Lebedev’s is a story of New Russian times, and badly told. Only occasionally does he deliver a clear account of how the mixture of Russian bandit capitalism and state capitalism works. Instead, he immerses the reader in highly detailed, hard-to-follow accounts of the skulduggery practised against him – quoting at length from official documents, newspaper articles and correspondence. The photographs are, with few exceptions, of him – with Gorbachev, Kevin Spacey, John Malkovich, Ralph Fiennes, Boris Johnson, Thatcher, Putin. His unique blend of intelligence, entrepreneurial activism and inside knowledge is let down by his remorseless self-absorption.
Overlong chunks of the memoir are devoted to score-settling. The bad guys ultimately prevail. By 2012, Lebedev had been dispossessed of most of his empire – his stake in Aeroflot, his budget airline and his bank depositors, scared away after FSB goons in balaclavas raided his office. At his lowest point, Lebedev thinks about suicide. “One moment I opened my eyes and realised I didn’t want to go on,” he writes.
These confessions make it easy to like Lebedev – a capitalist-idealist, in his words, and a brain guy too. Ultimately, though, the book rings hollow. There’s nothing wrong with his analysis of global corruption, and of the trillion dollars stolen annually in the developing world and elsewhere, and hidden in offshore accounts, often by western fixers. The problem is, Lebedev says nothing about Putin, the person who sits at the top of Russia’s mafia state.