Since Putin and his gang control what Lenin described as “the commanding heights of the economy” in Russia, access to them is the only way for foreign companies to secure lucrative contracts there.
It’s only business, nothing personal, goes the line from The Godfather, but any business with organised crime has to be personal. Those operating outside the law have to trust their partners, and those dons (or presidents) don’t dispense trust lightly.
Hence close personal links with them are a precious commodity worth a fortune. Introduce an intrepid entrepreneur to the godfather, vouch for him and you can charge whatever fee the market will bear. And, when it comes to contacts with Russian billionaire gangsters, the market will bear an awful lot.
This explains the sting operation by The Times, publicising that HRH Prince Michael of Kent flogs access to the Kremlin for princely amounts, charging lump sums plus per diems of some £10,000.
I’ve written ‘publicised’ rather than ‘revealed’ because this outrage has been known for a long time. That’s how Prince and Princess Michael of Kent got me in trouble some 10 years ago – and also taught me a lesson about our free press.
Princess Michael was having a public, nay demonstrative, ‘close friendship’ with a young Russian Mafioso Mikhail Kravchenko. The couple shared a hotel suite in Venice and were photographed by a swarm of paparazzi acting lovey-dovey on romantic walks and gondola rides.
Soon thereafter Kravchenko was shot up full of holes in the centre of Moscow, and a scandal broke out. Rumours were making the rounds that the assassination had something to do with Prince Michael’s unpaid debts to the gangsters.
The rumours were never confirmed, but that was the first time the public found out that the prince was hobnobbing with shadowy Russians whose wealth had a dubious provenance.
I wrote about this in The Mail, suggesting that, if our royals wished to hasten the advent of a republic in Britain, that was exactly the way to behave. Little did I know that the prince was Her Majesty’s favourite cousin.
The Palace issued a complaint, and The Mail got rid of me with enviable haste. After all, I was already on a warning after an earlier article advocating equal rights for heterosexuals. (Boris Johnson, then London’s mayor, had allowed a homosexual pressure group to advertise on city buses, while banning a Christian group from responding in the same medium.)
I hope that the same fate won’t befall the intrepid reporters from The Times and Channel 4, who posed as South Koreans in the gold business wishing to pursue Russian contacts. His Royal Highness charged them £200,000, stressing the benefits to be derived from his links with the Kremlin.
The links have been cultivated over a lifetime. To that end, Prince Michael has painstakingly cultivated the Nicholas II look, knowing how soppy today’s Russians can get about their massacred royalty.
He also learned Russian to a reasonable standard, certainly sufficient to communicate simple messages, such as “one hand washes the other”, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” and “trust this man, he’s one of us.”
Such efforts have been richly rewarded both financially and symbolically. Prince Michael is a proud recipient of one of Russia’s highest decorations, the Order of Friendship of Peoples, an honour he shares with George Blake, whose links with the Kremlin were even closer than HRH’s, and Roman Abramovich, currently banned from entry to the UK.
I don’t know how to describe this situation without laying myself open to the slings and arrows of a lawsuit. Suffice it to say that Russia is currently identified as the highest security threat to the West in general and Britain in particular, although China has a good shout at claiming this distinction.
As a result, Russia has had her economic wrist slapped on several occasions. A new batch of sanctions against Putin’s criminal regime were imposed by all Western powers after an attempt to murder the opposition figure Alexei Navalny with novichok, a battle nerve agent.
These nicely complemented a whole raft of other sanctions incurred by Russia for such criminal acts as the London poisoning of the defector Litvinenko with polonium, the novichok attack on the Skripals and murder of a bystander in Salisbury (both Litvinenko and Skripal were British subjects, by the way), dozens of other murders and of course the invasion of the Ukraine.
The aim of the sanctions is both punitive and didactic. Western powers want to punish the crimes already committed and prevent others by cutting off funding and investments into Russia, thereby trying to teach Putin a thing or two about decent behaviour.
If this is a partial blockade of that regime, then Prince Michael acts as a blockade-runner. He assured the fake Korean businessmen that the sanctions in no way weakened his links with the Kremlin, while his associate described Prince Michael as “Her Majesty’s unofficial ambassador to Russia”.
That’s one way to describe him.