La brioche Chouvaloff

Last week, Russia’s deputy PM Igor Shuvalov claimed in Davos that Russians would rather starve than turn against Putin in the face of foreign pressure.

Igor is a sly old fox. His words can never be taken at face value and his motives for saying this or that are anybody’s guess. But as Russians say, a word is not a sparrow: once it’s out, you can’t catch it. It would seem suicidal for a filthy-rich official to tout common people’s readiness for unnecessary self-sacrifice unless he believed in the protective powers of worshiping his dictator’s bottom in public. Few Russians are willing to starve for Putin, of course, just as few were ready to starve for Brezhnev or Gorbachev, who were paragons of modesty and asceticism compared with Putin’s buddies. Granted, some are willing to fight for the pale man but that’s a different matter altogether.

The Telegraph mislabeled Shuvalov a hardliner: he’s always been known as an all-understanding, “Westernized” liberal. But once you’re on Putin’s bandwagon, it doesn’t matter much if, at heart, you prefer freedom to puppetmastery. You’re part of the system and you’re going to do your master’s bidding like a faithful marionette.

Here’s a link to a 2012 Ekho Moskvy piece on Igor Shuvalov’s “palace” just outside Moscow, next to Skolkovo. The “liberal” Igor happens to share the last name with the 18th century patron of science and arts Ivan Shuvalov, who gets much of the credit for founding the Moscow University and the Russian Academy of Arts, and for supporting Mikhaylo Lomonosov. The new Moscow University humanities building was named after him in 2007. Ivan Ivanovich owned at least two palaces in St. Petersburg, both worth having a look at. Perhaps Igor Ivanovich is trying to imitate, within his more limited means, his illustrious namesake: hence the “palace” near Moscow and the purchase of land in Skolkovo. His remark on Catherine II, although sourced from popular fiction, betrays a degree of historical awareness. Still, a rather limited degree.

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