Just a week ago, the well known media owner Alexander Lebedev was launching new publications in the UK (at a moment when few others are supporting print media), releasing high-minded missives across YouTube denouncing Russian corruption, and lobbying for international support for threatened journalists and other victims of violence in the media. Today, it appears he is being “held” by the Russian police (though that news could change at any moment), while dozens of masked policemen armed to the teeth have raided his National Reserve Bank over unclear fraud allegations. While the police had up until the moment never formally requested any information from Lebedev, apparently the officers were particularly interested in seizing all the files related to this bank’s takeover of Rossiisky Bank.
This doesn’t look good at all, and the similarities to other cases are embarrassingly apparent, even including lots of informative chitchat from Stanislav Belkovsky, who is cooking up rumors about Lebedev wanting to “legitimize his wealth” and how the involvement of bailout funds from the state represented “grounds” for a probe.
The videos and sudden attempt to get more political indicate anawareness on behalf of Lebedev that the attack was coming. It’spossible, of course, that Lebedev has fallen in between rival clansof the Kremlin over this small transaction, but for a person in suchhigh standing who for so long now has posed zero threat to theestablished power vertical, this kind of raid must have requiredsomeone’s permission at a high level.
At the moment, it’s impossible to know what was the cause of all this… but at least we can conclude that the masked men with Kalashnikovs(equipped to take out Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway) weren’t looking forillegal copies of Microsoft Windows. Did Novaya Gazeta publishsomething that was intolerably abberant, such as the four-page interviewwith Khodorkovsky? Highly doubtful. The Lebedev-as-dissident storyline will also need some more work before it is conceivable. Was the removal of Yuri Luzhkov – a longtime opponent of Lebedev – akin to a load-bearing beam, creating flux among competing centers of influence in state business? It’s hard to tell, but there are aggressive moves being made, and the referee is out to lunch.
It’s funny how the Russian system can’t seem to take one step forwardwithout three steps back in other areas, with Lebedev getting the Hermitage treatment only days after the Strategy-31 protesters were finally given permission to hold their opposition rallies. It’s the new legal nihilism: it looks like reform, it smells like modernization, and it’s nothing but good news for all the smiles, handshakes, and champagne from Washington to Paris and Berlin. Who, at this point, is the one acting like a nihilist? That’s the real magic of this exhausted and sick disappointment.