The following article was sent to me from a regular reader who wishes to remain anonymous. There may be Smoke on the Water in Moscow, but the only fires burning in many Russian towns are in wood stoves. It has been reported in the press that Russian behemoth Gazprom intends to celebrate its 15th anniversary this Monday with a private command performance concert by rock dinosaurs Deep Purple in the Kremlin’s cavernous Palace of Congresses – formerly the site of all those pompous Party Congresses. Vladimir Putin himself will attend this latter-day secret policemen’s ball, which will also be something of a premature celebration of the promotion of Gazprom Chairman Dmitry Medvedev, who was as good as appointed president of the Russian Federation in December; all that remains is the formality of a show “election”, from which all the real alternative candidates have been ignominiously sidelined.
So, why should we care? Deep Purple – or, as they’re known in Russian, “Dip Pepl” or “Dip Pyorpl”, depending on whom you ask – were one of the most popular forbidden decadent Western bands in the Soviet Union, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Medvedev is a big fan, as are countless other Russians of his generation, many of whom no doubt work at high positions in Gazprom. Now that these boys are at the pinnacle of power, they seem to have gleefully reverted to their childhoods and are spending taxpayers’ money left and right on their favorite boyish pastimes. Some of them obviously enjoyed playing soldier when they were young, and can now indulge all their fantasies. Vladimir Putin gets to go to sea on nuclear submarines and sit in the co-pilot’s seat of supersonic military aircraft. FSB director Nikolai Patrushev goes on adventure tours to the South Pole and takes part in war games on the peak of Europe’s tallest mountain. And Igor Sechin gets to pretend he’s an old-style G-man chasing down imaginary bad guys. All at taxpayer expense, naturally.Compared to his colleagues’ macho-militaristic fantasies, Dmitry Medvedev’s boyhood passion seems rather tame and almost endearing. One can easily imagine that while little Volodya Putin was running around pretending he was an NKVD operative ruthlessly liquidating enemies of the people, young Dima Medvedev was sitting at home, eagerly – but very quietly, lest the neighbors hear and report him – playing a battered reel-to-reel tape containing a copy of a copy of a copy of a smuggled “Machine Head” LP he’d managed to borrow from a friend.But that was then, and this is now. And now, little Dima is no longer a quiet young man with a politically-incorrect secret passion an inferiority complex about his short stature. He is Chairman of the Board of Russia’s largest company, a state enterprise that “views its mission as providing maximally efficient and balanced gas supply to Russian Federation consumers”. Would that this were true! But the sad fact is that Russia’s consumers are not getting “maximally efficient and balanced gas supply”. The Russia correspondent Grigory Pasko has already reported numerous times from places as far apart as Sochi in the south, Babayevo in the north, and Vyborg in the west that Gazprom invariably promises Russians a pie in the sky, but then just as invariably doesn’t deliver. And Gazprom, remember, is a monopoly – it’s not like you can just go and get your gas from another distributor. Impoverished Russians to whom Gazprom breaks its promise to pipe gas into their homes then have no choice but to buy their gas – from Gazprom – in very expensive cylinders, or to heat their homes and cook with wood (thereby depleting Russia’s forests, but that’s another story). Ironically, these people are often Gazprom employees, living practically right on top of huge pipelines shipping their country’s national wealth abroad to heat homes in Europe and bring unheard-of sums of money into Gazprom’s coffers. To spend on useful things like rock concerts for the top management.To me it doesn’t sound like Medvedev and Gazprom have anything to celebrate. Under his watch, the company has fallen way behind in its plans to hook up Russian homes to the gas grid, and seems to have completely forgotten its mandate as a public utility – part of the original reasoning behind its being a state monopoly in the first place. And I won’t even get into the collapse of civil society in the country as a whole, with its faux “elections” fiercely protected from outside “interference” by international observers; state-controlled police, courts, and mass media; the arrests, exiles, and murders of undesirables; and a unique brand of “order” provided courtesy of truncheon-wielding spetsnaz storm troopers (alluded to in the title of this article).But Russians love a party, especially on what they call a “jubilee” – an anniversary that’s a multiple of 5. And it seems to be all the rage these days among Russia’s new elite, who have so much money they don’t know what to spend it on, to throw away millions of dollars to fly in imported superstars for private concerts for their own enjoyment and to impress their friends. Last year, Medvedev and 70 of his closest cronies only managed to entice Joe Lynn Turner, an obscure singer who had recorded one lackluster album with Dip Pyorpl a decade and a half after their prime, to Moscow for a secret show. This year, they were determined to get the whole band, known for such megahits as “Hush” and “Space Truckin’”.Rock dinosaurs all have mortgages to pay and kids to put through college these days, and hey, a paying gig’s a paying gig. But even mighty Gazprom didn’t have enough money or clout to convince Dip Pyorpl’s lineup from its early-1970s heyday to reunite – Monday’s concert will feature only one original member. Cold comfort for freezing Russians huddling around their wood stoves this winter, no doubt. But hey, there’s always next year – perhaps Medvedev-the-president will at last have enough influence, and unlimited money at his disposal, to bring his childhood fantasy to life and convince the “classic” Dip Pyorpl lineup of Richi Blekmor, Yan Gillan, Rodzher Glover, Dzon Lord, and Yan Peis to play a private backyard reunion concert at his dacha, courtesy of the Russian taxpayer. Now won’t that be a major foreign policy coup to elevate Russia’s international standing!