Friday 16 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 16/2/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Shutterstock

Obituary / Andrew Mueller

Face of fearlessness

There are few higher-risk 21st-century occupations than making an enemy of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. To cross Putin, or the courtiers and henchmen who anticipate his whims, is to invite a demise that is both tragically premature and grotesquely picturesque. For tyrants, the possession of supreme power is insufficient: they must also be able to demonstrate that they can exercise that omnipotence as they please – and devil take anyone who seeks to impede them.

Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, whose death was confirmed by Russian state media today, became a national figure in his early thirties. He bought small shareholdings in various dubious companies, of which Russia has no shortage, used court appeals to highlight questionable actions and posted his findings on a blog. Few Russians needed to be told that their country was being looted by unaccountable kleptocrats and their enablers in government. But seeing the figures provided them with catharsis, if not justice. Navalny, who relayed his discoveries across social media with a dry wit, attracted a colossal online following. When he spoke in public, thousands turned out.

Even after his death, Navalny is still the closest thing Russia possessed to an opposition leader. When he announced his intention to run in the 2018 Russian presidential elections, his opponents stepped up their response accordingly. Navalny was repeatedly arrested, assaulted with a chemical agent that temporarily cost him sight in one eye and, finally, banned from standing. In August 2020 he spent about three weeks in a coma. Doctors confirmed that he had been dosed with a nerve agent of the novichok strain, a tactic previously deployed against the Kremlin’s enemies. Despite surviving multiple assassination attempts, he was exiled to a penal colony for the remainder of his days.

Alexei Navalny could not have expected to reach an advanced age. He was the type of activist who factored in the prospect that whatever progress they might make would not benefit themselves but, instead, those who survived to further the path they cleared. Such is the only kind of opponent that Putin’s Russia invites: the kind who knows what they’re up against – and goes up against it anyway.

Andrew Mueller is a contributing editor at Monocle and presenter of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Diplomacy / Russia & Latin America

Back to the island

Next week, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, will be embarking on a tour of Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil, where he will take part in a G20 meeting. His talks in Cuba with the country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and its foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, will focus on bolstering the two nations’ strategic partnership and financial ties, as well as increasing bilateral trade. Having largely stepped back from the region following the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow has conspicuously renewed its interest in Havana over the past year. Increasingly isolated since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia needs trading partners and political allies, so Lavrov’s trip has a certain logic. Yet his focus on Latin America – and on Cuba in particular – can also be viewed as a jab at the US. After all, Russian involvement with the island nation has always provoked anxiety on the other side of the Florida Straits. Whatever Vladimir Putin’s intentions for the region might be, it’s almost certain that Washington will not be happy.

Making an exit: Farfetch founder José Neves

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Global

Fall guy

Farfetch’s CEO, José Neves, who founded the luxury retailer in 2007, has stepped down from his role. Valued at more than $6bn (€5.5bn) when it went public in 2018, the company was considered one of the fashion industry’s greatest success stories. But after a series of wrong moves, it was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange and was bought out of administration in January by South Korean e-commerce giant Coupang for $500m (€584m).

Farfetch’s downfall reflects the bigger challenges faced by online-retail spaces: namely, a lack of curation, poor customer service and an unhealthy discounting culture. “We have been in this cycle since the 2007-2008 financial crisis,” says Ida Petersson, former buying director at Farfetch-owned luxury boutique Browns. Now the industry has an opportunity to course-correct. It’s also a chance for brands to reinvent the shopping experience for the better and a way for smaller-scale, specialist retailers to enjoy a bigger slice of the market.

Look out for our forthcoming March issue, out next week, in which Petersson debates the future of retail with other industry experts.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / USA

Flying together

US regulators have requested further information about a proposed merger between the two largest passenger airlines servicing the country’s farthest-flung regions. Alaska Airlines intends to buy Hawaiian Airlines for $1.9bn (€1.76bn). The Department of Justice, which is expected to give its ruling on the deal by the end of the first quarter, is now working to determine whether it aligns with US monopoly regulations.

The merger would allow Alaska Airlines to significantly extend its reach. If the deal goes ahead, it will see the group’s fleet grow to more than 300 aircraft and will transform Honolulu into a major air hub, thanks to Hawaiian Airlines’ connections with the US West Coast and the Asia-Pacific region. Both Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines are immensely important to their respective home states, given that the regions are more reliant on air travel than most other parts of the US.

For more on Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Holdings, pick up a copy of Monocle’s February issue, which is out now.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Saul Leiter Foundation

Photo of the week / ‘Harlem, 1960’, Saul Leiter

Seeing red

This evocative, strikingly framed image is the work of Saul Leiter, the US artist and photographer best known for his pioneering use of colour. His work documenting everyday life in Manhattan’s East Village is the subject of a new exhibition at MK Gallery in the English city of Milton Keynes that features 171 photographs and more than 40 of his paintings.

Saul Leiter: An Unfinished World opens tomorrow and will run until June.

Image: Fromental

Monocle Radio / The Entrepreneurs

Fromental and Leslie David Studio

We meet Tim Butcher, one half of the dynamic designer-maker couple behind luxury design brand Fromental, which specialises in handcrafted wallpapers and textiles. Butcher discusses how he and his co-founder wife, Lizzie Deshayes, navigate intertwining their personal and professional lives, the studio’s growth and its international presence. Plus: the creative force behind the eponymous, Paris-based Leslie David Studio stops by Midori House to talk about the process behind her creative agency.


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