April 29, 2024



On April 23, Russian martyr Alexei Navalny landed a blow from the grave when Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Timur Ivanov was arrested and charged with accepting “massive bribes” following investigations by Navalny activists. This is Russia’s highest-profile scandal and has rattled the country and raised questions. Why arrest someone for corruption when all Russian officials are on the take? Why stage a public trial and not simply handle the indiscretion with poison or a plane crash? Is this about a power struggle inside the Kremlin? The now-disgraced Ivanov is close to Putin’s principal confidantes, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, and Foreign Minister Dmitri Peskov. Are they also at risk? At this point, it appears that the oligarch’s downfall was due to publicity about his wealth and flamboyant lifestyle in Europe as caskets from the war pile up. But such a public display of discipline is perplexing and welcomed by many. “Today is a good day,” commented Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. “The person involved in our investigation was detained on suspicion of bribery. We talked about the glamorous and luxurious life of Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov back at the end of 2022.”

Ivanov was a ranking member of Russia’s elite “siloviki”. He was a senior architect of Russia’s war in Ukraine and was in charge of lucrative army construction and procurement contracts. As a result, he is staggeringly wealthy. The Moscow Times wrote that “Ivanov was linked to Russia’s high-profile reconstruction of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been occupied by Russian forces after a devastating months-long siege. Activists say the vast sums being poured into the Ukraine offensive have given officials new opportunities to enrich themselves through secretive procurement deals.”

Russian investigators stated in court that Ivanov, and another man, accepted bribes “on a particularly [sic] large scale.” Kommersant noted that Ivanov was pursued by the Federal Security Service (formerly KGB) one month ago after Putin ordered a clean-up. But others theorize that his downfall may be about oligarchic rivalry, a power struggle to demote Shoigu, or possibly a necessary move to prevent a putsch to remove Putin as President. The day after Ivanov’s arrest, an independent investigative news outlet called “Istories” cited two anonymous sources who said Ivanov was suspected of “state treason”. And to be clear, in Putin’s dictatorship treason only means one thing: regime change. “No one would have detained him for corruption,” said the sources. “[The Kremlin] knew about it long ago. Putin approved after he was persuaded about [Ivanov’s alleged] state treason.”

Kremlin spokesman, and Ivanov pal, Peskov, quickly discounted the Istories’ report as mere “speculation.” But rumors fly and conspiracy theories continue. Another source suggested to the Moscow Times that it was simply a grab for money. “First of all, it’s market redistribution. But the public blow to the Shoigu camp is also serious. Ivanov supervised not just construction, but military contracts — this is the biggest and most delicious [kickback scheme].”

Others wonder whether Dmitri Medvedev, Russian Security Council Chair and former Prime Minister, was behind the Ivanov probe, as a way to remove Shoigu’s influence and standing. The arrest could also diminish the influence and status of Putin’s long-standing ally, oligarch, and energy mogul Gennady Timchenko, Ivanov’s patron for years. But the answers to these and other questions will only come out if the identity of the bribe-giver in Ivanov’s case is disclosed. That will tell the tale. And that is unlikely to happen.

Another theory was advanced by a blogger, affiliated with the Wagner Group mercenaries, whose founder Evgeny Prigozhin led a brief anti-war mutiny last year and was assassinated. He said Ivanov was removed because he lobbied for a “soft exit” from the war in Ukraine. That explanation is intriguing but a long shot or perhaps wishful thinking.

The facts are that Ivanov and his “Imelda Marcos” wife asked for trouble by living excessively flamboyant lifestyles. They became the subject of European newspapers — and Russian gossip — thanks mostly to Navalny’s anti-corruption team who documented their luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties, expensive purchases, and fabulous real estate holdings. The activists also informed European officials that their recent “divorce” was a sham designed to shift his assets to her to avoid sanctions. Unfortunately, lobbying efforts didn’t work in Europe and the couple have continued to live together, sanctions-free, enjoying their millions and the high life until his arrest in Russia.

Ivanov’s wife is Svetlana Aleksandrovna Zakharova, (née Maniovich), who owns the Metropol Fashion Group and is the former host of a popular Russian TV show called “Take It Off Immediately!” Navalny’s activists followed and harassed her in public for months, providing details to officials and newspapers about all the “blood” money she was spending that her husband had made in the war. Estimates are that the two spent at least one million Euros a year on holidays, villas, yachts, jewelry, clothes, and furnishings. Navalny’s researchers also allege that Svetlana’s expenses were paid by a company involved in reconstructing Mariupol which was once a thriving and lovely city of 400,000 that Russians completely flattened. At least 10,000 civilians died there and only 100,000 people remain.

Negative attention about the Ivanovs’ decadence peaked in April 2023 when The Times wrote a lengthy profile about them, complete with pictures of parties and gatherings. Not coincidentally, the day the piece was published several dozen Navalny activists also gathered at a rally in Paris and urged the European Union to impose sanctions on his “ex-wife” Svetlana. They protested in front of her fabulous property “demanding France to sanction their family, freeze their assets, and kick them out of Europe.”

But France and other Europeans have been lax in pursuing or deporting the many Russian oligarchs that live, full or part-time, amongst them. A few villas and yachts have been seized — or invitations to fancy parties withheld — but they continue to live and spend lavishly with money stolen from the Russian and Ukrainian people. Ironically, these two playmates have been brought to heel in Russia — as a result of the moral courage of Navalny’s followers and Foundation. The Ivanov trial in Moscow will reverberate across Russia. As anti-war Russian social media site Vatnik Soup noted: “As the Ivanov couple is also close friends with Dmitry

Peskov, this is one of the highest profile arrests after Russia launched its full-scale invasion against Ukraine in February of 2022.”

The case is another unsettling development in Russia as was Navalny’s murder, the Prigozhin putsch and assassination, the Moscow shopping mall massacre, anti-war protests, economic troubles and isolation, restive regions, and the war’s staggeringly high death rate. Worse for Putin, the Ivanovs illustrate the rot underlying the Russian Federation with its “Czar” and his “nobles”. As Navalny said: “Corruption is the foundation of contemporary Russia. As Tolstoy said `The nation came about because the villains who robbed their people got together, recruited soldiers and judges to guard their orgy, and now they’re having a feast.’ This brilliant phrase precisely describes what is happening in our country.”

As the world knows, Navalny returned to Russia and certain death. But his work lives on, one oligarch at a time. Now Europe, America, the Middle East, and all civilized nations must also shame, sanction, and expel all members of Russia’s disgusting oligarchy, and their families, who live among them, visit, or own assets there. Their wealth must be seized and confiscated and given to Ukrainians as reparations. Hopefully, this would encourage Russians to do the same.