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January 26, 2012 at 17:21

A brief response to some critics

A week ago I wrote a column in The Guardian about the trial between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky.

I argued that it shouldn't distract us from the vast fraud that has been perpetrated by corrupt Russian businessman on ordinary Russians since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The column ran at full length on Comment is Free and a much smaller, edited version appeared in the paper.

Many of the comments left beneath the article (153 at the time of writing) are entertaining.

I have always felt that, rather than be dismissed as wacky by journalists not used to such rapid responses, those who leave comments should be thought of as advisers with a stake in the paper's future.

But there are also a few absurd suggestions which I think it's important to refute.

I didn’t summon NATO to occupy Russia. Rather, I argued that the outrageous corruption in Russia is a matter which Western institutions with political influence, such as Nato, should know and care about.

To take two other examples, OSeanachainMor writes: "So we get lessons in how the oligarchs robbed Russia blind by one of the oligarchs who robbed Russia blind. Anybody else get the feeling that Mr. Lebedev left the most important bits out?"

And Drahdiwaberl writes:

***

"Are you (and your pal Gorbachev) stupid (well, we know he is), or do you think we are as naive as the Russians who did not know what capitalism was about because they did not want to believe what they'd heard from the communists?

"Competition" and trade have never been "fair" , as anyone who has been involved in any of them could tell you. "proper procedures" are a laugh. There is not and has never been a "free" market, as Adam Smith was well aware.

Ultimately, competition must mean that there is a winner or a loser. And the winner is only a winner if he or she gets to monopolise the market.

So we are supposed to believe you are "fairer" or nicer than you other Russian oligarchs, or their western counterparts. Please don't insult our intelligence by writing this crap."

***

Let's take them in reverse order.

Well, 'Drahdiwaberl' gets one thing right: I am pals with Mikhail Gorbachev. Mikhail can defend himself, but anyone who calls him "stupid" would do well to reacquaint themselves with his contribution to modern history and the cause of democracy.

Then this commenter comes back to the point made by his predecessor, in questioning whether I am different to all the other "oligarchs".

First of all, you'll note that "oligarchs" is a word I didn't actually use myself, because it is a cliche.

It's ironic that a point I made in my conclusion - that, "together with the autocrats of the Kremlin, some controversial Russian businessmen have come to convey an image of Russia that is cruel, inhumane and deeply unjust" - is lost on those who presume that, because I am a Russian businessman myself, I must be an "oligarch".

And I'm sure the fact that I was an economic attache for our intelligence service doesn't help.

But I think it's worth repeating a few things for the record.

My businesses have been audited by KPMG.

I have a wide portfolio of interests, including the National Reserve Bank, airlines, potatoes, property, affordable housing, and publishing. I did not make a penny out of so called “Chubais privatization”, “ loans for shares”, etc.

Not many of the people described as "oligarchs" have either that breadth of commercial interest, or so many interests that are in the public good.

As for the bank, I think if you look over recent Russian history - and some of the court cases underway in countries where "oligarchs" have fled - you'll see there's a big difference between my bank and most Russian banks. In my bank, we didn't steal money from the poor. And in my bank, we didn't go in for corruption.

Of course because of my involvement in politics and the media, this won't be enough to convince some people.

But I hope that those who instinctively condemn people like me for caring about ideals like democracy and tackling corruption, will at least avoid lumping all Russian businessmen together, and knowing the facts before making baseless accusations.

Tags: Corruption

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