Christmas in Kiev with Olivier Védrine

Author: Roger Casale


Kyiv
Kyiv

Ilya Ponomarev and partner Diana  (Photo:Edmond Huet)
Ilya Ponomarev and partner Diana (Photo:Edmond Huet)

Oleg Skrypka (Photo:Edmond Huet)
Oleg Skrypka (Photo:Edmond Huet)

Olivier Védrine (third from left) with his Christmas guests
Olivier Védrine (third from left) with his Christmas guests

 

 

Olivier Védrine is the Chief Editor of the Russian Monitor, one of the leading online media outlets for the Russian opposition and a board member of New Europeans.

Being French means that Christmas comes early in Kyiv - the Orthodox church celebrates Christmas on 7 January.

So on the 25 December, Olivier Védrine, French political scientist and long-standing friend of Ukraine, opens the doors of his apartment overlooking the Dnieper river and holds a traditional party for his friends.

Nothing is too good for his guests from the Russian opposition, and the world of culture and politics in Ukraine.

These include the former Russian deputy, Ilya Ponomarev, the only Russian Deputy to vote against the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, now living in exile in Ukraine.

Oleg Skrypka is also amongst the guests – “Ukraine’s Johnny Hallyday” explains Olivier, "a household name, not just in Ukraine, but in Belarus and Russia, as well."

Oleg has brought wine from his vineyard in the Carpathian mountains, a fine Rosé which stands comparison not just with the Tokaji from neighbouring Hungary but even with the Chateau Margaux Olivier has provided for the occasion. 

Bogdan Strutinsky, President of the National Operetta of Ukraine proposed that there should be no toasts, no formalities - "It's Christmas, we want to behave normally, we are happy to relax".

As his 25 guests tucked into a feast of red caviar, pork brochettes, boudin noir, potatoes and chocolate gateaux, the conversation turned to Putin and the threat from Russia.

Fedor Klimenko, CEO of the Russian Monitor, reported that the cyber-attacks had resumed which had shut down the Monitor's website for 36 hours the previous week.

The latest spate of attacks coincided with a complete shutdown of the internet orchestrated by Putin as a so-called security exercise.

After all if anyone was aware of how important it is to protect communications from external interference and attack by a hostile state it is surely Vladimir Putin.

I asked Olivier why Putin chose the Christmas period to engage in such obvious manipulation and online chicanery. 

Was there a tradition in Russia of the Christmas Grinch?

“It’s very simple. Putin wants to demoralise people, to destroy hope.  Putin knows that Christmas is a time when people start to relax.  

As we fill our glasses to celebrate, we also want to fill our hearts and minds with more positive thoughts about the future – that’s exactly what Putin doesn’t want. 

He doesn’t want to give any space at all to hope."

Putin’s bag of Christmas party poopers also included the news that Russia has the Avantgard hypersonic rocket system ready to deploy.

Olivier and his party guests remained surprisingly upbeat about this development.

“We don’t know if he has this capability or not. But if he does have these rockets, we don’t believe he will dare to deploy them.

What does concern us is that it gives Putin a diplomatic advantage.

The  fact that he can threaten to use it, allows him to continue to play games, to manipulate, to provoke, to see how far he can go before Europe and the USA react.”

The third game that Putin has been playing over the Christmas period has been to engage in joint naval drills with Iran and China.

The Iranian connection is the more obvious one to trace. Like Putin’s Russia, Iran is a regime which is repressive, manipulative and secretive.

Iran also has form when it comes to shutting down the internet  - it did so again last week following protests against rising oil prices and a renewed spate of executions.

“Putin is a leader at war with his own people” continued Olivier, “ that is very similar to the situation in Iran.”

China is a very different case from Iran.

Despite Russian resentment and aggression towards the USA and Europe, 80% of Russians live in the European part of Russia,  as opposed to only 20%  in the Asian areas.

So joint manoeuvres with China can work as a warning to NATO, but Olivier and his guests were confident that Russia would never accept Chinese leadership.

And China, with its trade expanding globally, does not want to go to war with the West but rather to do business.

With such a dramatic and threatening backdrop to Olivier’s Christmas celebrations in Kiev, I asked him if the mood was somehow more subdued this year than normal.

“On the contrary, we are in very good spirits. 

That’s because we know that we are united, that we are standing together, shoulder to shoulder with all who seek to defend Europe and our Euroepan values.

We are the resistance and we are on the front line.

We know that one day Russia will be free, Ukraine will be at peace, and we will be happy because we will be able to live our lives in a normal way.

Until then we must and will fight on - for Russia, for Ukraine and for Europe”

 


About New Europeans

New Europeans is a membership association based in London and Brussels.

We are a civil rights organisation working for a Europe of the citizens, a Europe of equality and social justice, anchored in human rights.

To join New Europeans, click here

 


Roger Casale

About the Author

Roger Casale

Roger set up New Europeans and runs the initiative on a day-to-day basis.

He has experience in business, academia and politics both in the UK and internationally. He studied at Brasenose College Oxford and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and holds a Master of Arts in International Affairs. He speaks Italian, German, French and a little Arabic. 

In 2009, he received the award of Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana from the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano for services to British-Italian relations. He is a former Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Foreign Office.

 

View all articles
Roger Casale

About the Author

Roger Casale

Roger set up New Europeans and runs the initiative on a day-to-day basis.

He has experience in business, academia and politics both in the UK and internationally. He studied at Brasenose College Oxford and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and holds a Master of Arts in International Affairs. He speaks Italian, German, French and a little Arabic. 

In 2009, he received the award of Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana from the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano for services to British-Italian relations. He is a former Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Foreign Office.

 

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