Distractions, Denial and a “Meh”: Russia Responds to Pandora Documents


“Nothing bad happens if one monster eats another.”

A Kremlin-funded media observer used this quote from Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky to accuse billionaire philanthropist George Soros of funding the Pandora Papers, a gargantuan journalistic investigation into the hidden offshore wealth of dozens of international helmsmen and hundreds of politicians, many of them Russians.

“This is normal in a society of so-called human values”, Mikhail Sheinkman of Sputnik, a gigantic news agency that broadcasts and prints news in two dozen languages, wrote on Monday – while calling Soros “sor” or “garbage” in Russian.

But Sheinkman didn’t mention the Russian part of the findings of the Pandora Papers, which is the latest project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a non-profit organization working with dozens of major news organizations around the world. It details the alleged offshore transactions of the alleged mistress of Russian President Vladimir Putin, academic friends and former colleagues of the former KGB.

The alleged mistress is Svetlana Korotkikh, a former housekeeper from St. Petersburg, Russia’s imperial capital and Putin’s hometown, who allegedly bought a $ 4 million apartment in Monaco in 2003, shortly after giving birth to her third daughter.

Vazhnye Istorii, one of the publications that investigated Russia’s share of Pandora files, also described the hidden assets and companies owned by pro-Putin lawmakers and politicians, some of whom voted for the 2013 law that purported to ban them from possess these same strengths.

Putin’s spokesman called the findings “unfounded”.

“We have not seen any hidden wealth within Putin’s inner circle,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Radio Mayak on Sunday.

“There is only one set of unfounded statements, a lot of them,” he said. “This is why it cannot and must not trigger any control. “

Most of the Kremlin-controlled media snubbed the Russian part of the Pandora Papers, but wrote extensively about its report that Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky, a former comedian, and his show business partners would have hidden millions of dollars in offshore companies and bought apartments next to Baker Street in London, the fictitious residence of Sherlock Holmes.

Prime-time coverage on national television channels was devoted to the crisis in Afghanistan, the anniversary of the defeat of the German Nazi army in the 1941 “Battle for Moscow” and Putin’s decision to dismiss two governors.

Channel One, a staunchly pro-Putin national broadcaster whose leader Konstantin Ernst was mentioned in the Pandora Papers investigation, aired reports on the world’s first feature film shot in space and Putin’s interviews with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

Ernst was the only Russian mentioned in the Pandora Papers to comment. He has denied claims he owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands that made hundreds of millions of dollars converting Soviet-era cinemas into malls.

“I haven’t done anything illegal. This is how my parents raised me, ”Ernst said in a statement.

Over the past two decades, he’s made Channel One one of the loudest pro-Kremlin megaphones. In 2014, he claimed that the Ukrainian army “crucified” a four-year-old boy in the breakaway town of Slovyansk. This reporter was there at the time – and never found any evidence of the “crucifixion”.

Average Russians, used to hearing about much worse official corruption, weren’t too shocked by the Pandora revelations.

“So what?” Alexander Belenky, a computer expert based in St. Petersburg, told me. “If you want to describe Russia in two words, it’s ‘They fly’.”

An opposition leader in exile echoed his point of view.

“The Russians are absolutely convinced that thieves are in power,” said Gennady Gudkov, a former lawmaker who was expelled from the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, for supporting the anti-corruption crusader today. hui imprisoned Aleksei Navalny. “They’re just used to it.

Over the past decade, Navalny and a series of independent media have claimed to have uncovered things about the Kremlin rulers that make the Pandora Papers pale in comparison. They would make any villain in a James Bond movie envy.

In January, Navalny posted a report on one of Putin’s so-called palaces, or, to be more exact, a gigantic palatial structure that occupies nearly 20,000 acres, 39 times the size of Monaco, on a wooded hill of the “Russian Riviera”, a slide of subtropical paradise on the Black Sea.

The palace has a 16-story underground bunker, a tunnel that crosses the rock to a private dock, a checkpoint with armed guards and a helipad. There’s a casino with green tables and a strip pole, a game room, and an ancient Orthodox chapel brought brick by brick from Greece.

Navalny claimed it was just one of two dozen palaces built for Putin by Russian oligarchs.

“After Putin’s palace there must only be something more breathtaking,” Gudkov said following the reports from Pandora Papers.

Navalny’s team and other earlier reports also described the multibillion-dollar assets of senior officials, their oversized yachts, French chalets, and private jets used to transport their wives’ purebred dogs to exhibitions in Europe.

Senior officials and propagandists usually use jets and yachts who are owned or rented to them by oligarchs, buy opulent real estate from developers at a fraction of market prices, and get free health services in Kremlin clinics that have exorbitant medical equipment.

One expert pointed out that the lifestyle of Russian elites has become radically different from “traditional” models of corrupt enrichment.

“This is the paradox of modern Russia – it no longer has the classic grand corruption such as illegal enrichment, theft of budgetary funds, commercial influence in exchange for certain contracts and privileges”, Pavel Luzin, analyst Russia-based for the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, told me.

“While you are in the upper echelons of power, your lifestyle and consumption are comparable to those of the [Western] multimillionaires, but you will retire with much smaller and all legal savings. All these family trusts and hotels in the Balkan countries are just these little retirement funds, ”he said.

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