I’VE never personally met an oligarch, however I did once have lunch with the son of one. It was soon after Russia had adopted a form of capitalism which roughly could be defined as stealing all the state-owned assets. This particular young man and his associate, more on him later, were on a fact-finding mission to determine the best way to stash his family’s newly acquired wealth.
I remember we had the window table in possibly my favourite restaurant, Le Nautique, and I had arranged the seating so he had the best view of the harbour and the castle. This was pretty much wasted on him because he was himself pretty wasted. I believe he had spent the prior evening mostly drinking vodka and even a couple of pre-lunch vodkas couldn’t restore him to perfect health.
Needless to say he spent much of the lunch closely investigating Le Nautique’s facilities, which left me and his associate to enjoy our excellent lunches. Just as the junior oligarch was small for his age, the associate was a giant bear of a man. Clearly a bodyguard, he became more talkative when his comrade was talking to Ralph on the big white phone.
A former special forces soldier, or Spetsnaz, he had served in the Soviet-Afghan war. He was an absolutely delightful man, even though he could have broken my neck in an instant. He was the first and last person to reveal to me that Russian troops didn’t wear socks but wrapped cloth around their feet. It’s amazing where lunchtime conversations with me will go once they’ve started.
He was possibly the only honest Russian I ever met professionally. Honest, that is, by our civilisation’s definition of honesty. I have met several Russians and ended up doing business with none of them. My choice and not because I was a terrible business developer.
Russian culture, civilisation even, is different to ours. They may look like us and be Europeans like us but their values and customs are different to ours. I imagine Ukrainians come from a very similar cultural background. It could be argued that Kyiv is the mother of all Russian cities.
However, for 30 years the Ukrainians have tried to change their ways and look to the West as the way forward. They even gave up the nuclear weapons left by the USSR in exchange for security declarations from the UK and the USA.
And where did it get them?
As they try to resist an onslaught from the second most powerful military in the world, they know the cavalry is never coming. As they turn every available citizen no matter what their pronouns into a ‘Dad’s Army’ which is already engaged in homeland defence, they know their friends will not be standing shoulder to shoulder with them in the rubble of their cities.
As I write this, Kyiv has not fallen. I have no idea what the situation may be when you read this. Peace negotiations have begun. I say negotiations but it really is for Ukraine to decide if they accept defeat and accept the Russian demands to end the war and to end all hope of not being a Russian puppet state from now on.
We in the West, and particularly in Europe, have run our military down to such a level that the second, third and fourth military powers are now Russia, China and India. Who, in case you haven’t already noticed, are now all best mates.
And how have China and India financed militaries which even the mighty nations of Europe cannot compete with? We have financed them. Globalisation has weakened us, the Good Guys (assuming we are the good guys), and strengthened Putin’s mates.
Look at the UK, it makes just about nothing. It pays farmers not to grow food. It is reliant on the countries most likely to wage war on us.
Look at Germany. It is today paying Russia hundreds of millions in hard currency per day to keep warm. Money which is financing the war against the free people of Ukraine. We forgo Coke but don’t shun German goods.
The world has gone to Hell in a hand cart. How many of us would know what to do with a rifle shoved into our hands to defend our motherland? We don’t even let children play with toy ones.
It’s a wonderful thing to imagine a better world, but history tells us there will always be Putins and Xis and though we want to be fluffy sheep we mustn’t forget the wolves that are out there.
What if the campaign for nuclear disarmament had successfully persuaded the Western powers to relinquish the bomb? What would restrain Putin then? Absolutely nothing.
This island learnt in 1940 what happens when the country charged with our defence wasn’t ready for war. Nothing has been learned.
Nationalism is back and globalisation is dead. No matter what happens, national self-sufficiency will be back on the agenda. Goods will cost more and food choice will be less exotic and more seasonal. We have tried to ignore history, but history has a way of biting you in the tail when you aren’t looking.
The New Order will affect us. Are we still open for Chinese business?
Russia, China and India have a population of about three billion, the USA and Europe about a billion. The sanctions will drive Russia and China closer together. No Swift payment system, then adopt the Chinese equivalent. No Mastercard or Visa, then adopt the Chinese equivalent. The West won’t buy Russian goods. Sell them to China and India. Where does China get the money? From the West.
Wars and global unrest usually give our economy a bit of a boost as folk look for safe havens in troubled times. But this time around the game may have changed. The game may have got more serious. We should choose who we lay down with very carefully.
As soon as I finish writing this I’m going to listen to Louis Armstrong singing It’s a Wonderful World. I see skies so blue and clouds so white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Let’s keep it that way. It’s the only world we’ve got.