Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
This book is a very timely reminder of the perils that Russia continues to present to civilised Western nations. Our governments are welcoming a very strange country - Russia is joining the World Trade Organisation, and will be president (for goodness’ sake) of the G20 in 2013. Deception shines a spotlight on the dark and turbid world of Russian crony capitalism, and how the cessation of the Cold War has not diminished the power of the Russian secret services in the running of their nation. (Few nations of any size have a former spy as their head of state). To put this into context, the FSB (the successor to the KGB) employs 300,000 people – more than the US Marine Corps (and c. twice the size of Great Britain’s total armed forces).
Lucas is a senior editor at the Economist, and former Moscow station chief; he is supremely qualified to write this book. It opens with the tale of the Russian government’s persecution of Bill Browder, and his firm, Hermitage Capital Management, culminating in how its assets were expropriated by criminals with state connections. Whilst little of this is new news, Lucas’ clinical dissection of the way the state dismembered Hermitage is a salutary warning to anyone considering doing business in Russia. Lucas does not spare ink in detailing how Hermitage’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was imprisoned, tortured and murdered. That those responsible soon received top awards makes the tale even more repugnant.
The fate of the average Russian is often overlooked by Western politicians as they welcome Russia to the fold. Lucas quotes an estimate of $6bn a year of spending disappearing in bribes, whilst other estimates go as high as half of all public spending disappearing into the yawning pockets of gangsters and officials.
From my several visits to Russia, most of what Lucas writes is eminently plausible. There is one issue where my knowledge overlaps with his, and where in my view he has been overly seduced into a conspiracy theory. Stephen Curtis was the lawyer for Mikhail Khorodovsky, a plutocrat who rubbed Putin up the wrong way. Only a few months after Khorodovsky’s arrest, Curtis died in a helicopter crash near Bournemouth.
Spies, lies and how Russia dupes the West
Edward Lucas, Bloomsbury, 2012
The late Magnitisky