Pyotr Patrushev is hard to forget. With a life seemingly lifted from the pages of a cold-war thriller, his accomplishments, wisdom and defiance are defining, memorable attributes.
He was born under Soviet Russia but held western liberal thought and philosophical traditions of freedom and individual autonomy dear. He acted upon his convictions and defected one day while swimming -- he continued out into the Black Sea all the way to Turkey, where for all his troubles he was promptly arrested as a Russian Spy, and spent long stretches in solitary confinement while the mistake was sorted out.
There is a 45 minute film on Youtube that was made about his swim to freedom.
Eventually he made it to London where he actualized himself as an accomplished journalist & pubic intellectual. He worked with the BBC in London, Radio Liberty in both Munich and San Francisco before discovering that Australia was where he felt centered and grounded. He had found an adopted homeland.
A gifted linguist, it's not terribly surprising that he synthesized his knowledge of Kremlin politics and policy into one of Australia's leading experts on Soviet politics. He was also one of the finest simultaneous interpreters I have ever had the honor of working with, and he took a certain delight in being a witness and a conduit to the Russian leadership's pretensions, shadings and misrepresentations at the various summits and governmental conferences where he worked.
On a more sober note, for 27 years he was on the KGB's list of wanted men. Not surprisingly, his characteristic way of dealing with that discomfiting fact was mordant humor.
I find that this 2010 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview of Pyotr by journalist Richard Fidler really encapsulates perfectly his intellect, breadth of vision, and humanity. Honor the man by listening in the background, like an engaging NPR story.
We met in the Doha Asian Games in 2006, and for ten years I considered him a role model and mentor. No doubt the portion of my career and client base that is Japanese ministry-based owes a debt of influence to his perfectly controlled way at being at the center of The Great and The Good of Russian power and society.
Swimming. It enabled the life that he wanted for himself. It also seems to be a bookend to its finish: while swimming in the Ocean, he didn't come back. His body was discovered, and initial causes suggested a heart attack while exercising.
His guest book link is here.