“Wide-scale infiltration of Western of the Western financial system by Russian organised crime started right on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union … The main players of the game were high-ranking officials of the Soviet Communist Party, top KGB leadership and top bosses of the criminal underworld.” – Yury Shvets, former KGB official
an impressive, & in places, hugely incisive scrutiny of Vladimir Putin’s rise, reign & methods, along with the implications for “the west” & areas of strategic interest to the Kremlin. it has garnered effulgent praise from other specialists in the field such as Oliver Bullough & Peter Pomerantsev. all entirely justified, although it is worth pointing out with immediacy that certain omissions apply. although fairly well ensconced in the subject, i am no codex for the full FSB/Russian oligarch & gangster pantheon, & lashings of the latter pour out of the books pages, from obscure fleeting footnoters to major players & innovators still very much embroiled in ongoing activity, influence & intervention. but for certain, one alarmingly conspicuous absence in a book written by a London based author is Evgeny & Alexander Lebedev. considering the territory, research & focus of the book, it is, nothing short of extraordinary, that only the brusquest & singular mention of the Lebedevs occurs right at the exordium of the book, & never again. this is concerning & demands explanation. it is worth clarifying that Catherine Belton was the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times from 2007-2013. the FT is not renowned for its journalistic depth, & is essentially a business compendium for rich fuckers that looks at everything through the lens of the market. Belton also wrote for Business Week & in 2008, was shortlisted for Business Journalist of the Year at British Press Awards. this doesn’t necessarily dull the blade, but we must factor this into account.
as serious as this suspicious exclusion is, let’s just concentrate on what the book does tell us, some of which, certainly in it’s detail, is tremendous with a huge wealth of sources & dialogue.
the main drive of the book is tracing the transformation following the collapse of the USSR. the KGB (now FSB) & organized crime converging & assuming power through the Kremlin & via Putin. the kleptocracy, seizures of state & private sector assets & sources of revenue, the feuding, conflict & reconfiguration of power, influence, proprietorship & expansion of ordained oligarchy, providing Putin personally approved, loyalty was submitted & the Kremlin was heralded by the beneficiaries.
the Cold War never ended, at least not on the Russian side, who simply changed tactics (influence, infiltration, disruption, sabotage, & a covert campaign of direct corruption).
the West wasn’t just foolish & complacent, but corrupt & corruptible. Russia’s “black cash”, semi-secure in the claws of various oligarchs -the massive majority of which were loyal proxies & agents of the Kremlin – branched out to “infect” the West. London, a staple of rich Russian expatriates, was a walkover, with its appallingly lax laws for “investors” &/or plutocrats of any kind. it is not called “the money laundering capital of the world” for nothing.
as if the UK’s financial sector did not afford enough easy access to dirty cash & criminal revenue, the Conservative parties toll-free mega-port to turbo corruption, capture, bribery & open-ended political prostitution without limit, was the perfect, & i mean perfect, apparatus & environment for Russian black cash & collusion.
this is where the Lebedev bit comes in, & the current, supremely-compromised Etonian super-quisling Boris Johnson. Johnson has made explicitly crystal clear his absolute serfdom, sycophancy & beyond-the-pale servitude for both Lebedevs. I am bored of this unbearable, gaping volcano of ultra treason, foreign servitude & herculean corruption … links are below.
& this is why it is so astonishing that Belton barely mentions the Lebedevs? is she worried? about what exactly? there is certifiably no way that they/the situation does not qualify for examination & inclusion.
the final chapter (which I actually read first) is called “The Network and Donald Trump“. as you may expect, should you have done even negligible research into this man’s long-running, inextricable intercourse with a whole colony of filthy, shadowy & supra-dubious Russian/ex-USSR “businessmen”/mobsters/agents/fraudsters/fronts, it is a remorselessly egregious indictment. the notorious Felix Sater & Arif Tevfrik feature heavily, along with a ghoul squadron of scoundrels that located the perfect source of all-encompassing corruption in the diabolical Trump brand & franchise. – “They needed to find more subtle ways to launder cash through businesses and not directly through US banks. And there was Trump and his financial problems – it was a solution that was very much on time.”
this is a great book. yes, there are serious quandaries with absentees (funnily enough, Shamil Basayev is never even once mentioned, despite a profusion of detailed analyses of his dramatic terrorist attacks & their huge ramifications for Putin), but this is still richly informing material. the conclusions are also presumably left to be quickly grasped, as the Lebedevs & obscene Conservative compromise/corruption to Russian/Kremlin donors & entryists are talked about in everything except name. sitting along Nothing is True and Everything is Possible & The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep (David Satter), Putin’s People is a valuable & alarming tranche of information.
Catherine Belton, William Collins, 2020, 500 pages