21 April 2014
Moscow: 06:04
London: 03:04

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Russian Embassy representative’s remarks at the Henry Jackson Society Event on November 2nd, 2011

Thank you, Mr Chairman, for the invitation and opportunity to speak to your Society. It is too great an honour not to oblige and too great a temptation to resist.

I’ll speak as a Russian citizen, who happens to be a diplomat and who cares about his country.

In the first place, it will be too easy a response to Luke Harding’s book to attribute it to an inclination for self-aggrandizement through victimhood or generalization of one’s personal experience. The latter being the stuff of literature of another order. God forgive him those very human temptations, though they are indulged in at Russia’s expense. What is important, however, is that the books of this sort have proliferated in the West over the past years starting with Russia’s finding herself at odds with the US and Britain over the war in Iraq in 2003. They are pretty standardized in terms of recycling the same information and conclusions drawn therefrom, as well as reasserting the known stereotypes about Russia and everything Russian. There is practically nothing that is new or adds to that tightly focused narrative, which represents a very narrow view of the world and explains very little.

To cut it short, the author means to say that Russia is a complete failure, a country that has no right to exist and is a threat for it is doomed to be different from the West, especially now, that the West is facing an existential crisis. So, this book doesn’t seem to be of real value both for the British public opinion and the decision makers, including from the point of view of finding solutions to the British problems. Unlike, for example, the Trilateral Commission’s report Engaging with Russia, produced in the summer of 2006 by the time of the G-8 summit in St-Petersburg. Of course, I cannot agree with everything  Sir Roderic Lyne wrote in it, but at least it represents an honest attempt at fair analysis and forecast. Russia is far from being perfect. But it has always been the case. It didn’t prevent us from playing a positive role in European and global affairs. As to our imperfections after 1991, they were partly a product of Western recipes of development which proved to be wanting. By the way, the spin by which, according to some, New Labour got to power and then lost it, was Western exports, to which we were introduced in mid-90-ies. And if the author looks at our history, it is hugely important to wonder why Russia’s liberal elite failed the country in 1917 and, in their own assessment, did it again in the 90-ies.

There are in the book many exaggerations and inaccuracies, to put it mildly. It’s quite selective as regards facts and very much biased in their construction. I will mention just a few. One gets an impression that all the author’s generalizations stop at the Russian border, as if a wider regional and global contexts do not exist. For example, Anna Politkovskaya’s case is under investigation, which does take time if it is to be conducted within the rule of law and thus be credible. Since Mr Harding is a British reporter, it won’t be beside the point to note that it took 30 years for the British Government to establish an inquiry into the Bloody Sunday deaths and another 12 years to arrive at conclusions.

One of the photos in the book purports that the Russian troops in the picture were heading on to Tbilisi, which is not true, since there was no intention on the Russian side to take Tbilisi. And whatever tanks were sighted on that road were Georgian fleeing the battlefield. It’s not to say that we didn’t favour a regime change in Georgia. We just do not believe that it ouhgt to be done by force of arms.  We didn’t conceal, that in our view Georgia would be a better place under somebody else’s management. The author quotes Yuliya Latynina from the Novaya Gazeta, who says that Russia responded with the full scale invasion. But what was full scale under those circumstances? It was less than 20 thousand men, just enough to do the job fast and close to half the size of the Georgian military. It was no secret either that starting from the first unsuccessful attempt by Georgia in the summer of 2004 to invade those territories, we had to keep our troops in the area on constant alert to be in a position to repulse the attack.

Responding to that thuggery, we followed our history’s pattern. We did it when we were put an end to Napoleon’s trashing of the whole of Europe, through robust diplomacy we shielded France from Germany’s threat of another war in 1875. Through the policy of armed neutrality and naval demonstrations we discouraged any outside interference in America’s War of Independence and Civil War. We did the same in the Second World War and at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956.

As to the origins of the Caucasus Crisis of August 2008, we believe, and this analysis is shared privately by people outside the Republican Party, that the Bush Administration had an interest in creating a full scale crisis between Russia and the West as a means to gain more support for Senator McCain’s candidacy at the presidential election the same year. Judging by the opinion polls, it was effective and might have succeeded, had it not been for the global financial crisis in September that ruined the entire game.
 It seems that for the author the ultimate truth resides in the leaked cables of the US Embassy in Moscow. From the professional point of view, and not only in Russia, those testify to the lack of real sources of information. The latter substituted by hearsay and innuendo of the Russian media, the likes of our author, and self-styled liberal opposition leaders. Like other international partners of the US, we have received Washington’s explanations on that count, which satisfied us.

Many of the sources of Mr Harding are people who were granted refuge in Britain. A few dozen of them are sought by Russia’s judicial system. What kind of people they are could be judged by the evidence devolved in the course of Berezovsky’s suit against Abramovich in a London Court. The situation is  in stark contrast with the refusal of the British Government of the day, on grounds of political expediency, which outweighed humanitarian considerations, to provide refuge to the people, who really needed one to save their lives. I mean the Tsar and his family in 1917. 

The Litvinenko case features prominently in the book. Although the author finds nothing extraordinary in the absence up till now of legally established causes of Litvinenko’s death. The coroner’s hearings into that death have started recently, and Russia is as interested as nobody else in establishing the truth in this matter, which was allowed by the New Labour Governments to be used to damage our bilateral relationship. In my view, the British leaders of the time made a fundamental misjudgement of the situation after the end of the Cold War. In terms of the special relationship the uncritical support for the Bush Administration did a disservice to the American people, thus helping to sell those policies to the American public.

This book, in my view, could also be attributed to the British left’s taking revenge on Russia for her having fallen short of their expectations as regards creating a sustainable socialist model of socio-economic development and of political system. The fall of the Soviet Union set them adrift in terms of ideology and policies, which was hard to swallow. In retrospect it was doubly humiliating because of the full scale crisis of liberal capitalism that followed. Although it had its origins in the policies of the past 40 years, the rot was accelerated by lack of competition and withering of geopolitical imperatives, that distorted the global economic and financial system at the time of the Cold War.

The Coalition Government now seems to be rightly of the view that, to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, all the nations are happy in the same way at normal times, but each is unhappy in its own special way at the time of crisis. Bread and butter issues come to the fore and excessive preoccupation with affairs of others interferes with minding one’s national business well enough. That is what Russia has been doing rather successfully over the past years.

It’s also worth saying that these attempts to shift the focus of the current debate away from real issues are indicative of the state of the British society, including belief in some quarters, that there can be Salvation without contrition and renewed economic growth without catharsis.

Overall, one can’t help getting the impression from this book, that Russia is to blame for all the woes of the Western world, which may have some basis to it, but only in that the fall of the Soviet Union put into motion the subsequent chain of events, including the radical transformation of the geopolitical landscape, of the paradigms of international relations and of economic growth. As to the choice of words by the author, the systemic failure of the Western economies, which evolved over decades in full view of the world, may not be due to vested interest of the financial sector, that was destroying the rest of the economies and livelihoods of the overwhelming majority of the society and accounted for disfunctionality of the political systems. Still the situation favoured some over others. But does it really matter? As a Russian saying goes, simplicity is worse than crime.

We welcome an open debate of all the issues that divide us. After all it is precisely such a reasoned debate that we have been calling for all these past years. The time for that is now, all the more so that the recent talks in Moscow between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister David Cameron set a new standard of openness in discussing each other’s domestic issues in our political dialogue. 

To sum up, the book proves to me that Russia can inspire anything but indifference. And that seems to be what we’ve got in common with Britain.


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