I began this blog a few months ago partly in response to a lecture given at Foyle’s by the British journalist and “historian” Martin Sixsmith.  I found this lecture, which was about Russian history, so upsetting that I felt obliged to respond it, which I did in a post on this blog.  This in turn led to a whole series of other posts about Russian affairs.

When I started this blog I was not aware of the existence of other English language blogs on Russian affairs written by people who either are Russian or who speak Russian and who are therefore by definition far more qualified to write about Russian affairs than me.  Now that I have become aware of these blogs it seems to me that rather than simply duplicate what they say I will confine myself in future to commenting on  Russian affairs in responses to these blogs:

Sublime Oblivion (now split into Da Russophile and Anatoly Karlin)
Kremlin Stooge
The Ivanov Report
Russia Other Points of View

This will free me to write about matters closer to home or about which I have something distinctive to say, such as for example the eurozone crisis.

I should say that I intend to make two exceptions to this rule.  One concerns legal matters that pertain to Russian affairs.  For example I have been researching for some time the allegations that continue to appear in the British press concerning Putin’s personal wealth and the sources of it.  The other concerns questions of historical interest where my original training as a historian I feel does qualify me to comment.  I have  for example recently read what are in my opinion seriously flawed books about the Crimean War (by Orlando Figes) and about the Russo Japanese War (the latter a subject that particularly interests me).  I have also read an exceptional book about the Kirov murder published as part of the outstanding series on Soviet history by Yale University Press.  That series is unique in Soviet and Russian studies in that it combines proper use of archive material with consideration of the work of contemporary Russian historians working in the field.  Lastly I have read two popular histories about Rasputin (one by Edvard Radzinsky), which though largely worthless as works of historical interpretation and analysis do between them at least have the merit of making public the relevant archive material, making it possible for the first time to arrive at a proper assessment of Rasputin’s personality, his relationship with the Empress, the vexed question of the extent of his political influence and the circumstances of his murder.  I hope at some point to write reviews and commentaries on all of these books.



  1. I’d be extremely interested to know what you discover regarding Putin’s personal wealth, since it is a major prop in the Russophobic argument that Putin is a vulture who only wants to run the country so he can suck it dry and build himself huge, elaborate palaces. This seems a witless argument, since those who have by trickery won huge fortunes from those who rightfully own them usually choose to flee with their money (Berezovsky et al). By the time he’s out of power, Putin will likely be so unpopular (thanks to relentless inveigling against him) that he would need a battalion of trusted soldiers to guard such a residence from harm. Similarly, if he just stole a lot of money, he’d have to run somewhere with it. Neither dominant western power (USA/UK) would protect him, and would in fact set to work to find and seize his assets. I think the whole thing is a crock.

    I don’t doubt power has its advantages, but I just don’t see Putin throwing billions into building a palace in Russia that he’ll have to live in after he’s not President/Prime Minister any more, or stealing billions that he could never access without betraying their existence. I think his personal legacy means more to Putin than that.

    • Dear Mark,

      I am going to do a thorough and detailed post on this issue but I will summarise my views as being:

      1. That the claims that Putin has amassed enormous personal wealth are unsubstantiated and almost certainly untrue;

      2. That the specific allegations involving Guvnor, Bank Rossiya, Gazprombank etc are also unsubstantiated and almost certainly untrue; and

      3. That Putin is definitely not the owner of the “Italian palace” on the Black Sea and never has been and that there has never been the slightest reason to think he was.

      The allegations are complex and they involve a large number of transactions some of which concern offshore companies so explaining why I think these things will take some time. When I get round to writing this post I will also advance my own theory about the reason for these transactions and will argue that it is not as sinister as many appear to think.

    • Alex, you are more qualified to write on Russia affairs than any number of journalists I can name. So please don’t let your lack of Russian inhibit you!

      As regards Putin’s personal wealth… When I was reading one of Nemtsov’s periodic “Independent Expert Reports” on Putin’s myriad failures, he mentioned another palace near St.-Petersburg that he claimed was renovated on ill-gotten money for the exclusive use of Putin and his chums. It’s name was Konstantinovo. The only problem was that I had been there in 2003… as part of a tourist group. $250 million was indeed spent on it, but that was to restore a Tsarist era palace that had fallen into neglect during the Soviet ears. It was used for official functions and conferences, but when it wasn’t, you could tour it for a small fee of admission. The guide made a joke about how the bridges on the moat surrounding the palace could be drawn up to imprison visiting VIP’s who drew Putin’s displeasure.

      So I am extremely skeptical for all these reasons about claims that Putin has $40 billion in his Swiss bank accounts (or $150 billion, the number just keeps rising and rising). It has the air of a classic smear to it – the original claim, in fact, as far as can be asserted came from the liberal politologist Stanislav Belkovsky – and at least one of those claims was disproved by my real life experience.

      I would not be too surprised if it one day emerges that Putin socked away a few millions to ensure himself against a very rainy day, e.g. a color revolution (which are only unimaginable until they actually happen). But I don’t think he did because he can very, very easily make those same millions fairly once he leaves office with the standard schedule of $100,000 a speech speaking fees, ghost-written autobiographies, etc. Someone like him who maintained high popularity levels for more than a decade while getting things done will surely be a welcome guest at many corporate conferences.

      • Dear Anatoly,

        Thank you for your kind words. I fully intend to comment on Russian matters. It’s just that I think that the better place to do it is on your blogs like yours and Mark’s and Eugene’s.

        On the subject of Putin’s wealth, you are absolutely right. He might conceivably have salted away the odd million (though there is absolutely no evidence that he has done so and why would he bother?) but talk of billions is absurd. Luke Harding’s claim made in my presence a few weeks ago that he is the richest man in Europe and “owns” Berlusconi is preposterous. It was this ridiculous and grossly slanderous comment (which the Guardian repeats at regular intervals including in its editorials), which decided me to check out the matter.

    • Some oligarchs fled, but most did not. There was no reason to, because they got guarantees of their ill-gotten gains from Putin.

      But you’re right, Putin probably didn’t steal a lot. Who needs money when you already have something much better — power.

  2. Sorry to hear that you’re dropping the russian focus here – found this blog to be one of the sharpest, with well-reasoned views on ongoing developments about Russia, something sadly lacking today…

  3. Alexander, forgive me for saying so but I cannot help but notice that your commentary on the other blogs you have linked above is so detailed – and often so divergent from the topics of their posts – that it in effect IS a blog. AK and KenM above have already said that lack of Russian language is no barrier to your quality writing, and at least one of these is himself writing on Russia. I would be excited to see you eat these words and take it up again?

    If I may also say that I enjoy your posts on
    Art & Culture (3)
    Economics (19)
    UK Politics (32)
    as well?

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