And vice versa, it has to be said.
Witness the petition signed by 13 Russian recipients of the Légion d’honneur in defence of Suleyman Kerimov, a Russian billionaire arrested in Nice.
If you want to be technical about it, Mr Kerimov is actually a Dagestani Lezgin. But, when a chap makes billions in Putin’s Russia, he has been blessed by the laying on of Russian hands, ascending thereby to the celestial spirituality only true Russianness can confer.
The Nice authorities took exception to Mr Kerimov’s practice of buying properties at falsified low prices, thereby evading tax. Some of those purchases involved fraudulent third parties, which isn’t very Nice either.
As a parallel and enabling activity, Mr Kerimov is alleged to have carried into France his dirty laundry, which is to say suitcases full of cash to be scrubbed clean through French financial institutions.
Now can we please skip this ‘alleged’ business? Yes, I know Kerimov hasn’t been found guilty yet, but anyone who understands Russians knows he’s as guilty as Cain. And if he isn’t, he’ll be acquitted in the subsequent trial.
What the French don’t understand is the cultural differences. In Russia, laws don’t extend to billionaires, which is to say Putin’s friends – an amity that’s a precondition for serious enrichment. Laws are for hoi polloi, not for the new aristocracy formed by the fusion of secret police and organised crime.
So how was Kerimov to know that, in France, proximity to Putin isn’t sufficient to place a chap into the ultra sphere above the law? If he chooses to rinse a few suitcases’ worth of cash and then use it to cheat Nice out of tax revenue, what’s wrong with that?
That’s the underlying message conveyed by the petition. One of its signatories, the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, had his own brush with the bloody-minded French a few years ago.
He and his jolly friends were arrested in Courchevel for running a prostitution ring. However, the inquiry showed that, though the travelling circus did come staffed with a few ladies of easy virtue, they were used strictly for home consumption and not as a commercial proposition.
Mr Prokhorov was duly released with humble apologies and subsequently even awarded the Légion d’honneur. His friends, however, wouldn’t be so easily mollified.
By way of revenge, they bought Courchevel’s only disco and shut it down, thereby depriving the resort of its cultural, social and pharmacological hub. One would have thought that the French would learn their lesson, but they’re proving obtuse.
Rather than explaining the cultural differences, the petition signatories, who also include Putin’s court musicians Gergiev and Bashmet, stress the humanitarian aspect of the affair.
They beg the French authorities to treat Kerimov “with humanity and humanism, not to jeopardise his life, and to allow him to return to the medical help essential to sustaining his life.” The text is as awful in Russian as it is in my translation, but then Messrs Gergiev and Bashmet prefer to express their spirituality musically, while Mr Prokhorov expresses it arithmetically.
But the emotional effect of their missive is heart-rending. Hold on, let me wipe the tears and catch my breath. Now, what’s the nature of the danger to Mr Kerimov’s life, which is exacerbated by French beastliness?
A few years ago he crashed his Ferrari speeding through La Promenade des Anglais in that same Nice. As a result, he and his companion, the sexy TV presenter Tina Kandelaki, suffered bad burns.
I don’t know how Miss Kandelaki handles the damage, nor how Mrs Kerimov felt about that vehicular mishap, but Mr Kerimov has to wear flesh-coloured gloves to conceal his scars. There may be other damage as well, for all I know.
So clearly those French people are beasts, locking up this man manacled to the wall of a damp cell with no access to medical help… Hold on another second. It turns out nothing quite so bad has befallen Mr Kerimov.
The French authorities simply took his passport away and told him to stay in Nice for the duration of the investigation. Not quite the Gulag, is it?
I can see how staying in Nice, especially out of season, may constitute inhuman treatment for some people, though perhaps not for Mr Kerimov, whose affection for the place hasn’t been diminished by its draconian traffic laws designed to punish Ferrari drivers.
One thing I reject out of hand is the implied suggestion that only by leaving for Moscow would Mr Kerimov be able to get the life-saving medical help he so badly needs.
One reason Russian criminalised oligarchs spend so much time in the West is precisely that qualified medical help is available here and not available in Russia. Russian medicine is like Russian laws, there only for the plebs.
It’s not the only reason: oligarchs’ children are educated in the West, their money is laundered and kept in the West, their yachts are moored in the West. The West, in other words, may be bereft of the Russians’ celestial spirituality, but it makes up for it in the quality of its earthly amenities.
Now I too petition the French authorities to take immediate action in response to this entreaty. What I have in mind is revoking the Légion d’honneur of all 13 signatories and telling them to shut up, mind their own business and refrain from submitting mendacious drivel to civilised countries.