Robin Ashenden

Robin Ashenden is founder and ex-editor of the Central and Eastern European London Review. He is currently writing a novel about Solzhenitsyn, Khrushchev’s Thaw and the Hungarian Uprising.

The key difference between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin

Following Alexei Navalny’s suspicious ‘sudden death’ in an Arctic prison camp last Friday, two scenes immediately come to mind featuring Vladimir Putin, who almost certainly mandated it. The first is from December 2018 and his meeting, at the G20 Summit, with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, suspected at the time of involvement in

My life in storage

I’m off to South Italy for a few months having recently sold my late mother’s house and, if I can find a nice immigration lawyer, perhaps longer. This means my home is now full of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, marker pens and panic. It’s a feeling I’m perfectly familiar with, having changed my living space

I’ve been priced out of East Anglia

We have finally found a buyer for my late mother’s Suffolk house, but I’ve fallen into something of a trap. After the money’s divided and the bills are paid, I shall have a lump sum but nowhere near enough to buy a home. I’m 54 next month, not much more than a decade off official

Why New Year trumps Christmas in Russia

What a difference a decade makes. Exactly ten years ago, Russians celebrated New Year by watching Goluboi Ogoniek (‘Little Blue Light’) the traditional TV programme – full of glitz, music, Moët and laughter – which ushers in 1 January. Three men dominated Goluboi Ogoniek that particular year. On YouTube, anchorman Vladimir Soloviev can be seen

Can Jilly Cooper wreck your life?

What do the names Octavia, Prudence, Harriet, and Imogen all have in common? If you don’t know the answer to that, you’re probably – unlike our current prime minister – not a fan of Jilly Cooper. Cooper has just published her latest bonkbuster Tackle, one of the doorstep-sized Rutshire Chronicles series that also includes Riders

Where did the Christmas magic go?

It’s late December 1982 or thereabouts, and I’m standing in a Suffolk church before hundreds of people, wearing a cassock and surplice, with a churning stomach. This year, at my prep school carol service, it’s my turn to sing the opening solo to ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. The trouble is, the solo is sung

Streaming killed the video star

One small but significant loss to culture that streaming sites like Netflix or Amazon Prime have ushered in is the slow death of the DVD commentary. Usually given by a film’s actors or director (or both), they could be played over the film and were packed with insights on filmmaking, the artists’ take on life

Letting go of my mother’s house

My mother passed away last year and it fell to me to sort out her house. Returning from four years in Russia and the Caucasus, I moved into her Suffolk home to get it ready for selling. There was a huge amount to do. Alongside organising my mother’s headstone – no small or hasty business

What fiction can teach us about terrorism

The first decade of this century, following Al Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in September 2001, was something of a golden age for films about terrorism, a spate of them following in quick succession. In the light of Hamas’s 7 October mass-killing of innocent Israelis, it’s interesting and informative to watch

Hungary, the autumnal civilisation

A couple of weeks ago, I made the dish I always make at this time of year. It’s a Hungarian gulyás – or more correctly, a pörkölt – a mixture of beef, onions, peppers, tomatoes and paprika, stewed very slowly and served with plenty of sour cream. It’s appropriate this dish should be from Hungary, as

I’m sick of streaming. Films were better on Blu-ray

The digital world, I’m realising, is a bit of a racket. Recently most of my iTunes library disappeared from my iPhone, and I just don’t know if I can be bothered to go through all the different hoops, portals, queueing systems and long forgotten passwords to get them back again. I’ve also had the repeated

Have we forgotten the lessons of Shoah?

Since Hamas’s assault on innocent Israelis, a wave of anti-Semitism has swept across the world. Jews in Europe feel distinctly unsafe. There’s been an arson attack on a German synagogue, the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Austria, and, last weekend, in Lyon, a Jewish woman was stabbed twice, a swastika sprayed on her door.

The drudgery of airports

Having a child growing up in Italy means regular flights there and back from Stansted airport. This is unfortunate, as I find nearly any other form of transport preferable. It isn’t so much the flying itself – I lack the imagination to envisage what it really means to hover 38,000 feet above the earth in

Paul Wood, James Heale and Robin Ashenden

23 min listen

This week Paul Wood delves into the complex background of the Middle East and asks if Iran might have been behind the Hamas attacks on Israel, and what might come next (01:11), James Heale ponders the great Tory tax debate by asking what is the point of the Tories if they don’t lower taxes (13:04)

The full English: how to fall in love with this country

My nine-year-old half-Russian daughter has arrived in England for the first time since she was a baby. As she knows almost nothing about British culture apart from Peppa Pig and Willy Wonka, my job is to put together a week-long programme before she goes back to Italy, where she currently lives with her mother, my

What happened to the Russia I loved?

I first came to Russia as a travelling English literature-lecturer in the late 1990s. This wasn’t a job given to me but one I’d devised myself, sending off snail-mail begging letters to different university departments all over the Former Soviet Union – Barnaul to Minsk – outlining my services and occasionally, weeks or months later,

So long, summer!

Summer is now officially over and who laments its passing? Some may rhapsodise about the period between June and September, but for many of us, it is a hiatus and trial, the period of the year we most dread. It’s the bill for autumn and winter, the season we’d live better without.   The pavements