In the book “the Greeks and the Irrational”, the idea of a shame-based society is applied to ancient Greece. I was fascinated by this concept because it suggests that the village or community has a collective identity and a collective understanding of impropriety- hence the idea that, in Classical law, a person is considered guilty until they demonstrate their innocence or appeal for the Jury’s understanding. A “Guilt based” society is more urban and individualistic. I am a 21st Century urban animal – if I have done nothing wrong, I have no need to explain my actions: I do not live in the ancient world. As a rule, if I have done something wrong and I am overeager to defend myself, I look fairly guilty. Often, therefore, in today’s world, a dignified silence is the best approach.
This evening, Moscow has begun a fairly impressive fightback against the Navalny uprising. On Turkish TV, a very impressive journalist, Sevil Nuriyeva, presented what amounts to the Kremlin defence. It had five major points. Firstly, and most importantly, that the Navalny show was staged by unnamed powers in the West intent on destabilising the Kremlin regime, and that Navalny is financed by western powers. Some of this has been suggested before. Secondly, a flat denial that the Black sea palace is Putin’s- it is a government building. Thirdly, a clarification of the reason for Navalny’s current 30 day detention- specifically, that he has failed to appear at a police station in line with the parole agreement reached after the 2013 suspended sentence. Fourthly, that the Kremlin has a tradition of permitting protests to take place because it is a proven way to flush out the organisers and put them under arrest. The threat is clear- they can expect to be arrested in the coming days and weeks. Fifthly and finally, a piece of polemic, partly put forward by Mr Putin himself on 17th December when he answered the BBC journalist, Steve Rosenberg. If Russia intended to kill its enemies, he teased, it would do so efficiently and effectively. The whole aura of nerve gas, the argument goes, is a Western image that conjures up teh worst excesses of the cold war and cannot be proven to have been sourced in Russia if indeed such nerve agents actually exist. Again, there are demands for Germany to provide the evidence or to give Russian agents access to the material being investigated.
There is one final statement that has emerged- that at least two people are being groomed to succeed Mr Putin and neither of these are called Navalny.
Ms Nuriyeva knows Russia well and understands the way things work. What she has said today is paralleled by other reports coming out of Moscow. This is, in other words, a targeted response. It is also a thoughtful approach and a good analysis of the material available. I think it is wrong.
Moscow has moved from outright denial to a very specific and cogent presentation that makes the Kremlin the victim of the story. It is accompanied by new reports that reduce the numbers of arrests and of the crowds that apparently assembled across Russia on Saturday. I will not question these revisions Instead, I will stick to the five points that Ms Nuriyeva has put forward.
I hesitate to answer each point in turn but here goes- I think there is no doubt that Mr Navalny is financed by powers in the West, but these are almost certainly Russian exiles. I have referred to at least one and I have strong suspicions about others. For what Navalny has sourced so far, it is certainly not necessary to have CIA access of spycraft. It can be explained away very simply by arrogance and stupidity on the part of the russian agents themselves. These same agents have already demonstrated a marked degree of stupidity in claiming to have visited Salisbury to chjeck the height of the spire. The only reason to visit Salisbury is frankly in celebration of the 3 paintings done by Constable, and of these there was no mention at all.
There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that Putin stays in the Black sea palace complex. Artists have performed for him there and been paid with lavish gifts. Some of them have not kept their mouths shut. It is certainly possible that Putin’s friends in the government are also welcomed to the Palace but the fact that his toy car collection is on display suggests something more personal than a Government bolt hole.
While the parole offence is a reasonable excuse for detention, the 24 hour deadline, the lack of notice and most significantly the bundling of extra charges suggest that this is not a routine follow-up investigation. The last two points are rehetorical and fairly well rehearsed, the first, that protests are allowed as a way to identify the ring-leaders is clearly a threat and the second is a scary statement that sends shivers down my back- “if we wanted to kill someone, we would”. There is a list of people who have died in unexplained ways, all of whom have fallen foul of the Russian regime. There is also fairly good evidence of the use of poisons, whether radioactive or chemical. If the conversation Mr Navalny had with Kardryacheb is ignored, and I think this would be to overlook a central piece of evidence, then Mrs May’s statement after the Salisbury incident is still decisive here- either the Kremlin is responsible for the poisoning or it has let these weapons get into the hands of unidentifed terrorists. There is, of course, the argument that all the evidence is fabricated and that there has never been any radioactive poisoning, or any chemical attacks at all.
I would like to think the best of the Russian government. I like Russia and I enjoy my trips to Moscow. I am also of the opinion, as the great man John Maynard Keynes said, that “when the facts change, I change my mind.” I make no claims at all to infallibility and I am eager to bow to better knowledge than my own; however, the facts, as presented, do not seem to me to be scuppered by the defence that is now being paraded.
As for the novel idea, the first we have ever heard of this, that successors are being readied to follow Mr Putin- that seems to me to confirm my fears that Mr Putin realises how badly he has been damaged. I think it is only a matter of time.
Teatime with Tim- who knows what subjects will come up in discussion!