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Category: Reads and Articles

The Russia Conundrum

The Russia Conundrum by Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 I’ve been devouring audiobooks on Russian history. I’ve been naïve and ignorant: I couldn’t fathom why, in this day and age, we could have large scale war and conflict on our continent. I’m sure that casually interested people can cite basic reasons about geo-politics and historical boundaries etc. But I felt compelled to go deep.

I think my audio book journey has ended for now with this (relatively lightweight) assessment from a native Russian. Albeit a Russian living in exile, with an axe to grind… and an ex-Oligarch – but he used to regularly chat and meet with Putin. So it’s an interesting insight of money, greed, botched principles of privatisation at the end of the Yeltsin period and the need for ‘The West’ to be portrayed as the ‘enemy’ in order to perpetuate the need for the ‘strong man’ state of authoritarianism.

And Mikhail corroborates the words of the other authors I’ve read. What is the Russian Conundrum?

Is it a ‘politics of eternity’ verses a ‘politics of inevitability’ compounded by a lack of succession principles? Timothy Snyder and ‘The Road To Unfreedom’.

Is it the complex history, Tsars, the loss of empire, revolutions, the loss of the Soviet Union that forces Putin to mourn those losses? Or is Russia too big and lacking strong and the well established local governments that are needed to facilitate anything other than authoritarianism ? Orlando Figes and ‘The Story of Russia’.

Is authoritarianism the consequence when ordinary people don’t uphold and pursue basic principles – such as supporting quality journalism and not being blindly obedient. Timothy Snyder and ‘On Tyranny and On Ukraine’.

And what was it like living and working in Russian under Putin. Media manipulation, propaganda, ‘narratives’, state intervention, businesses seized, charges falsified, bribery and so on. Peter Pomerantsev and ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible’.

Are there answers? Is there any hope? I haven’t a clue.

Book: ‘Spare’ By Prince Harry

I’m not attempting to do serious book reviews. In fact, I don’t even read anymore – I listen to audio books which is a relatively new activity for me and I love it. However, audiobooks tend to be overlooked after they’re finished, whereas a real book might hang around for a while, or be glimpsed on a bookshelf on a regular basis etc. And I’m also finding that my memory of audiobooks are starting to blur and merge. So these blogs are really just my way of documenting and reminding me what I’ve listened to.


Jeremy Paxman has described Prince Harry’s claims in his memoir Spare as a “series of moans from a very privileged young man”

Interesting review Jezza – I think that’s the whole point.

The book is in 4 parts. Parts 1-3 are fairly autobiographical which I enjoyed – listening to an audiobook means there is no imagery of the privilege and opulence (I’m not sure if the paper book has photos in it). And he refers to relatives as ‘Pa’, or ‘Granny’, or ‘Uncle’ etc – I thus frequently found it quite nicely detached from the Royal Family – much of the book felt like an autobiography of a military officer, of which I’ve read a few. I’m an ex military officer, helicopter pilot and a man with an older (and younger) brother – so I actually found myself relating to him in many ways!! I’ve also seen him around at RAF Shawbury – I was doing an instructor course at the same as when he was going through basic helicopter training – so I saw him knocking about with everyone else in the mess at lunch times etc. Just one of the guys.

I also had no idea of his true passion for Africa and the work he does in various countries within that continent.

Part 4 is where he dishes the dirt although I only perceive this is in the context of some fairly ‘common or garden’ family bickering. It’s the press and the ‘Royal’ aspect that amplifies this bickering into dark and deep treachery. I’d advise (for want of a better expression) a bit of ‘emotional intelligence’ all round to be honest.

I think the way Harry rationalises the fraught family disagreements is contrived because I’m sure they weren’t as controlled and one-sided as Harry describes. But there are also some cohesive themes and continuity throughout the book that I don’t think could be fabricated. I think the smoke does indicate fire.

But for me the overriding themes which no one seems to be talking about are: anxiety; mental health; bereavement; PTSD, harassment, stalking; racism, drug abuse. He doesn’t really talk about these per se at any great length but for me they’re the ‘elephant in the room’ – if he wasn’t royal, then you’d be giving him helpline numbers.

But Harry clearly wants to escape his gilded cage. And the pain of his mother’s death is central to what drives him. The Royal Family are all clearly living their own version of ‘eternity politics’ – driven by history, protocol, anniversaries and taking meaning from the past. He fears history repeating itself. Can you blame him for wanting to do what, in his very abnormal world, he thinks is right for protecting his family?

Ultimately it’s a love story?

Are you being stupid?

I recently received the following article from an acquaintance – it was topical as his organisation were undergoing a seemingly bizarre restructuring process which, to employees on the ‘shop floor’, seemed to be arriving at some odd conclusions in the context of their operational output:

The main point of the article is that smart people can be stupid when they lack the correct ‘conceptual tools’ as a result of culture, ethos or specific pressures within their organisational group.

However, is the article fair? It’s a bit like accident investigation: no one consciously decides to do a bad job; no one consciously wants to cock it all up; actually, people/teams make a decision(s) that makes sense to them at the time, and which factors in the pressures, aims and objectives in their immediate world – it’s not possible to select new conceptual tools when you think you already have the right conceptual tools.

it’s not possible to select new conceptual tools when you think you already have the right conceptual tools.

Which is why good leadership should also be humble and garner opinion, thoughts and advice from a wide variety of areas. And it’s why people on the outside-looking-in should be forthcoming and, in a constructive way, question and query ‘stupidity’ when it arises.  

  • If you’re a business owner, do you consult with your team with a genuine desire to get ideas and fresh inspiration for business development?
  • Does your business/organisation have a genuine and real forum for allowing constructive criticism?
  • If you’re a lower/middle-manager, do you have the confidence to constructively comment and advise your senior management on business processes?

And it’s why people on the outside-looking-in should be forthcoming and, in a constructive way, question and query ‘stupidity’ when it arises.  

You can be stupid – just allow other people to tell you when you are! And if they do, then take heed.

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