The Journal of Lynton Charles, Fiduciary Secretary to the Treasury

Thursday We are an hour into the flight home to London, and I am writing this from the relative discomfort of the first-class compartment in a British Airways plane. All around me are either relieved Britons, glad to be safely en route for the certainties of home, or strange, rich Russians. And who knows what they are on their way to do?

Thinking about it, those Romanian beggars who have so exercised the Witchfinder General's department are the least of our problems. Almost by definition, a rich Russian - of whom plenty are on this flight, heading for mansions in Maidenhead and Highgate - is into something dodgy. It's just that he or she steals millions quietly, while these awkward beggars make pennies all too publicly.

In addition to this thought, I find myself with several other important and weighty matters to muse over. Like, did I make a fool of myself in front of the fabulous Petronella after the state banquet? I have no head whatsoever for alcohol, and they would keep making me drink those toasts in vodka (starting with "Our Wives!" and going on to "Beautiful Women!", I bowed out when it began to get anatomical), and Petronella poured me into a car and brought me back to the Mezhdunarodnaya. Where I may or may not have proposed congress to the lovely economics attache. She said nothing about it the next day - so here's hoping.

Then there is the case of Arkady Serafimovich Merkin, the head of Doshformin, the section of Gosprom (the economics ministry) that relates most closely to my duties in the fiduciary field. Arkady, a handsome man in his early fifties, with manicured nails and a Yamamoto suit, was my guide to Russian politics in the Putin era. Here are my notes:

"Is not like your party system," Arkady tells me over the caviar (by which time he is smiling too broadly). "If party name is 'Democratic', it means is run by fascist demagogue. If name is 'National', that is run by army. If name is 'Centre Party', is run from centre. If name is 'Bloc of Rightists', is equivalent of your new Labour Party. OK?"

I thank him. We then go on to discuss his sex life for half an hour, interrupted only by some unscheduled lap-dancing, which - as Arkady points out - is rarely an accompaniment to Treasury functions in the UK. Even if Mr Brown were to have a lap, it is hard to imagine anyone dancing in it.

When the dancer has perfunctorily straddled all of us - save Petronella - for a minute or so (where are you supposed to look?), Arkady gets down to business.

"We have little trade with you in Britain, and you are not important to us. We like your Dickens and your Shakespeare, but weather is better in California and Cyprus. And if you're going to be cold and eat bad food, you might as well be in Germany.

"But . . . " He pauses for effect, and stabs the table with his fish-knife. "But we do need financial aid from international institutions, where you have influence. Otherwise we have trouble meeting our obligations. There is the cost, for instance, of decommissioning old nuclear weapons. At this moment, hundreds are sitting rusting in old silos with mouses eating the command wires. And some of them pointing straight at . . . what part of Gampshire did you say you were from?"

I tell him I will convey his messages, and that's when the toasts start.

So now, on the plane, I think about communism and capitalism. I once quite liked the idea of communism, then realised it was a disaster in Russia. Then I was converted to capitalism. But that's a disaster in Russia, too. Perhaps Russia is just one of those places, like Liverpool, where nothing ever quite goes according to plan. I must share this thought with Peter Kilfoyle.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy