There’s something awkwardly touching about Robert Coalson’s enduring faith. Like a child closing her eyes and reciting “I do believe in fairies” three times, he is imbued with the certainty that Russia’s collapse is just around the next corner. And he yearns for it: hard to say why, he must have his reasons, but he doggedly picks through the gimcrackery on show each month and weeds out the gems he believes showcase Russia’s savagery, authoritarian despotism and unfitness to be part of the civilized world. Although it is clearly a labor of love, it must be a hard row to hoe these days, as the country folk say. Russia’s stubborn refusal to collapse on schedule must be disappointing. But like a good zealot, he simply sighs and moves on to the next article of faith.
This post is only peripherally about Coalson, though, because it was his cautious excitement expressed in a Tweet – which I still think is about as mildly stupid a means of communication as writing simple messages on your naked buttocks with a Sharpie marker and bending over to display your intellectual bankruptcy to the world – over an article by certified paint-chip-eater Leonid Bershidsky (Thanks, Peter).
I don’t mean to imply – by calling him a paint-chip eater – that Bershidsky is stupid: far from it. In fact, he is a gifted writer with an elegant, readable narrative style and a command of English that is nothing short of remarkable, assuming it is his second language and that Russian is his first. But like so many, perhaps all of the kreakly (for those not familiar with the term, it is a portmanteau of “creative class”, but beginning with “k” to ensure the hard sound prevails), his creativity is hopelessly enslaved to saccharine liberal daydreams in which the prodding and jibing of the west against Russia are simply examples of tough love on the part of an exasperated parent who just wants Russia to get off its tookus and be all it can be. These dreamers often come from well-to-do and highly educated families with foreign connections, partially or wholly educated abroad; young Leonid, for example, was educated in California and received his MBA from Insead in Fontainebleu, France. He was the founding editor of Vedomosti, a joint project of The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, neither of them Putin fans by any stretch of the imagination. Young Leonid left his university studies to return to Moscow, driven by a dream that Russia would join the European Union, and seems to blame Putin because it never did; it is clear he has a hate on for Putin. But although Putin strove for closer integration with the European Union, highly-placed analysts were unambiguous that Russia would “never be ready“, a view that is all the more comical now for western scrabbling to try to seize Ukraine for a prize for the EU despite its rampant corruption, ruined economy and recent appetite for Nazi displays of repressive power. Russia is too big, and not submissive enough, refusing to tug its forelock to the west.
Depressingly familiar also in Bershidsky’s thinking is the reverence of the kreakly for the oligarchs, and their entirely unsubstantiated conviction that with great wealth comes a great desire to do good, exemplified in his article on Roman Abramovich extolling the good that rich businessmen are capable of – and that much is true – coupled to a naive conviction that they will; “But whatever the businessman’s reasons for running in Chukotka, there is a certain justice in one of Russia’s wealthiest people trying to win votes in one of the nation’s poorest regions. One hopes Abramovich is not without his share of decency and some of the wealth will rub off on Chukotka.” Is it just me, or does this remind anyone else of Yulia Latynina’s batty rant that only the wealthy should be allowed to vote, because only those who are not hungry can be trusted not to vote with their bellies? And is anyone else curious why wealthy businessmen are accorded the status of minor gods in Kreakletown, while Vladimir Putin – alleged by the same social demographic to be the wealthiest man in Russia – is a shitheel they can’t wait to get rid of? Is it perhaps because they know he doesn’t really have any money?
Yes, wealthy businessmen almost invariably lift up the poor around them to an ecstasy of prosperity. Like Kolomoisky did for Dnepropetrovsk. Or Akhmetov for the Donbass coal miners, many of whom are spitting out the window of Rolls-Royces right now, thanks to his munificence.
And so it was with weary resignation that I came upon the latest wild tangent of reasoning by Bershidsky; although he is a “Russian patriot” who was moved to see Russia “get up off its knees” (since 1991, a period that seems deliberately contrived to spread the process so as to make it appear Putin had nothing much to do with that resolution and repair, despite the fact that the late 90’s nearly saw the complete collapse of Russia), he took his place in the “fifth wave of emigration” because it was fundamentally dishonest for him to contribute his Russian tax rubles to the theft of Crimea. Yes, folks, even though Crimea was a gift to Ukraine by the First Secretary of the Soviet Union which was accomplished without soliciting the opinion of anyone else in Russia, Ukraine’s claim on it is the only legitimate one. Fuck what the people who live there think.
It’s a pity I have tired myself out, and just feel disappointed and uninspired now that I have at last come to what I wanted to talk about – not Leonid Bershidsky at all, but an article written by him which overturns the silly story that Capo di tutti cappi Putin not only owned a massive, sprawling mansion in the Marbella Regione of Spain, but that he planned to occupy his twilight years in the sunny vineyards, growing grapes so rare and precious that if a bottle of their wine was stolen, Putin would burn local villages in reprisal. Okay, that’s a little hyperbolic, but apparently these grapes are something else, very rare, just the sort of thing that would appeal to an it’s all-about-me dictator like Putin.
And now it transpires that the ritzy complex has nothing to do with Putin. We know this because Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption scouts ferreted out the real owner, Zoya Ponomareva, daughter of Valery Ponomarev. Bershidsky spends the rest of the piece reframing “nothing at all to do with Putin” so that readers understand that really all expensive property owned by Russian political figures belongs to Putin, and they’re just kind of holding it for him until he decides to take possession.
I don’t know what’s the more depressing – Bershidsky’s flushed-face defense of all-or-nothing liberalism and its values, or the fact that the kreakly will only believe that a stinking-rich scam has nothing to do with the country’s leader when they are so informed by a twice-convicted criminal who has no regard whatsoever for the rule of law, and picks and chooses those he will obey and those he will not.