The Big Steal

The Big Steal

By Fresh Air Production

The Big Steal tells the story of Vladimir Putin and his violent assault on human dignity, rule of law, democracy and truth – in Russia, its neighbours and across the West.

A former KGB officer, Putin climbed his way to the presidency of the world’s largest nation, and put in place a mafia state that steals from its own people to cause havoc abroad. When he stole the country’s most successful energy company, Yukos, he gave a clear warning of what was to come. Since then, Western enablers in politics, business and the law have helped Putin on his way.

Gavin Esler speaks to the people who have challenged Putin, tried to understand him, or simply hoped to survive. He takes us through to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a new and dangerous world that is opening up, and asks the question: where do we go next?

Produced by Fresh Air Production


Russia Invades Ukraine

In the early hours of 24 February 2022, Russia launched a brutal invasion of its neighbour, Ukraine. True to his yearslong strategy of lies and disinformation, Vladimir Putin said he had launched a “special miliary operation” to “denazify Ukraine”. “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory,” said Putin. Ukraine is now under siege, bombarded from all sides. Cruise missiles and cluster bombs have targeted civilians – and a Holocaust Memorial. In this first episode of a new season and a new world, we hear from Ukrainians on the ground in Kyiv as they prepare to fight for their survival, their families and their nation. And we hear from people in Russia. It seems that few beyond Putin have any appetite for war, least of all nuclear conflict. Kira Rudik leads a Ukrainian political party: she tells us why she’s taken up arms. Back in Westminster, Chris Bryant MP explains how this invasion was always on the cards, and what on earth is happening inside Vladimir Putin’s head.  See for privacy information.
02/03/2238m 59s

Russia On the Brink?

With tensions continuing to grow between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and NATO, is President Putin’s endgame finally coming into view? A massive military build-up on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine suggests an invasion is likely, but what would the ramifications for the surrounding region, and the wider international community be? If Russia invades Ukraine is a war that spills out of the region inevitable? And meanwhile, we explain how the dirty money flowing from into the London from Russia impacts the UK economy and the cash in your own pocket.See for privacy information.
14/12/2151m 30s

A New Breed Of Autocracy

The Kremlin’s lies can be seen almost everywhere across the globe  and show no signs of abating. In fact world leaders are even adopting Putin’s tactics as a new breed of autocracy is on the horizon. So what can be done to stop the erosion of democracy and ensure that voting remains the great equaliser in polarized societies around the world? Gavin Esler explores the worldwide rise of an “authoritarian mindset”: angry and highly divisive politics stretching from Trump’s America to Brexit Britain, Orban’s Hungary, and to Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, India and elsewhere. All seemingly following the lead of Vladimir Putin in Moscow. And he asks ‘How does America under the Presidency of Joe Biden, begin to stand up to a Russia actively flexing its foreign aggression muscles?’See for privacy information.
24/11/2133m 14s

Protests and Police Raids

In this episode Gavin Esler explores the theft of democracy itself in Russia. President Putin holds elections regularly, but for what reason, considering that his ruling party always wins? In recent years, youngsters have taken to the streets to demonstrate their disapproval of their lack of rights. Most famously, Olga Misik was arrested by Russian riot police for reading the section of the Russian constitution that states she is allowed to take part in peaceful protest. Gavin Esler discovers what the current feeling is amongst Russians living under an authoritarian regime where speaking out against Putin can lead to a police raid on your home.See for privacy information.
02/11/2147m 56s

While You Were Shielding

The Big Steal returns with a new series exploring Russia's continuing journey towards an autocratic kleptocracy.  Whilst the world has been gripped by a global pandemic, President Putin has maintained his grip on power at home by clamping down on anyone who disagrees with him.  The leader of his main opposition, Alexei Navalny, has been poisoned and remains in prison. This is what becomes of someone who attempts stands up to the Kremlin in 2021.  And with a leader who's main concern is to line his own pockets, in this series we ask what's next for those 140 million Russians who are living under Putin's power.  Hosted by Gavin Esler, featuring Mark Galeotti, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Kara Murza, Evgeny Feldman, Oliver Carroll & Anne ApplebaumSee for privacy information.
18/10/2144m 53s

SERIES 2 NEWS + 'Taking Apart Terror' Taster

Gavin Esler brings us news of the upcoming Series 2 of The Big Steal. A new 3-part series coming later this month. Plus - a sample of 'Taking Apart Terror' - a new podcast series from the same production team exploring the world of international terrorism. How do terrorist organisations work, how are they financed, and how are we fighting them? And the Taliban's recent takeover in Afghanistan make the world a more dangerous place? We hope you enjoy this short sample, and to listen to the full series please search for 'Taking Aaprt Terror' in your podcast app.See for privacy information.
10/09/2114m 27s

The Big Steal – Epilogue

Gavin Esler talks to experts on Russia and its complicated political and economic landscape, to attempt to pull all the threads together and answer some of the questions that run through "the Big Steal". Gavin asks Vladimir Kara Murza how long Putin’s grip on power could last now he has effectively fixed things so he could be in power for as long as he lives. Can anything or anyone stop him? He asks Anne Applebaum if Russia will meddle in the US presidential election again this year? And what are the chances that Putin and his Kremlin cronies will ever be held to account?See for privacy information.
28/04/2037m 27s

What comes after Putin?

What comes next? There are clear indications that Putin was behind meddling in the US election of 2016, and convincing arguments to suggest that he tested his tactics on the UK’s Brexit referendum earlier that same year. The Putin regime aims to sow chaos around the world, making the West look just as much a basket case as Russia. But after 20 years, could Putin’s grasp on power be coming to an end? Or will he find a way to hang on to power? In this episode we ask what could follow once Putin leaves office. Will we be faced with a more violent leader, or will the people rise and take power? The next election is due in 2024, but there is a strong chance Putin could stay in government, but he cannot go on forever, and so what can be done to ensure Russia changes to benefit it’s population in the coming decades? This episode features Mark Galeotti, Garry Kasparov, Tim Snyder, Arend Jan Boekestijn, Anne Applebaum and Vladimir Kara Murza.See for privacy information.
17/04/2037m 14s

Russia's War Against Truth

A world of misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods, propaganda - the normalisation of lies. This episode focuses on the weapons used by the Putin regime to create chaos around the world. Charges raised against Russia include meddling in elections, cyberwarfare, international aggression, carrying out murders on foreign soil, and bombarding us with fake news. So what can be done about it? Maybe the only real solution is to wait for the Russian nation to rise against the leadership, whilst also ensuring that government is held to account in the courts and institutions responsible for justice around the world. And hope that it’s not too late. Appearing in this episode are Ben Emmerson QC. Dennis Krivosheev from Amnesty International, Dutch broadcaster and former MP Arend Jan Boekestijn and Hubert Smeets from Raam op Rusland.See for privacy information.
07/04/2048m 24s

Follow the Money

To understand Russia’s journey from Communism to kleptocracy in a generation, the best approach is to follow the money. At the heart of the story is something called ‘Reiderstvo’. This is defined as the illicit acquisition of a business or part of a business in Russia. It’s similar to asset grabbing but whilst in 1990s Russia criminal gangs would use violence to steal what they could and bribe some officials to leave them alone, in modern day Russia it’s no longer criminal gangs stealing money and businesses, it is the Russian state using the state apparatus, including the law, to steal. In this episode we explore the consequences of reiderstvo. It damages the growth of the Russian economy and discourages foreign investors from putting money into the country. So whilst the president of the largest country in the world makes his billions, the population of Russia, some one hundred and forty-four million people, live in abject poverty. This episode attempts to discover what it is that Putin really wants: money, power or both? We hear from Louise Shelley, Anders Alsund, and Mark Galeotti in order to find out where the money trail may lead.See for privacy information.
31/03/2021m 12s

The American who made Putin Furious

In December 2013, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is pardoned by Putin for humanitarian reasons: his mother is sick. But whilst Khodorkovsky is released, others still remain in jail, or even worse, have been killed, by the Putin regime. In this episode we explore some of those victims of Putin’s corruption. Yukos employees such as Vasiliy Aleksanyan who have died as a result of their incarceration, and the longest serving political prisoner, Alexei Pichugin. We then hear from Bill Browder, a man that angered Vladimir Putin so much that he was namechecked in the first summit meeting between Putin and President Trump. Bill Browder was doing business in Russia. He was targeted in a corporate identity theft, his companies were stolen and the $230 million tax he’d paid to the Russian government was refunded back to shell companies fraudulently.  His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, investigated and figured it out. And instead of being rewarded for working out what had happened, he was arrested, thrown into jail and eventually brutally murdered by prison guards. Bill Browder now dedicates his life to getting the Magnitsky Act passed around the world: a law designed to freeze assets of human rights offenders and bans them from entering the country that imposes the act.See for privacy information.
24/03/2033m 48s

The Man in the Cage

Eight months after his arrest Mikhail Khodorkovsky is put on trial in a Moscow courtroom. It’s a show trial: Khodorkovsky is put in a cage; TV pictures are beamed all over the world, as if to set an example to other rich businessmen in Russia. Very quickly other rich oligarchs realise that Putin could come for them next and so they make deals with him, giving him 50% ownership of their companies, according to former businessman Bill Browder, to avoid persecution. This made Putin the richest man in the world. Meanwhile Khodorkovsky is sent to jail on trumped up charges of tax evasion and fraud. In this episode Mikhail Khodorkovsky recounts what life in a Russian jail was like and how significant the Yukos case was in terms of how Putin drew his line in the sand. He then set about taking down his perceived rivals one by one, and along the way he helped himself and his cronies to most of their money. We hear from opposition politician Vladimir Kara Murza and former chess grandmaster and now human rights campaigner Garry Kasparov as they recount the story of Khodorkovsky’s trial.See for privacy information.
17/03/2020m 21s

The Man Who Challenged Putin

By 2003 Yukos was a success story, but Putin’s premiership was not going so well. He’d failed to deal competently with the Kursk submarine disaster, and then the Moscow Theatre siege ended in a bloodbath. Putin decides that he needs to stamp his authority and does so buy summoning the most powerful businessmen – the oligarchs – to a meeting and tells them he’ll stay out of their business if they stay out of politics. At the same time Mikhail Khodorkovsky is looking to expand Yukos further, but feels that he’s held back by the corruption in the Russian economy. In a televised meeting Khodorkovsky confronts Putin and informs him that, according to a survey, 80% of of the population in Russia think the majority of Russian officials are corrupt; and 25% of the Russian population think that all the Russian officials are corrupt including Putin himself. After the confrontation it didn’t look good for Khodorkovsky. He feared he’d be targeted by Putin and his fears were not unfounded. On October 25th 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man, was arrested at gun point on his private jet. Swedish economist Anders Aslund and Mikhail Khodorkosky recount the story, along with Professor Tim Snyder and Anne Applebaum.See for privacy information.
10/03/2022m 54s

From Communism to Kleptocracy

The Cold War is over and 70 years of Communist rule is flushed away. In Soviet Russia, capitalists risked being shot, but with Communism gone, Mikhail Khodorkovsky started a small bank, Menatep, before rising to run one of the world’s most profitable energy businesses: Yukos. But the success of Khodorkovsky does not go unnoticed by Putin. Whilst Yukos is the biggest tax payer in the New Russia, Vladimir Putin has his eye on the greater prize. He wants the oil company’s profits for himself. And it is not long before he makes his move. Epsiode Two features first-hand accounts from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, along with Anders Aslund.See for privacy information.
03/03/2020m 50s

The Rivals

In post-Soviet Russia, two men are rising through the ranks, but they are following different trajectories. One is a businessman: Mikhail Khodorkovsky is an entrepreneur, seizing opportunities as Russia looks likely to move towards a western style economy. Mikhail Khodorkovsky soon became the richest man in Russia. The other is a KGB officer, stationed in Dresden when the Berlin wall fell: Vladimir Putin went on to be head of the FSB and soon became President of the largest country in the world. With two diametrically opposed ideals, the two were destined to clash. And they when they did it was live on national television. This edition lays down the foundations for a struggle that lasted for around 15 years between the two patriotic Russians. Episode One features contributions from Mark Galeotti, Anders Aslund, Chris Bryant MP and Anne Applebaum.See for privacy information.
03/03/2022m 12s
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