The West is mean to Russia, but let’s be friends (by Ambassador Yakovenko for The Telegraph)
Russia and Britain have joint experience and interests, which can be a good starting point for improving relations.
Nearly a fortnight ago, on June 12, we celebrated Russia’s national day – always a good opportunity to reflect on our country and her relations with the rest of the world, including Britain.
Our bilateral relationship with England and Britain has a long history. We’ve had our ups and downs. Yet, it is important – and symbolic – that we were on the same side at critical junctures of European and world history, including the fight against Nazi Germany.
The events marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day drew attention to those things that transcend ideology and immediate political imperatives. For example, we held numerous ceremonies to present Ushakov medals, our Naval honour, to British veterans of the Arctic convoys.
Of course, our relationship at the moment isn’t ideal: permanent members of the UN Security Council should have better ties and co-operation. While sometimes it can help matters to change the frame of debate (which we have done, emphasising cultural projects and people-to-people exchanges), both parties suffer when the scale of dialogue is diminished.
The telephone conversation between Prime Minister Cameron and President Putin last month was a good place to start the resumption of our political relationship. We’ll always differ on some issues, which is precisely why we need to keep in close touch, to maintain weatherproof channels of communication. But we shouldn’t leave it till we miss the other party badly.
After the Crimean War, our Foreign Minister, Alexander Gorchakov, wrote in his famous dispatch that Russia was not cross, she was just mustering her forces. The same is true now, as President Putin has said on several occasions.
If we accept the so-called Heartland theory of that great 19th-century strategist Sir Halford Mackinder that, in a continuous struggle between land and sea powers, the ultimate victory will go to the land power, Russia is in the right place geographically and geopolitically – she occupies the global Heartland. What else need we aspire to?
None of our interests is fundamentally incompatible with Europe’s common good, in 21st-century terms, when it comes to regional security. The other day, the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, spoke of “the fragility of the EU’s democratic legitimacy”. Indeed, you can see this in how Brussels bureaucracy acted in Ukraine, without public debate, real talks, honest assessment of the costs and consequences – trying to get its expansionism on the cheap.
What is more, the reported American intention to deploy nuclear missiles again on the European continent will recreate a Dr Strangelove moment, destroying the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to which the United States and Soviet Union signed up in 1987, and fastening Europe once more to the ball and chain of Cold War politics. The Russo-German reconciliation, one of the pillars of peace in Europe, is also America’s target.
It is through no fault of her own that Russia finds herself on the side of those who challenge European elites and their perceived status quo. What is the status quo when the world is in a state of flux? And what is the status quo for Ukraine?
The latest Chatham House report on Russia and the G7 summit in Bavaria provides further evidence of this disconnect: preaching to the converted in a language nobody understands, or cares to listen to or read. Attempts to contain Russia and stifle her dissenting voice through a deliberately engineered crisis in Ukraine are utterly counterproductive, not only in European affairs, but also globally.
Let’s not forget that the Crimean War was qualified by historians as unnecessary – a gross understatement. This time, as Tom Graham wrote recently in the Financial Times, the West’s quarrel with Russia is nothing short of “geopolitical malfeasance”, with the distracting impact far from being limited to the Middle East.
As for the G7, Russia finds herself more comfortable outside this enclosure – not in history’s way, but on its side. Our loyalty to our G8 partners was increasingly a political and moral liability. We are free now, and can speak up, particularly about the destructive efforts to impose an austerity narrative on the rest of the world.
In 1714, Lord Chesterfield famously said that England was too large a country for George I. Let me assure you that the world is not too big for Russia. We accept it in all its diversity and complexity, not with our eyes shut. We are not going to react in kind to the West treating us, as James Joyce put it, with “scrupulous meanness”.
Our genuine hope is that, based on the recent experience of jointly managing the Ukraine crisis, and the growing awareness of the new threats and challenges to our common security, we’ll set to work on the menace of terrorism and finding ways to sustain development of our societies.
I am sure that Russia and Britain, working together, have much to contribute to achieving these worthy goals.