As I made my way to work I noticed an increased police presence on the Moscow Metro on that frosty April 3rd. A football match? Arriving there, I saw my Russian colleagues scrambling for their phones to call relatives in St Petersburg. A 22 year Kyrgyz-Russian Islamist had unleashed an improvised suicide bomb on a metro carriage near Sennaya Ploshad. The death toll has now come to fifteen, with forty-nine people injured.
When in November two years back terrorists laid siege to a night club in Paris, Muscovites lit up their Ostankino Radio tower in the French tricolour to express shared humanity; when St Petersburg’s atrocity occurred the Eiffel tower did not display the white-blue-red colours of the flag of the Russian Federation. Indeed, when there came a terrible, but less dramatic, attack in Stockholm four days later Russia’s loss seemed to become forgotten by the Western media.
Meanwhile the U.K seems intent on becoming what George Eaton, in the New Statesman, calls `Russia’s greatest foe`. The Tory government has sent out 800 troops and long-range missiles to Estonia. May, meanwhile, has discouraged M.Ps from attending Anglo-Russian parliamentary groups on grounds of the `security risk` (N.S, 11/4/17). Johnson – who Corbyn was right to call a `cold war warrior`- has reneged on a scheduled diplomacy mission to the Kremlin. This is at the same time that May is going cap in hand to the Saudis for trade deals!
Matthew Norman (The Independent 11/4/17) notes the `counterproductive idiocy` that has characterised Western relations with post-Soviet Russia. He adds: `The more the USA (and the UK) treat Russia as their number one enemy, the more they elevate Russia to punch beyond its weight`.
Yet, as well as the pressing need for shared security arrangements, there is much else that the West and Russia could agree on. In Syria both parties desire a stable, united Syria brought about in an orderly way with all Syrians represented (Dejevsky, The Independent, 3/4/17). Both have a stake in ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons. Above all the limit on the 1, 550 nuclear warheads that America and Russia continue to deploy – and which expires in 2021 – could be reduced further. Arms reduction, Gorbachev has said `should become our common goal. Many other problems would then be easier to resolve` (NY Daily News, 27/1/17).
However, what Gorbachev terms the `euphoric triumphalism` (Ibid, 9/11/10) of the West following the dissolution of the Soviet Union has left an existential wound on the body politic of his motherland.
They gave away 70,000 square miles of territory and disbanded the Warsaw pact – only to have NATO (with Erdogan’s Turkey in its ranks) grab Estonia and cosy up to the Ukraine.
The Russian people, I can report, are in no mood for a war: the last world war is still recalled here with vivid horror. A little respect is all that they ask for, and in a world where the U.S.A is not the self-appointed sheriff of the Earth.
Indeed Russians enjoy a lot of Western culture. One British singer, who has toured the country many times, is Sting. I remember how on one of the state T.V channels he treated us to an unplugged version of a song from 1985 – the chorus of which forms the title of this piece. And I thought:
`You and me both, Mr Sumner`.
* Edward Crabtree is a Lib Dem member who lives and works in Russia.