When the New York Times first reported that Mikhail Gorbachev posed for a Louis Vuitton ad, we didn’t really have anything to add to this peculiar development (many other blogs talked about it, including SRB). In this series of Vuitton ads, Gorby’s company included celebs like Andre Agassi and Catherine Deneuve, but the Times journalist noted that “Of the group, Mr. Gorbachev appears the least comfortable. He is holding on to a door handle, as if the bag contained polonium 210.” Maybe it did. Today New York Magazine reports that the photo contains a big surprise (click the above image to enlarge):
Well, we just now happened to take a closer look at that material, and Ho … lee … crap. It’s a Russian book or magazine, strategically posed so that the title is upside-down but readable: “Litvinenko’s Murder — They Wanted to Give Up a Suspect for $7,000.” Litvinenko, of course, is the Russian ex-spy whose death — by polonium-laced sushi — has been widely attributed to Putin’s goons. We have no idea what the business with the $7,000 is (maybe it’s the price of the bag?), and nor do we want to know! The very fact of Litvinenko’s name in the middle of the meticulously composed Annie Leibovitz shot is enough of a jaw-dropper. Is Gorby sending the world secret messages through luggage ads?
Let’s ignore for the moment this reporter’s ignorance (sushi?!), and consider the fact that Gorbachev knowingly did an international advertisement with a hidden message over one of the Kremlin’s most uncomfortable subjects. Regardless of what that message is, and where you stand on that whole messy, tiresome dispute, this is a significant gesture from the former head of state. People keep talking about the mystery and enigma of Putin, but really it’s Gorbachev who takes the cake. Nobody really understands what he is up to. One the one hand, he has made numerous speeches and public comments in support of the ruling administration, yet also holds book launch events for Anna Politkovskaya. He blasts the hubris of the U.S. foreign policy, yet also has been appointed head of the Union of Social Democrats, “to fight corruption and help bring democratic principles to Russia.” Gorbachev is looking like a survivor and a realist. There’s no doubt that his foundation could be shut down by the state within 24 hours, and he certainly wouldn’t want to find himself in court next to PricewaterhouseCoopers arguing that the government has violated the constitution. (By the way, as the Guardian reported this weekend, the magazine in question showing up in the Louis Vuitton ad is The New Times, from which we have featured original translations here and here. Being that the Vuitton ad doesn’t really contain a clear political message, the publication itself is probably the one to benefit the most from this clever game.)