Michael Calvey’s story starts with a dawn raid on his Moscow apartment by armed FSB agents, following accusations of embezzlement relating to a commercial deal turned sour. In truth, no crime of any kind had been committed, but his opponents, disgruntled local business rivals, had friends in powerful places. An arrest of a prominent Western business figure like Calvey can only be sanctioned at the very highest levels of government.
He finds himself trapped in a Kafka-esque system, prevented from accessing the evidence to prove his innocence. For two months, he is locked inside Matrosskaya Tishina prison – infamous for holding Soviet-era coup-plotters and, later, oligarchs who dared to cross the Kremlin. His incarceration, reported widely in the international media, sends shockwaves through Russia and the international community. Presidents Trump and Biden both appealed directly to Putin for his release, but Putin characteristically stonewalled in response.
Calvey’s imprisonment leaves him with plenty of time to retrace the long path that led him to this place, from his arrival as the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s. A Cold War-kid and Wall Street hot-shot from the American mid-West, he spent almost thirty years living in Moscow, teaching himself the language and forging unmatched business contacts.
Bleak as his prison experience is, he nonetheless finds himself on a path of spiritual enrichment when he is locked in a tiny cell with seven cellmates. This band of hardened individuals, some of them victims of the regime like him, against the odds become his friends. Their collective story straddles sadness, courage, anger, hope, camaraderie and the uniquely Russian sense of humour.
Convicted in 2021, he is given a suspended sentence – a de facto recognition by the State that he has done nothing wrong, without the Kremlin having to make such an embarrassing admission. His detainment and trial becomes a case study in the frequently unfair, arbitrary and absurd Russian criminal justice system.
Now back in the UK, Calvey has drawn on all these experiences to tell his story and share his personal experience of the best and worst of Russia, and to put his experiences into the wider context of its post-Communist history. Odyssey Moscow is not merely the story of one man, but of an era of hope and aspirations that tragically ended with Russia’s catastrophic invasion of Ukraine.