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This week in Tortoise: Lord of Siberia

This week in Tortoise: Lord of Siberia

A few months ago, Paul Caruana Galizia began looking into how Evgeny Lebedev became a member of the House of Lords. 

It started as a story about the easy seduction of the British establishment  – how one Russian billionaire’s family paid its way into British high society, accumulated celebrities, bought newspapers, befriended politicians and secured a seat in the upper house of Parliament.

But, as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine, it became a study of Londongrad  – how the UK capital welcomed Russian oligarchs looking for a safe haven for their fortunes and families, while studiously keeping onside with Vladimir Putin. 

‘Lord of Siberia’ is this week’s Slow Newscast. On one level, it’s a rarefied romp, a tale of dressing up for charity galas in stately homes, nights on the red carpet, party weekends in Umbria and, ultimately, the peerage itself. (Jon Jones, our picture editor, has compiled a photo album that tells the story.) 

But it is more than just true satire; it points to at least one problem that can be mended. The Lords Appointments Commission contacted the intelligence agencies in reviewing Evgeny Lebedev’s proposed peerage; they then advised the prime minister against it; Boris Johnson ignored that advice. Parliament and the Cabinet Office have refused to disclose it. Surely the public can reasonably expect to know if Parliament itself believes there are risks in appointing someone to Britain’s legislature. Why the secrecy? The Lords advice to the prime minister should be made public. 

Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia  – to use the title he chose for himself  – tweeted a message at the end of last week that was, rather conspicuously, not a condemnation of Putin’s unprovoked aggression: “Orthodox Slavs killing their brethren on a scale not witnessed for centuries. An unimaginable tragedy for people of Ukraine and Russia.” It read like a man trying to have it both ways, a message that is sympathetic enough for a London audience, equivocal enough to be inoffensive in Moscow. 

But the invasion of Ukraine is a moment when people have to choose. 

Invaded: Voicemails from Ukraine is a daily reminder of the human price of the war that Putin has chosen to inflict on a peaceful, sovereign neighbouring country. Do listen  – each day, we hear from people as they experience the invasion so that we better understand it and don’t lose sight of it. It’s Tortoise’s effort to keep trying to make sense of it. 

Our ThinkIns this week:

As always, we’re keen to hear what you think and know the issues and ideas we need to be looking at further. Do join us. 

Have a good week.


James Harding
Editor & co-founder