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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

Awkward for Andrei

I hadn’t seen my good friend Sidney for a long while, what with one thing and another. But last evening there he was, on my doorstep clutching a 1:50 000 map of a section of the Tomsk Oblast. Sid announced that he was about to challenge the current world order, roping me in on the venture.

A great one for maps is Sidney. He doesn’t often go to the places shown on them, but from a quick scan of the lines and symbols he can see and damn near smell a wooded valley or some scruffy industrial wasteland. Me, I have to study the contour lines and refer to the key rather more ploddingly than Sid to get an idea of how the land lies.

‘Dave, how big a circle covers 100 hectares?’ A touch over one kilometre diameter, I reckoned.

‘Then how about here?’ said Sid, pointing to what seemed a random spot on the vast West Siberian Plain. It was wetland or bog at Semiozorki, on the right bank of the River Tom, bordered by scrub and woodland, west of the road from Seversk to the village of Nstsi Sputnik, about 20 km north west of Tomsk.

Here? What for?

‘Somewhere we can annex. Putin will never guess we might do it in Asian Russia. He’ll be too busy worrying about how to promote Zaporizhia or Mariupol as holiday destinations for adventure-seeking Muscovites. Absolute sucker punch. He probably hasn’t heard of Semiozorki, and no-one uses this land apart from wildfowl and kids from Seversk who manage to nick some vodka and borrow dad’s car. Mind you, Mr P will know about Seversk itself, because he keeps a load of his nuclear warheads there.’

(We discussed for a while whether teenage escape for booze and sex was more alluring than usual when you lived in a closed city like Seversk, with few visiting innocents to prey on.)

I asked Sid if he had in mind a big decree-signing event on TV or YouTube? Long red carpet, stony-faced, cowed audience, a rant from the lectern? Scripted by Armando Iannucci, I suggested.

‘Nothing so crass. We’ll just write a polite letter to Andrei Kelin.’

I must have looked blank at the man’s name.

‘Come on, Dave, Andrei Kelin, Russian ambassador. You and I write to him specifying our annexation, and justifying it on the grounds of long overdue inheritance.’

Er … why include me?

‘Tradition has it that a sub-group of Celts – some of your lot, Dave – came to Britain the long way round. Some of the Celtic women having, let’s say, intermingled with the locals, travelled west bearing offspring with inheritance rights to parts of what is now the Tomsk Oblast. In Putin’s view of history, that makes a cast iron case.’

Sid chose a circle of land 1.13 km in diameter, centred on Latitude 56.653, Longitude 84.767. It might still be a touch radioactive from a few decades ago, but has no dwellings, and therefore no need for a referendum according to his legal advisor, his sister-in-law Khrystyna from Lviv.

Dear old Sid is convinced the annexation will pose tricky questions for Mr Kelin as the high representative of the Russian Federation. The man always has a smile on his face when he’s interviewed, so he’ll probably try to make a joke of this too. A good line for him would be that the area requires development (he won’t mention the two-headed frogs and the need for decontamination), and are we going to come up with the funds? But when we say yes* and that there’s 10% in it for him, even he will blush and say you can’t just claim a part of someone else’s country. Then we’ve got him. He’ll probably be recalled to Moscow. But he might just ask Suella Braverman for asylum, having taken a shine to London. In a year, he could be a pundit on Newsnight. You can hear Kirsty: ‘Thank you for coming on the programme again, Andrei. How do you think your old boss, President Putin, will respond to the latest mass annexation of the Russian countryside by the British public, now more than 54,000 lots at 100 hectares each?’

Sid and Khrystyna are drafting the letter now.

* Crossing our fingers that the lottery comes up

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