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The colour of Russian money part 14: The fourth Estate part 2. Leonid Bershidsky

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Stephen Komarnyckyj#Ukraine #Russia
Leonid Bershidsky is one of the most prominent liberal voices writing on Russia and Ukraine in the western media. Yet there are grounds for treating his work with a measure of caution and historic business links to the entourage of corrupt ex president Viktor Yanukovych.

My enemies have sweet voices

When I hear my heart rejoices…

Al Stewart

Leonid Bershidsky has been one of the most prominent commentators on Bloomberg dealing with the war between Russia and Ukraine. The site is one of the most respected sources of financial information globally and by granting him a platform it has provided him with both credibility and reach. He has some considerable achievements to his credit including editing leading Russian liberal media outlet Vedomosti. His columns are always beautifully written and adopt a generally measured tone. He is the author of several pieces seemingly critical of Putin, recently arguing that Russia needed a vision which did not replicate “Putin’s great power ambitions.” Yet, along with a number of other Russians who are critical of Putin, his work contains talking points that will gladden the heart of the Kremlin. A recent piece on the subject of Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch strait noted that Russia was willing to “flout its international obligations.” However, it also added that it showed the “lengths Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is willing to go to remain in power.” This is indeed a point which some Ukrainian journalists have suggested and which is echoed by Leonid Ragozin, another liberal Russian journalist who will be the subject of a future article. He also validates a Kremlin talking point by noting that “Russia has been quick to point out that the escalation benefits Poroshenko domestically.”

It is not the first time that Bershidky’s views have dovetailed neatly with Kremlin talking points. He has defended Kaspersky, arguing that the US ban on this questionable product developed by a KGB agent sets a dangerous precedent. In 2017, when discussing the 2014 ‘referendum’ in Crimea he referred to ‘pro Russian politicians’ and ‘local self defense gangs' which, as Ukrainian journalist Roman Sohn noted ‘ignores the fact they were part of Russia's subversion to conceal invasion.’ More seriously he has previously revealed an antipathy towards Ukraine which echoes what a 2012 Chatham House paper described in the following words: 'generations of Russian intellectuals have turned belittling of the Ukrainian language and culture into a part of the Russian belief system.'There is more generally a tendency to view Ukraine and Ukrainians with condescension. As Ariana Gic, an analyst specialising in Ukraine noted, a 2016 Facebook Post by Bershidsky is arguably Ukrainophobic and, indeed, it shows this traditional attitude. The Ukrainian information “ministry” are “bastards” their European dream is 'dead' and they are going to be “fucked and robbed' as they were in Yanukovych’s time. This rage against Ukraine setting a different course to Russia, the notion that its independence is a violation, is a very widespread, atavistic view in Russia (alas). It is the stance embodied in Brodsky’s poem on Ukrainian independence which uses spittle as a metaphor for Ukrainian culture.

It is then arguable that at least some of Bershidsky’s work is useful to Putin and the oligarchs who he affects to criticise. However, unfortunately, Bershidsky appears to have been linked to Yanukovych and that perhaps raises a more serious question mark over employing him as a commentator on Ukraine. He has been an editorial consultant at a Ukrainian media firm called UMH group since 2011. UMH was, at one point, owned by Serhii Kurchenko, an oligarch who was connected to Yanukovych. Many of Kurchenko’s assets, including UMH, have been seized and he is currently in hiding facing several charges connected with graft under the ex president. Corruption was rife under Yanukovych but Bershidsky managed to praise the brutal ex president as being 'better than Putin' in a 2012 piece.  Bershidsky is undoubtedly a talented communicator.  Yet his historic links to Kurchenko's firm and his contempt for Ukraine's European aspirations illustrate yet again the increasingly problematic links between the western media, oligarchic clans and Russian soft power. 

Stephen Komarnyckyj is a PEN award winning literary translator and poet whose work is published by Kalyna Language Press and features on the PEN World Bookshelf. You can e mail him on stevekomoffice(at)zoho.eu

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##Ukraine #Bershidsky #Russia

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