(The Cartoon above – and elsewhere in this post – is from the Opinion page of the London Daily Telegraph. This is from 14th February; spoofing a movie poster seen in London right now).
Tonight, with gunshots into the air, Kosovo declared independence. I wish this pseudo-State, or its people, no harm. But I do not welcome it. As I have said before, I supported maintaining the territorial integrity of Serbia. As I type this there is sporadic, maybe even half-hearted, rioting outside the US Embassy in Belgrade.
Of more consequence will be Moscow’s response. On the face of it, this is a major (and personal) foreign policy failure for President Vladimir Putin, some will say. Personally, I think that harsh: the die was cast in the last, chaotic months of the Yeltsin misrule. By the time VVP had established internal order in Russia, the Russian state was far too behind, with too few moves, to succeed in the Balkan game.
But there will be a response from Moscow, all the same. Just weeks from the electoral coronation of his handpicked replacement, President Putin, will take deeply, red-mistly, personally the West’s united ignoring of Russia’s voice. If only for his personal sense of dignity, the Russian President will demand a price is paid. Recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and thus fracturing Georgia – is just the start of it. Personally, I think it gives more impetus to create a second USSR, starting with the integration of Belarus and Russia; and the incorporation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The grandstanding President Saakashvili of Georgia – never knowingly under-exposed on CNN this one – will mewl and howl over the airwaves; but in truth no-one will take a single meaningful step to stop Russia if it does this. Who would be so stupid? OK, so the Harry Potter of global diplomacy might be; this would not surprise me. I suspect things will be become clearer in March. Revenge being a dish best served cold and all that…
Can anyone tell me what was up in central Moscow this weekend? After four years here I am used to random deployments of troops, but there were just so many in town this weekend. Taking the Tverskaya underpass from the Actor’s Gallery to home, there were about 50 Militia conscripts herded under here, soaking up the warmth. In their super-padded blue jackets, these boys (who all looked about twelve), momentarily appeared to be the hybrid offspring of a teletubbie and a smurf. However, around the corner from my street were two truck-loads of OMON. Now these dead-eyed, muvver-fukkers get my repect. I have no doubt they would disembowel their firstborn, if so ordered by the Chekists.
It has been a weekend when I am very conscious of the few ‘touching points’ between Russia and the west right now. There are few certainties to hold on to and I sense something nasty coming our (expat) way. At the top of my blog, it says my life is a ‘slalom’ between the politics of east and west. And this is increasingly true.
While they all pretend to be too sophisticated to be duped by it, the slow drip-drip of state media poison has noticeably changed the way my staff relate to the idea of the west (other than a place to shop and vacation; which they all do with enthusiasm).
Just a week ago, one young staffer emailed the office an offhand comment about ‘western companies raping Russia’ – this from a lad whose salary, all paid 'white', with health insurance etc, has more than tripled in three years. We’re the firms raping Russia? ‘Cos all those oligarchs have done so much for the well-being of their fellow-citizens…
Next time I get a lesson in Russian patriotism from him I must remember to ask when he is planning to fulfill his conscription duty…
Then, a couple of nights ago one of my senior staffers emailed me (about UK-Russian relations): “Give me a break! We've always been enemies and will remain enemies. Even Americans are much closer to us than Brits.”
To which I felt the need to reply:
"Oh. Fuck off dearest mate [he's one of the few staffers I would call a mate and he knows I swear at him with English Middle-class, fruity affection].
"That’s balls, as even the briefest consideration would remind you, it was the USA that murdered the USSR in the Afghan war. The UK just provided tea and crumpets for that dispute.
"Like most Russians, you are still beguiled to think that Britain is your enemy because you have read too much ‘Great Game’ nonsense (and the televised novels of Boris Akunin).
"That said, like the Roman Empire, both Russia and the USA are two ‘empires’ whose sole raison d'être has been that the state serves a primarily military-elite. You are right: the USA and the post-USSR are the same: and as D H Lawrence (a good socialist, and anti-communist and hero of mine) once so memorably put it: “between the two blades of that pair of scissors, we shall all be cut to bits”.
A political friend in London – reading over this exchange -sagely reminded me of what Lord Palmerston said: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”
The anti-western, default thinking of Generation Putin is becoming more deeply entrenched and is not going to go away. Those western governments and analysts who think the risks of a sabre-rattling bear reduce with Putin exit stage left? Completely misreading, they are, the changes in Russian society.
To cheer myself up, though, I have spent the afternoon downloading, from iTunes, digitally re-mastered arias by some of the great, now sadly dead, sopranos. And in my head is a civilized, safe place, where no-one can get me.