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RUSSIAN influence in politics? If you believe BBC Newsnight, that means Jeremy Corbyn, shaded red, with a Russian-looking hat and the Kremlin in the background. If you believe the newspapers it means saying Corbyn is an ex-Soviet bloc spy.
Which shows how some media can become bizarrely detached from the real world. Not only was Corbyn not a Soviet spy, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist. It hasn’t existed for 27 years. Russia’s flag isn’t a red banner, it doesn’t have a hammer and sickle. And Vladimir Putin does not lead the Communist Party, he leads the United Russia party.
Lots of people on the left, including Corbyn, are not keen on military conflict with foreign nations, including Russia: but they have no political links to Russia, which has become a thoroughly capitalist country with a fairly authoritarian form of rule and a lot of super-rich oligarchs.
By contrast, while the Conservatives like to make “tough” noises about Russia, they are more closely linked to the world of Putin and his oligarchs: the ideological links between Russia and the left have withered as Russia stopped being (even nominally) communist. But the financial links between the Tories and Putin have grown.
So look at the Sunday Times's latest “rich list.” Sir Len Blavatnik dropped a couple of points, and is now merely Britain’s third-richest person.
He is, like many others in the rich list, a Tory donor. His firm, Access Industries, has given the Tories £94,000. Blavatnik’s firm also took Michael Gove to an expensive box at the Emirates Stadium to see Arsenal play in 2014 and 2015.
Blavatnik has also thrown money at Donald Trump. He gave $1 million to Trump's inauguration committee, which organised the celebrations for his election.
Blavatnik also gave lots of money to found a new Oxford college. Putting money into Oxford, like putting money into the Tory Party, is one way a super-rich man can buy his way into the British Establishment.
Blavatnik built his fortune in the rough landscape of post-Soviet Russia, then used that cash to expand in the West, like buying media conglomerate Warner Bros in 2011.
The way his Russian fortune grew in the Putin years and his ongoing Russian business interests led the Financial Times to call him a “Kremlin-friendly tycoon.” His Access Industries conglomerate still has stakes in Russian aluminium producer Rusal and leading Russian TV firm Amedia — so Blavatnik has strong interests in opposing sanctions on Russia.
Access Industries was one of the Russian shareholders of the joint Russian-British oil business TNK-BP.
When Britain’s BP had disagreements with the Russians over the leadership of TNK-BP, it was subject to very rough tactics, including harassment of its executives and, in 2011, raids by the Russian FSB secret service.
Blavatnik has bought respect in Britain by putting £75m into his new Oxford college, the Blavatnik School of Government.
A group of academics wrote to the Guardian to say Oxford was “selling its reputation” to a man with business links to the Russian state and to the “state-sponsored harassment” of BP’s executives. But £75m is a lot of money, so the Blavatnik School of Government is generally welcomed.
The honours system offers the final Establishment stamp: in 2017 Blavatnik was knighted. If you want to find Russian links in Britain, don’t look to Corbyn: look to the City, to Oxford and the Tory Party.
Solomon Hughes writes every Friday in the Morning Star. Follow him on Twitter @SolHughesWriter
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