Charles Moore

What does Putin’s fascination with Eton tell us about him?

What does Putin's fascination with Eton tell us about him?
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Jonathan Unleashed

Meg Rosoff

Bloomsbury, pp. 288, £

How does Vladimir Putin think about the world? It becomes dangerously important to know. I still have not seen a revealing speech by or discussion with him. I have found out a bit more, however, about the two-hour private interview conducted with him by several young Etonians last summer. One reason they got into the room, it seems, is that Mr Putin wanted to know about Eton and why it produced 19 prime ministers. The boys explained that one of the school’s great advantages was its societies — Political, Literary, Cheese etc. — largely organised by them, not by masters. They said these brought them into contact with a wide range of visiting speakers, broadening their minds. It is interesting that Mr Putin did not understand what ‘societies’ were, and had to have them re-explained. In Russia, perhaps, there is no such thing as societies. The President was asked about leadership. He replied that when he worked in Soviet intelligence he had been advised that he should never take out his gun unless he intended to use it. If he merely threatened to use it, his adversary would snatch it and hit him on the head. Sensible advice about the need for a leader to mean what he says, but a chilling metaphor all the same.

The boys’ meeting was arranged by Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, who is sort of confessor to Mr Putin. The bishop delivered the Lyttelton lecture at Eton, and the boys met him there. He is interested in how a Christian foundation can be an enduring worldly success. In this changed world we are living in, the best channels to political leaders do not come through ordinary politics. There are similarities between Bishop Tikhon and Mr Trump’s Steve Bannon, though I hope neither is pleased by the comparison.

This is an extract from Charles Moore's Notes, which appeared in this week's Spectator