I hope the Russians love their children too

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.

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29 Comments

  • Firstly, they do not want the same thing in Syria. They want a continuation if Assad’s regime however brutal it is to its own citizens.

    International respect would require stopping taking the rest of the world for fools when, as two examples, sending special forces into a sovereign nation (Ukraine) or killing dissidents such as Litvinenko in our own backyard.

    Saudi Arabia should not be cosied up to, but respect needs to be earned…

  • David Pocock 21st Apr '17 - 9:39am

    Well firstly Russians killed by terrorists are every bit the tragic victims as those killed in the west. It is in all our best interests to rid the world of islamist terror.

    I must agree with Steve Way, for Russia intervention is all about creating and defending a sphere of influence. I don’t think Assad will last longer than a pro Russian alternative.

    I don’t really want to see cold war two and I hope relations can normalise with Russia. But let’s not be under any illusions, Russia does interfere with elections. It did launch an invasion of Ukraine. It does control media and kills people who do not follow the party line.

    Russia is not innocent and the west did not cause this.

  • Mao Cheng Ji 21st Apr '17 - 10:40am

    Perfect. Thanks Edward.

  • First of all – it should be evident from where this post appears – as well as from some previous posts of mine – that I am no supporter of the Putin regime. There is no contest on your criticisms of that. (This is about the Russian people – not their overlords).

    Moreover, before we get too hoity-toity over the Ukraine (and more specifically the Crimea) we might do well to recall the Falkland’s war and see it as (subjectively at least) something of an equivalent of that. Or, indeed, what about the reaction of some top ranking MP’s to the Gibraltar situation?
    Respect needs to be earned, yes – but what have the Saudis, or for that matter the Turkish government done to earn it?
    The voice of Mikhail Gorbachev is one which I think should be listened to, and one which liberals should respect. He has been stressing the urgent need for multilateral nuclear disarmament – *in spite of* any of of the differences which may exist between America and Russia – over which this need takes precedence.

    The Liberal Democrats have stated a commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament – and so I believe that we should listen to him.
    The gist of my piece is that it is both outdated and hypocritical to continue to treat Russia as an Evil Empire – when there is a presing need for joint securuty arrangements and for preventing a world war.

  • NATO didn’t grab Estonia – Estonia chose to join NATO for the security it offered in the face of her most likely threat. Rightly.

    NATO is not going to invade Russia, everybody knows this, least of all with 800 troops.

    What a NATO presence will do is deter Russia from invading Estonia as she did Ukraine. This is a very important and good thing to do.

    The Russian people may well be in no mood for a war, but their leader has chosen to invade a number of Russia’s neighbours, where there is a vacuum. The more of those neighbours that can be protected withing a credible defensive alliance, the less bloodshed and tyranny there will be.

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Apr '17 - 12:55pm

    We should remember that Russia has never been a Liberal Democracy… Under Putin the Russian people probably have the most freedom they have ever had (except perhaps under Yeltsin when they were free to lose their jobs, live on the breadline and see all their country’s wealth taken away by oligarchs). I know quite a few Russians well and they are not about to throw away their prosperity and stability by voting out Putin. We just have to accept that and get on with it..

    Re Syria, at least the Russians have a plan! What exactly is your plan Steve? Victory for Al-Nusra? meanwhile the reality is that we ARE cosying up to Saudi Arabia, who are behaving just as badly externally as Russia with a great deal less freedom internally too

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Apr '17 - 1:37pm

    Edward writes as before, with humanity and consideration for the fellow ,neighbours, etc in the country he knows and lives in.

    However , Joe gets to the point well. There is , if I might say , as an extra point nobody seems to be aware of when bandying about the example of the Falklands , no equivalency at all. The Falklands is not a country . It is a territory of another country, this one ! It has no history whatsover of involvement in any way with Argentina. We have greater claim to France and Denmark and they to us ! For we have all been in charge of each others populations in times long ago !

    We need to stop selling our own territories and their people , down the proverbial river !A Liberal and Democratic party needs to emphasise the liberty of territories, who have freely chosen, in the Falklands and Gibralter, by 99% , to be part of this country , or retain the link as it is and thus the democracy too , that entails !

    Russia is another story , Edward writes better on !

  • @Edward C.
    “we might do well to recall the Falkland’s war and see it as (subjectively at least) something of an equivalent of that. ”

    It would be hard to even subjectively compare responding to an armed invasion of a group of Islands that had been British since before Argentina even existed and had a non welcoming population who could trace back their roots over mutliple generations to the situation in Crimea…

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Apr '17 - 2:42pm

    Lorenzo,
    Well, to be perfectly honest, Crimea is a territory of Russia with very emotional connections (siege of Sevastopol, hero-city) with the rest of Russia, transferred to Ukraine by Kruschev when Ukraine was also a territory of Russia (effectively) and therefore it made no difference. Something like 80% of Crimeans at the time of the annexation were ethnic Russians who thought of themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian, and spoke Russian as their first language. I will always criticise the manner in which Russia took Crimea but I have no doubt that it is what the overwhelming majority of people there wanted..
    I believe in self determination for Gibralter, the Falklands, Scotland, Catalonia….. and Crimea!

    The enduring mess in Donbass is another matter… Lots of blame for Russia but also for the Kiev government with its shelling of residential areas and dodgy fascist militias. What is needed here is a political solution that recognises current reality rather than trying to turn the clock back to before the departure of Yanukovitch

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Apr '17 - 2:52pm

    Ok, lets try that one again… must have used a banned word!

    Crimea was a territory of Russia for centuries before Kruschev decided to transfer it to Ukraine, at that time also effectively a territory of Russia. It is also a place with big emotional connections with Russian people (Sevastopol – hero city). Although I do not like the manner in which Putin annexed Crimea, I have little doubt that it was what the vast majority of Crimeans wanted..

    I believe in self-determination for The Falklands, Gibralter, Scotland, Catalonia – and Crimea!

    The mess in Donbass is another matter – blame on both sides in my opinion but requiring a political solution that recognises current reality after years of civil war rather than trying to turn the clock back to before the departure of Yanukovitch

  • @Andrew McCaig
    I was not saying the Russian plan was right or wrong merely that they do not share western aims in the region.

    If you look back far enough on this site you will see I was against the coalition plans to intervene in Syria because they could lead to an even more unsavoury outcome. When you get to a situation where the choice is between IS and Assad you have to chose the least worst option, for me that is Assad however heinous his regime it is slightly less so than IS. A Government’s first responsibility being the protection of it’s own citizens reluctantly I felt any attack on Assad would strengthen an even worse option.

  • You lost me at “Ukraine is like the Falklands”

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Apr '17 - 5:35pm

    Andrew
    Excellent exposition.

    Therefore the equivalent with the Falklands , if you must make it, is with the claim of Britain, due to the feeling and or allegiance of the Falkland islanders!

    The point is , we need to see populations history as one thing, loyalty as another, if the connection is there , fine, one way or the other, both must be considered.

    I think the claims of Ukraine for independence are stronger than Crimea, but I am open to other more expert views.

  • David Pocock 21st Apr '17 - 11:23pm

    I accept that there is a fair argument that if Crimean people want to be Russian they should be.

    What happened however is the Ukrainian people rebelled against a dictator and wanted to be closer to the EU. In response to that Russia invaded. Putin was not responding to the will of crimeans he was protecting his sphere.

    Regarding the Russian people I agree we need to separate discussion of Putin and the Russian people. I honestly feel sorry for Russians who have had one tyrant after another.

  • Crimea was not “Russian for centuries”; it was a late conquest by Russia of a client state of the Ottoman Empire, and was not annexed by Russia until 1783. “Centuries” by my count has to be at least 200 years. Crimea became part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1954.

  • Jayne Mansfield 22nd Apr '17 - 11:13am

    The history of the Crimea is interesting, but the important fact as far as I am concerned, is that the Russian’s invaded a sovereign nation.

    We either support the invasion of sovereign nations or we don’t. I would prefer that we had a government that did not.

    I have sympathy for ordinary Russian people who themselves are victims of a foul, venal individual, a man who displays contempt for human rights and human lives including those of his ‘own ‘ people.

    @ Andrew McCaig,
    Crimea has a slight majority of ethnic Russians , but was there any hard evidence that the majority wanted annexation by Putin’s Russia, especially as it was based on lies?

  • richard underhill 22nd Apr '17 - 12:14pm

    Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania, former members of the League of Nations, as former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd pointed out.

  • Thank you Jonathan! I agree – much of Liberal foreign policy is rather shallow in that it is just rehashed NATO assumptions without consideration of other input. (Note how nobody has really answered my point about why it is seen as normal that Erdogan’s Turkey should be a part of NATO at the same time as we tub-thump about the democratic deficiencies of Russia).

    Geoff: if Russians support Putin it is largely because he is seen as the only alternative to the horror of the Nineties – about which many Russians (as you know doubt will recall) can literally not bring themselves to speak about. That this support has its limitations, however, is seen by the large anti-corruption demonstrations that have appeared all over Russian cities in recent months.

    We need to be reaching out to liberal democratic forces within Russia – and there are quite a few. Moreoever, nmultilateral nuclear disarmament should be a core consideration of ours – and we will never achieve that without, at the very least, trying to see the Russian side of things.

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Apr '17 - 10:47am

    Isn’t there a problem in Russia that there is a Party calling itself Liberal Democrat that is nothing of the sort?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Democratic_Party_of_Russia

    I am not sure that most Russians think Putin has “impoverished Russia”… And I am not sure the evidence backs that up either.. I was listening to R4 the other morning and they were interviewing a British manufacturer of robotic milking machines. He said the market has collapsed in the UK due to Brexit uncertainty, but he was just back from Russia whether there is massive investment in high tech agriculture… My University friends tell me there is big investment going on in Russian universities as well.. Note this story from the other day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39579321 A much more positive outlook for women in science than we have in the UK..

    It seems that Putin is driving investment for the future even when western experts say his economy is in collapse. Big drive for self-sufficiency in the face of the sanctions as well..

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Apr '17 - 10:52am

    Jayne,

    Crimea was 65.3% ethnic Russians at the at the 2014 census

  • Jayne Mansfield 24th Apr '17 - 8:18pm

    @ Andrew McCaig,

    Andrew, one needs to take into consideration such factors as the demographic catastrophe that happened to ethnic Ukrainians in the months leading up to the 2014 census figure that you quote.

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Apr '17 - 8:48pm

    Jayne,
    Fair observation… 60.4% ethnic Russian in 2001 with a total of 77% naming Russian as their mother tongue..

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Crimea

  • nvelope2003 24th Apr '17 - 8:52pm

    Andrew McCaig: Crimea was conquered by Catherine the Great in 1780 about 177 years after Scotland peacefully united with England. Most Scots (and Irish) people speak English but that does not make them English or want to live under English rule. The native people of Crimea are Tatars. The Russians are the descendants of settlers sent by the Russian Government like the English people sent to Ireland and various other former colonies of Great Britain. The Tatars were expelled by Stalin during the Second World War but those who survived the horrendous journey to Siberia and exile there were allowed home a few years ago but have now been deprived of their national rights and some have fled because of persecution.
    An opinion poll carried out before the Russian invasion of Crimea indicated that only about 24% of the population wanted to join Russia so the referendum, in which no opposition appears to have been permitted, may not have truly reflected the views of the people. Russians may have had a sentimental attachment to Crimea but then many Britons used to have a sentimental attitude to India, Ireland, parts of Africa etc but that does not mean we can just walk in and take them back.

    The only good thing about this invasion of part of another sovereign state is that Russian rule is costing the Russians a great deal of money to maintain a standard of living which was higher than most Russians in Russia enjoyed. Russian speakers in the Eastern Ukraine seem to have preferred rule from Kiev than by local tyrants and resent the continued war waged by Vladimir Putin’s proxies.

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Apr '17 - 9:03pm

    Geoff,

    All I was saying was that releasing a “liberal democratic manifesto” might cause a fair bit of confusion!

    My highly educated former postdoc is from Volgograd… She paints a very different anecdotal picture from you. Although wages are certainly not high, most Russian families were given their home at the fall of the Soviet Union, and there are many socialist relics in areas such as childcare that reduce living costs. Also of course she grew up in much much worse times in the Yeltsin era and that has not been forgotten…

    Your depressing picture could just as easily be applied to the USA rustbelt, of course. Which is why we have Trump…

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