The Iron Lady and the Grey Cardinal

April 16, 2013
The author with Lady Thatcher

In the last few weeks, England saw the deaths of Margaret Thatcher and Boris Berezovsky, two very different figures who left a long-lasting imprint on the history of Russia. Official reaction to these events from Moscow, in which we can confidently include the government-controlled media, gives us some interesting insights into the mindset of people who rule Russia today.

The so-called ruling tandem acknowledged Lady Thatcher’s strength of character and tough political style but there was little understanding of her politics or her core beliefs. Putin called Thatcher “a pragmatic and consistent person,” saying that her “hardline approach” had helped Britain out of an economic crisis. Medvedev wrote that “one can have different attitudes to her political views but it is impossible not to respect her for her steadfastness and political will.” Vesti, the main official television news programme, maintained that Thatcher had “no soul” because of the uncompromising way she pressed on with her economic reforms.

It seems to me that the ruling Russian elites have very little common ground with or even some basic comprehension of what drove Margaret Thatcher to three (fair) consecutive election victories. It was not her style but her policies. Namely, her successful economic reforms which saw lower taxes, closing down unprofitable state-owned enterprises, privatisation, deregulation of industries, opening the country to competition and tackling totalitarian regimes on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

The focus of her government on freeing up the individual from the shackles of the state to achieve their true potential led to a further breakdown of the British class system and, eventually, helped her to become the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century.

In stark contrast to Thatcher, today’s Russian rulers are all about maintaining the status quo, preserving their power (and sources of private wealth generation) whatever the cost. Helping “outsiders” (the ordinary Russian people) to break barriers and achieve their full potential is the last thing on their minds. They may be admiring Thatcher for being the “Iron Lady” but they find what she stood for totally alien to them.

It is curious then that the ruling United Russia Party is desperately trying to position itself in the eyes of the world as a centre-right political force. United Russia-led government has closed down key independent media outlets which existed in the 1990s, harassed the opposition, rigged elections, nipped the emerging independent court system in the bud, re-nationalised some of the country’s most profitable energy companies and openly done business with the world’s rogue regimes. I wonder how much they taught the late Senor Chavez.

If Britain’s great freedom-loving Lady cut little ice with Russia’s so-called “centre-right,” then Boris Berezovsky’s untimely death prompted Russian officials to suggest that it might help to clear the air in the relations between London and Moscow. It was a strange suggestion, given that the UK Police treated his death as “unexplained” and said that “third party involvement could not be completely eliminated.” According to UK press reports, people who were close to Mr Berezovsky did not believe that he ended his life voluntarily.

We still do not have the answer of what exactly happened. But it looks that the death of Russia’s richest powerbroker of 1990s will be one of those cases with question marks in its police files, still many years from now. Mr Berezovsky has indeed suffered from depression. However, to the uninitiated, that leaves so many things unsaid.

Regardless of what exactly happened to him, Boris Berezovsky has become the latest in a long line of Russians who died long before their time, either assassinated, or ending their lives in suspicious circumstances.

In offering the UK government to turn a page, the Kremlin’s current occupants showed once again that they have no “moral compass,” no common human decency.

What is also becoming clearer is that Mr Putin and his friends must now have a bunker mentality which is very advanced indeed. The reality is that whenever a critic of their regime dies in the West a geiger counters and chem labs come out.

For many ordinary Russians, who lived through these treacherous times, one coincidence is coincidence too many. This is why the prevailing view in Russia’s independent media is that Mr Berezovsky was killed, whether it is in fact true or not.

There is no reason why the free world should be turning a page in its relations with Russia, starting afresh. The nature of the current regime in Russia has not changed or is likely to do so. As it squeezes its oil profits and grinds towards its murky geopolitical objectives, it continues to leave behind a trail of graves where victims lie who dared to confront it.