivarius drums and Guarneri drumsticks, which just goes to show that Vlad hasn’t yet succeeded in curing his countrymen of cynicism.
I for one accept Vlad’s explanation. As a sort of creative person myself, I understand the urge to donate $2 billion’s worth of musical instruments to the KGB.
One wonders how many of the other 2,000 of Putin’s known launderers boast the cellist’s creativity. Why oh why didn’t I take cello lessons when a child in Moscow?