Remarkably, my late Scottish godmother was present in Petrograd (later Leningrad) when the exiled Lenin made his speech on arrival at Finland Station in 1917. (At least I think that’s what she claimed). She was the daughter of a Scottish flax merchant in Moscow in Tsarist Russia.
I have been fascinated with Russia since my youth. I campaigned long and hard (full-time) for the release of christian prisoners on conscience in the 1980s.
The Berlin Wall came down and Russia went through the “fall of Communism”. Unfortunately its transformation to a democracy was bungled under the leadership (or lack of it) of Boris Yeltsin. Bonds giving ownership of each citizens share of national industrial assets were given to citizens. So far so good. However clever businessmen made a simple calculation of the market value of each share multiplied by the number of citizens and realised that the total national assets had been greatly undervalued. In any case the citizens holding the bonds had hit hard times with the change toa market economy and the rise in utility- and living costs.
Citizens needed cash to live on so badly that they were prepared to sell off their bonds cheap. Businessmen bought them and became the owners of national industries, the oligarchs; fabulously rich amongst an impoverished population.
The state was powerless economically. The national assets had gone. Some thought that things had to be got back under control and so Putin rose to power and people apparently preferred to have bread on the table than to have a fully fledged western style democracy.
Russia’s present politics falls very far short of full democracy. The state is powerful and democracy hardly gets a look in.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya who exposed Russian government brutality in Chechnya was machine gunned to death as she left a lift on her return to her Moscow flat. Sergei Magnitsky lawyer representing a British company died just before he would have had to be released from prison where he was on remand after he had fallen out with the authorities after exposing corruption. And of course Alexander Litvinenko died after a dose of polonium 210 in a London restaurant and the Russian government is not keen to see him to come to trial in an English court.
Russia is a problem on the world scene. It is hard for the people of Russia. Although there lot is better in some ways Russia remains a brutal and dangerous place in some ways worse than in the dying days of Communism.
Russia’s present threatening posture unsettles Europe and makes it hard to get useful work done in the UN where it holds a veto. This makes it harder to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, for instance.
Russian jets frequently probe our airspace making it necessary to scramble interceptors. They take an unhealthy interest in NATO naval exercises including the Royal Navy. That sort of behaviour should be a thing of the past.
Russia is still a very pathological society with a low birthrate, lots of alcoholism, neglected children and some children living in sewers and the economy depending on the sale of natural resources rather than the great creative potential of its population.
It’s violent response to unrest in Chechnya and other Caucasian republic within Russian borders perpetuates a difficult problem rather than settling it and Russia has been and remains belligerent towards Georgia.
Supportive friendships with Russian citizens of good intent could do a lot of good. These people would still be in danger but our support and that of our own and allied governments could help bring about a much healthier situation which would be great for Russia’s own population and its neighbours and others we could then start to help through better consensus at the UN. So we need to make friends and also to know who we are best to make friends with so we don’t get caught out by people who aren’t who they make themselves out to be!
There’s a cost to refusing to become dependent on Russia and confronting her about human rights abuses and lack of democracy. It might lose us some trade deals. It will make it highly desirable for us to regain fuel security from renewables and nuclear and to source our oil and gas from other sources than Russia.