Leont’ev is perhaps best known as the host of the weekly five-minute political commentary program “Odnako” (However). As host of a prime-time slot at the end of the main evening news on state-owned Channel One, you may think that he would have to be rather careful about what he says. However, careful would not really be the right word for it. Leont’ev’s weekly shows may come across to the Western ear as the unrestrained rant of what numerous Kremlin representatives are supposed to tiptoe their way round in public; a diplomatic disaster that has already happened, the fact that he does not hold any state position nevertheless gives the government just enough ground to officially avoid any implication in the event of a scandal.
And scandals are what Leont’ev does best. He is the proud holder of court rulings declaring him persona non grata in Latvia and banning him from entering the Ukraine for five years. In 2003 in an interview on Latvian television, he described the country as “wretched” and likened it to a tiny spoonful of tar spoiling the entire pot of honey that is the European Union. In 2006, a Ukrainian court ruled he pay $500 compensation and publicly retract comments made in reference to the former Prime Minister Victor Yushenko’s wife on “Odnako”, where he insinuated that she was influencing her husband’s politics with American ideas. Having refused to carry out the court’s demands, he subsequently fuelled further anger by questioning the legitimacy and sovereignty of Ukraine as an independent state.
Most recently Leont’ev has been devoting his attention to the financial crisis, observing the rack and ruin of Western economies with more than a hint of schadenfreude. His longstanding predictions of the West’s imminent downfall confirmed, he does remain optimistic as to the solution however, recently quoted as saying; “[t]he only way out of the current crisis is a world war. Who will start it and how is a mere technicality.”
Despite all the bravado and provocation, or perhaps because of it, Leont’ev remains fairly popular, in particular for past achievements in the nineties, having worked as a journalist and more recently on several popular documentaries. He may lack a little diplomatic finesse, yet he is not the only Russian public figure who could be reproached for doing so. Whether he makes any contribution to the pluralism of ideas that the country needs on television right now is certainly another matter however.