On Gaien Higashi Dori
Monday, October 27
Guarded Respect for a Slack-Jawed Oligarch
Every weekend we see the lolling "I'm heavily sedated or I've just had amazing sex" slack-jawed smile of one Roman Abramovich, a blonde at his side, watching a football match somewhere in Britain. We christened him a nonce when his newly-bought Chelsea beat Liverpool on the opening day of this season.
Slack-jawed nonce he may be, but today's news from Russia proves that he is a cunningly adept slack-jawed nonce. In Roman's Reasons, the BBC documented his real motivations for buying Chelsea soon after the deal was made. Put simply, he was looking for an international profile to make his position in Russia safer as Putin attacked the oligarchs who snapped up Russia's resources for peanuts when Yeltsin, backed by the IMF, gave away the country's resources to gangsters after the fall of communism.
Abramovich, unlike his former mentor Berezovsky, has managed to keep afloat as Putin and the Kremlin try to take Russia back. How? By keeping a low profile at home and building a high profile abroad. By becoming Governor of some boondock called Chukotka and pumping millions into building its infrastructure.
Two of the biggest pieces of the Russian oil pie carved up and given away by Yeltsin were Yukos and Sibneft. Russia's richest person, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owns Yukos, and Russia's second richest, Abramovich, took control of Sibneft when Big Boris Berezovsky was forced to do a runner to London. The two Russian oil giants decided to merge in April this year. As the merger was announced, Khodorkovsky basked in the limelight while Abramovich shunned the cameras he now plays up to so often in England.
Yesterday, Putin moved for Khodorkovsky, sending in the special forces to arrest him from his private jet and put him in prison on corruption and tax evasion charges. Political? Definitely. But as Khodorkovsky faces some less than cordial KGB-style hospitality in Moscow, lolling Roman is still slack-jawed and loving it in London.