The world was all abuzz when people learned that Russian President Vladimir Putin had met with a group of “golden youth” from England’s elite all-boys boarding school, Eton. The meeting was kept in strict secrecy until after the fact.
Here is the commentary of pundit Petr Akopov from VZGLIAD magazine. What follows is a summary/paraphrase of his piece, without (much) additional commentary from yours truly.
It was around a week ago that Putin received the 11 Eton schoolboys into the Kremlin. Upon their return home, the boys immediately posted about the visit into their Facebook. English newspapers Daily Telegraph and Sun picked up the story, and it became widely known to the public. Here is the Guardian version of the story, by the way, along with photos and a video. (Sidebar: In the vid the boys are dining at a restaurant in Moscow, and at least a couple of the boys appear to have brought their girlfriends with them.) Anyhow, Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov explained the visit thusly: “This was a private meeting with the boys from Eton. Their conversation lasted about an hour and was interesting both to the President, and to the boys themselves.”
Peskov also confirmed the version of the story put out by the Etonians: Back in March the Eton boys attended a speech by Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon (Shevkukov) who is rumored to be Putin’s private confessor. Tikhon is the Bishop of Yegorevsk and also vicar to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus. According to his wiki biography, Georgy Shevkunov started out in life as a screenwriter, but then, still in Soviet times, 1982, he became a Christian and moved into the Caves Monastery in Pskov. However, he still continues to write and publish, just not movies.
As the current Vicar of the Sretensky Monastry in Moscow, and also a member of the Presidential Advisory Board on Culture, Bishop Tikhon enjoys political power and international influence. During his visit to Eton last March, there was talk of some of the boys visiting Moscow. Several of the schoolboys asked Bishop Tikhon to speak to Putin and see if they could get an audience with the Russian President. Tikhon advised them to write a letter to Putin, which they did; and the meeting was set up.
Etonians Travel to Bear-Land
The Eton boys themselves wished to organize the visit as an official delegation. However, the College would not agree to this. Instead, the boys travelled just as a private delegation. The main organizer of the visit was David Wei, a Chinese boy from Shanghai who studies at Eton. It took David 9 months to organize the secret trip, but the resulting bouncing baby was a good one. Upon returning home, David bragged on his Facebook: “Lads, we made a deep impression on Putin, and in return he showed us his human face.” [yalensis disclaimer: For this quote, I am translating from Russian to English, not quoting the original English which I don’t have access to, since I am not on Facebook. Hence, my English rendition from Russian will probably not match the original quotes word for word.]
Another boy named Trenton Bricken was quoted as saying about Putin: “He was small in person but not in presence,” And that there IS an accurate quote, because I got it from CNN, Trenton is the big strapping lad shaking hands with Putin. Good thing I didn’t have to translate it back from the Russian rendering: «при личной встрече он оказался маленьким, но заполнял собой пространство», which is somewhat more grandiose, and would go something like: “Upon our personal meeting, he turned out to be tiny, but he filled all the space around him.”
Both British and Russian press are treating the visit as something analogous to “ping-pong diplomacy”, i.e., using back channels to smooth over tattered relationships. There is most likely something to that theory. One must also keep in mind that Russian and English political elites have had a special relationship with one another going back at least to the times of Queen Elizabeth I, if not earlier.
However, Akopov sees in the visit something else entirely, and this is just his opinion, but he believes that Putin is genuinely interested in studying how the English imperial system prepares its future elite via exclusive private schools.
[to be continued]