Some thoughts on the Putin corruption story

The big news today is the publication of millions of pages of leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helps wealthy clients set up offshore companies. The international media is paying special attention to those documents which concern Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin and various strange multi-million dollar business deals involving Roldugin and companies associated with him. Since Roldugin is a close friend of Vladimir Putin, the Western press is using the story to imply that Putin himself is both corrupt and extraordinarily wealthy. Thus the front page headline of Monday’s copy of The Guardian reads: ‘The $2bn dollar trail that leads to Vladimir Putin’.

No doubt these revelations will spark a flurry of vigorous debate about whether the documents really do show that Putin is corrupt. What interests me more, though, is what impact this story is likely to have on Russian-Western relations.

Those in the anti-Putin camp, which includes most of the West, will take the Mossack Fonseca leaks as corroboration of their belief that Putin heads a kleptocratic system, the sole purpose of which is to enrich those governing Russia. They will assume that Roldugin could not have acted without Putin’s knowledge and that his companies are merely fronts which Putin uses to hide his corruptly acquired billions. This image of Putin will strengthen the hand of those who maintain that Western states must take a hard line against the ‘Putin regime’ and work with liberal forces within Russia in order to bring about ‘regime change’.

On the other side, those who support Putin, both in Russia and outside it, will wonder why, when the leaks contain information about scores of prominent figures around the world, the Western media is focusing so relentlessly on Putin when reports say that the documents in question don’t mention him even once. They will point out that Roldugin’s activities have not been shown to be illegal and that any connection with Putin is pure speculation. They may even ask why headlines give such prominence to Putin and not to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, given that the leaked material does mention Poroshenko and says that he went ‘so far as to arguably violate the law twice, misrepresent information and deprive his country of badly needed tax dollars during a time of war.’ No doubt Russians will conclude that the answer is that the Western media is determined to blacken Putin’s name no matter what the facts.

In short, I expect that confirmation bias will ensure that both the pro- and anti-Putin camps (which means to a large degree the West on one side and Russia on the other), will interpret the story in such a way as to reinforce their existing suspicions. The exposure of Mr Roldugin’s business deals is unlikely to have any significant effect on the way the Russian government operates or on the Russian public’s view of Vladimir Putin, but it will make it harder for Russia and the West to see eye-to-eye in the future.

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23 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Putin corruption story”

  1. Ha, ha!! Splendid takedown as usual, Paul!

    I cannot for the life of me fathom why they chose to release this giddy but ultimately foolish ‘report’; it’s going to be awfully hard to get from here back to the far more sensationalist $40 Billion+ that Putin has supposedly stolen. Obviously an exhaustive investigation could only turn up $2 Billion linked to Russia, and as you have quite correctly pointed out, there is no verifiable connection between it and Putin at all. Where would the money have come from? Where did it go? The ‘Panama Papers’ don’t tell us anything useful at all with respect to Putin, yet the whole effort seems to be focused on ‘getting’ Putin. It demonstrably fails to do that. It is, however, extremely damaging to the Fans Of Stas Belkovsky totally-unsubstantiated $40 Billion claims.

    And the Poroshenko section is pure gold; devastating. Not only did he not sell his businesses, of which Roshen is just one – and that foolishness about moving its operations to the BVI to make it more attractive to a buyer is nonsense; the businesses have not sold because he deliberately overpriced them to prevent it – but he started up a new business, while president, and did not register it in Ukraine at all as part of his disclosures! Yet he is the sole shareholder, confirmed by his passport! How stupid is that??

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  2. “I expect that confirmation bias will ensure that both the pro- and anti-Putin camps…”

    Hmm, how is this a case of “both sides do it”? Personally, I see the Goebbels-like propaganda side, and then the side of the rest of us…

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    1. Where I live, even studied neutrality is sufficiently radical to lead to accusations that one is in the pay of the Kremlin. In fairness, though, the Rodulgin revelations don’t look pretty. At the very least, Bank Rossiya shareholders might want to know why their organization is making loans to his companies which it then writes off, in effect giving away millions of dollars. And it is fair to ask how it is that Putin’s friends become so rich (not just Rodulgin but also the Rotenbergs, for instance). Being a friend of VVP seems to give one access to a network which allows one to get rich quick via shady deals. Does VVP not know, or not care?

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      1. Of course there is corruption, and plenty of it I’m sure, but I don’t think this is anywhere near the worst banking stories I’ve heard during the last decade or so. You know, the subprime mortgage crisis, $8 trillion in losses, and all that. And Wall Street political campaign contributions (congressional + presidential) are in hundreds of millions.

        Personal connections do play a role, everywhere, I’m sure; otherwise, how to explain Hillary Clinton’s carrier? I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary about Putin’s friends becoming rich, but – but – I believe this is definitely much preferable to the situation (very common, unfortunately) where people become top-level politicians due to the patronage of rich individuals…

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      2. “And it is fair to ask how it is that Putin’s friends become so rich (not just Rodulgin but also the Rotenbergs, for instance). Being a friend of VVP seems to give one access to a network which allows one to get rich quick via shady deals. Does VVP not know, or not care?”

        One can ask these questions all day long. But there is one thing – just to ask them (rather rhetorically) and immediately answer them without any proof or evidence. Those who are interested in finding out the Truth ™ should work better. They themselves had enormous funding, dozens of people were working for them for more than a year and… and what? Insinuations and innuendos? Because of “oh, that’s Russia!” line of reasoning?

        Why for the Westerners its okay to become a conspiracy theorist and resort to the “presumption of guilt” when dealing with Russia?

        Russians themselves don’t give a shit about Western attacks against Putin or his “oligarch friends” despite all Western efforts. As for the Aliens (i.e. the so-called liberals) they will hate Putin anyway, imagining how much would THEY steal if had a chance.

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      3. All neatly distracting the gullible from the fact that Russia has revealed evidence in the UN that Turkey, a NATO member, is the main supplier of arms to ISIS. …. crickets ….

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      4. I don’t know about Rodulgin, but the Rotenbergs were rich waaay before Putin was in power, they didn’t “become” rich thanks to him being President. In fact, for most of their lives, their relationship could have been stated as “being a friend of the Rotenbergs seems to give one access to a network which allows one to get rich”. As for Rodulgin, I don’t know about him money-wise, but he was a famous musician way before I ever heard of the name Putin. I don’t know if that makes someone rich or not though.

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  3. “Those in the anti-Putin camp, which includes most of the West, will take the Mossack Fonseca leaks as corroboration of their belief that Putin heads a kleptocratic system, the sole purpose of which is to enrich those governing Russia… This image of Putin will strengthen the hand of those who maintain that Western states must take a hard line against the ‘Putin regime’ and work with liberal forces within Russia in order to bring about ‘regime change’.”

    Yis, “liberal forces” – Warriors of Light, Aristocrats of the Spirit, The Blessed ones! They, they will prove to beuncorruptable pure pureness.

    After all – we have a timeless example in the for of Boris Nemtsov’s inheritance – a whopping $1 billion awaiting his grieving ex-wives/mistresses and his numerous children (mostly sired out of wedlock).

    And Alexei Navalniy? Khodorkovskiy? Chichvarkin? No corruption.here, sirrah – only repressions from the Bloody Regime.

    But, seriously, Paul – I’m in total agreement here with comrade Mao Cheng Ji – you can’t seriously claim that (at least in this regard) the two sides of the “debate” are somehow “equal” and should be treated as such.

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  4. I’ve just discussed this topic with a colleague of mine in similar terms: it doesn’t add anything new to the views (let alone change) of pro- or antiputinists at home and abroad. Probably new sanctions against the ‘Evil Kleptocratic Gay-Bashing Communazi Barbaric Orthodox Empire’ (EKGB) are coming.

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  5. Paul, I totally agree with your comment. I don’t doubt for one minute that most government officials in Russia see their position as a duty to their country but also as a way to make sure they will be financially self-sufficient in future. In that sense very few countries are lily-white. You pointed out the most glaring fact: Putin is not mentioned in the documents, yet the trail leads to him, Bank Rossiya is ‘his plaything’, anyone who is a close friend to Putin is bound to be hiding money for him… It is laughable and sad, because it takes journalist standards down by a lot of notches.

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  6. What is the provenance of this “report”? How can we know if the documents are genuine, when they might all have been created specially to further certain propaganda purposes?

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  7. Before we leap to the conclusion that this is all unfair Russia bashing, it’s important to remember that the data trove is immense, and we’re still very early in the revelation process. The Mossack Fonseca leak looks like it’s going to be producing headlines for years.

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      1. Fine. I’m sure Putin’s “friends” are up to the job of spinning it into a horrible propaganda attack, and it’ll shore up his position domestically. Won’t do the average **Russian** any good, but what the hell.

        I’ll grant that there is a weird Russophobia among western elites (however we define them), but does anybody believe that Putin and his cronies **aren’t** indulging in wealth-sheltering schemes? If so, why?

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      1. Yeah, you’re right, soon it will be Tuesday, and no western cabinet has resigned en masse. Plainly this whole Mossack Fonseca isn’t even worth mentioning. Oh, except insofar as it inconveniences Putin. (Also Poroshenko, evidently — you happy now?)

        Also, in the wake of the Snowden leaks several very influential technology companies have started designing with privacy as a primary engineering consideration. I mean, it’s not as scenic as mobs in Guy Fawkes masks converging on national capitals, but it’s a real thing, and it touches the lives of many people directly.

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      2. “Yeah, you’re right, soon it will be Tuesday, and no western cabinet has resigned en masse. Plainly this whole Mossack Fonseca isn’t even worth mentioning.”

        Exactly! Glad that you understand this.

        “Oh, except insofar as it inconveniences Putin. “

        “Inconveniences” – in what way? How?! Or are you implying that this was the only aim of this “leak” – to attempt to “inconvenience” Putin?

        “(Also Poroshenko, evidently — you happy now?)”

        No. Why should I?

        “Also, in the wake of the Snowden leaks several very influential technology companies have started designing with privacy as a primary engineering consideration.”

        Orly? Never heard of any “suggestions” from the American intelligence services to the IT companies lately, hm? Something about “backdoor” access?

        If not – good! It’s so nice to live in your world.

        “I mean, it’s not as scenic as mobs in Guy Fawkes masks converging on national capitals, but it’s a real thing, and it touches the lives of many people directly.”

        Bah! Only edgy teens and “OWSers” can imagine (or dream) about anything so cheesy. Real revolution won’t be so… civilized 😉

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  8. Let’s see – we have an organisation funded by Open Society (Soros) and USAID (CIA/US State Department) producing a very selective list of people using off-shore banks derived somehow from data acquired by unidentified means. Then there is the direct association in the Guardian / Daily Mirror and ICIJ website of the implied corruption and images of Putin, even though Putin is not mentioned anywhere in the documents. Couple this with the apparent deep involvement of German MSM which, given the revalations from a disgusted German journalist, is likely linked to the CIA. Finally, with a few exceptions, those mentioned publicly are on the US and/or bankster hit list.

    What do we have? (Shamelessly copied from elsewhere)

    I await the investigation by these intrepid journalists as to where those journalists financially supported by the CIA/MI6/BND store their ill-gotten gains. That would be a real revelation of corruption.

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