This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Person of the Week: Mikhail Leont'ev

The first in the Person of the Week series I have decided to dedicate to certain well-known television presenter, political commentator, editor in chief of economic magazine Profile and all-round conspiracy theorist. For his uncompromising opinions on international affairs that range from run-of-the-mill America-bashing to outrageous and at times plain hilarious accusations, my choice this week is a public figure who is outspoken, not shy of controversy and not welcome in several post-Soviet states: Mikhail Vladimirovich Leont’ev.

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.

Do svidaniya!

This week’s issue of “Odnako” can be found here:

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