Look who’s talking

When the wrong people say the right things, the message loses some of its poignancy.

Just imagine Dr Goebbels preaching racial equality, Dr Mengele lecturing on medical ethics or Dr Shipman urging better care for the elderly, and you’ll know what I mean.

It’s in that spirit that anyone should ponder Col. Putin’s latest statement. Delivering one of his customary diatribes against the West, KGB Vlad said that “teaching children to change sex is tantamount to a crime against humanity.”

While wholeheartedly agreeing with the sentiment, hyperbolic though it is, I still wish it were expressed by a more credible figure. Good people who correctly identify Putin as evil will now be tempted to support this sinister educational outrage, or at least to tone down their opposition to it.

“If you think children shouldn’t be encouraged to change gender,” I can hear Guardian readers say, “you’re no better than Putin.” As far as logic is concerned, that retort doesn’t pass muster. But it could act effectively as a conversation stopper (it has stopped some of mine, with me ill-advisedly firing the parting shrapnel of abuse).

Credit where it’s due, Vlad’s rating of what is and what isn’t a crime should carry some weight because he is no slouch in that area. I shan’t bore you with a full list of Putin’s crimes because they are publicised widely enough. But take my word for it – he is an expert.

In fact, recently one reporter had the temerity to ask Putin at a press conference why he imprisons everyone who opposes him. Vlad’s reply must go down in history as an aphoristic masterstroke. “Not everyone is in prison,” he said. The word ‘yet’ wasn’t uttered, but its unspoken presence hung in the air like a spooky ghost.

‘Like priest, like parish’, goes a Russian proverb. Hence not only Vlad himself, but also everyone in his entourage is a criminal. That emphatically includes all Russian billionaires, each granted a leasehold on his fortune.

The freehold remains in Vlad’s hands, which arrangement is reminiscent of the Russian Empire. There the tsar had the patrimonial ownership of all of the country’s land, with the nominal owners of vast estates fully aware they could be dispossessed with a single stroke of the royal pen.

The same goes for the so-called oligarchs who act as Putin’s moneybags. Vlad can dip into those bags at will, demanding, for example, that people like Abramovich or Rotenberg bankroll such giant projects as the Olympics or the Crimean bridge.

One of the most criminalised ‘oligarchs’ is Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium king. He is under personal sanctions in the US, and is about to be charged with such peccadilloes as extortion, laundering money for Putin, racketeering, unlawful tapping of a state official’s phone and making murder threats.

Yet the US isn’t like Russia in that the properties of even suspected criminals can’t be confiscated at the drop of a hat. Thus Deripaska is still holding on to mansions in New York and Washington, house-sat by his relations.

The house in Washington is particularly grand. Deripaska bought this 23-bedroom, 21,000 sq.ft mansion near the prestigious Embassy Row for $15 million in 2006. That house, along with Deripaska’s New York mansion, was the other day raided by police.

The search went on for 10 hours, but the findings haven’t yet been revealed. Somehow I doubt they are significant anyway – gangsters know how to cover their tracks.

Yet it’s not just expensive dwellings that Deripaska buys. He is also in the market for British politicians, who are much cheaper. His latest purchase is our former chancellor, George Osborne, who is to be paid millions for helping Deripaska inveigle himself into the British establishment.

George, it has to be said, has a taste for Russian cash, laundered squeaky clean through the KGB network of offshore companies and brass plates. His previous employer was The Evening Standard, owned by the career KGB officer Alexander Lebedev and his son Evgeny, now Lord Lebedev.

Evgeny became a peer of the realm courtesy of his good friend Boris Johnson, who thus rewarded Evgeny’s invaluable contribution to the London party scene. As far as I know, that friendly gesture wasn’t preceded by any due diligence of where the Lebedev capital came from – not that any was really needed.

(This reminds me of the old Soviet joke. A man is arrested for throwing blank sheets of paper into the crowd. “What are you doing?” ask the cops. “Giving out leaflets.” “But there’s nothing written there!” “Why,” wonders the man, “is anything still unclear?”)

Deripaska, Lebedev, Abramovich et al. are Putin’s tentacles reaching into the inner sancta of Western governmental, media and financial institutions the better to grab hold of them. One of their tasks is to buy, wholesale or retail, any number of influential figures in those fields.

However, it’s possible to buy only what’s for sale. And one has to admit, with agonising sadness, that most of our politicians, financiers and journalists have price tags dangling off their necks.

Putin, their mediated paymaster, knows this, which is why he is openly contemptuous of them. And the worst thing about this is that his contempt is often justified – as it is in his reference to the current trans frenzy.

Perhaps Vlad can find a few more quid to make our politicians change their tune on that theme. That just may put a stop to this crime against humanity – you never know your luck.

3 thoughts on “Look who’s talking”

  1. “teaching children to change sex is tantamount to a crime against humanity.”

    Since such advocacy involves possibly ruining the lives of tens of thousands you can make a case it IS a crime against human.

  2. I don’t know if pollsters have tried to measure Putin’s “approval rating” in Russia, or even whether there is a reliable way to measure it in a system where many people would reflexively refrain from expressing genuine disapproval to pollsters for fear of reprisals. But I wonder if the degradation of culture in the West is giving Putin an opportunity to build popularity by simply standing in opposition to Western decadence and assuring Russians that the disease will not spread to their country.

    1. This is an astute observation. But the situation isn’t new: for Putin, read every Russian ruler for centuries. The Russians have always defined themselves mainly apophatically, by their opposition to the West. If we go by their official ideology, the country has always been in transition, whereas the West has always been portrayed as a static monolyth. The country’s progress has been defined by how close she could get to the West materially, while retaining he unmatched spirituality. The message was: yes, we are poor, enslaved and in a constant state of civil strife. But at least WE ARE NOT THE WEST, with its materialism, decadence, degeneracy and whatever. And you are right: these days we in the West try out hardest to make that message plausible.

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