Today I watched a documentary Putin’s Secret Riches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgDCRegyo7Q )which was shown on the BBC’s Panorama yesterday evening. Besides his probable involvement in poisoning Mr. Litvinenko, the Russian president is accused of looting his own country on an extraordinary scale. With his official salary of $110,000 a year, Putin is said to be in possession of $40bn in secret shareholdings – the fact which he, naturally, denies. He denies it in his usual boorish style: “They picked that information out of their own noses and smeared it all over their little papers.” However, the correspondent Richard Bilton is rather convincing in his argumentation when he produces documents proving Mr. Putin’s riches, plays back wire-tapped phone conversations, and interviews people, some of whom themselves had helped Putin to accumulate that wealth but later fell out with their patron, fled their homeland and are now on the run in other countries.

Actually, the BBC didn’t tell anyone here, in Ukraine, what we hadn’t suspected about Putin before. The same, we knew, was the case with the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The tradition to profit from one’s job position, to use it as a personal enrichment machine by robbing one’s own country blind goes back to the Russian czars’ times.

I’m sure, the Russians won’t be surprised or indignant over the disclosed facts about their president either. “So what?” will they say, “the guy (the President) had a chance which anyone in his place would have used.” That’s why, when Brian Whitmore in his latest Daily Vertical says that the mask has come off the Putin regime for much of the world and now it remains to wonder how long it’ll be before it comes off for the Russians themselves, I smile at the naivety of these words and say to myself, “Never. Never will the mask come off for the Russians. They don’t want it to come off. They canonized czar Nicholas II into a saint, at the same time they line up in Red Square to pay homage to Lenin, the embalmed murderer of the czar; they brought Stalin (a murderer of millions upon millions of the people) back into existence, and they will be ready to idolize any nonentity just for being a “czar”…

There’s an interesting cross-cultural moment in Richard Bilton’s film which, I think, the correspondent has overlooked. While discussing Putin’s financial matters over the phone, not to reveal the true owner of the money his agents use the name “Mikhail Ivanovich” as an alias for their boss. That’s a traditional nickname for a “bear” in Russian fairy tales for children. With “Mikhail Ivanovich” being respectively the first name and the patronymic name, the surname “Toptygin” (“Trampler”) is often added to them. So, Vladimir Putin… Mihail Ivanovich Toptygin, the Russian bear… The name which, for Russians, evokes fear, respect and nostalgic love.


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