Moscow Calling: Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent

DATE: 13:00 – 14:00, 2nd November 2017

VENUE:  The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP


Angus Roxburgh 
Author of Moscow Calling: Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent
Former BBC Europe and Moscow Correspondent

Andrew Foxall:

Good afternoon everybody, welcome to the Henry Jackson Society. I am delighted to see so many familiar faces in the audience. My name is Andrew Foxall. I oversee the work that the society undertakes with regards to Russia and Eurasia. I am delighted that we have with us Angus Roxburgh. I am sure that he is a familiar face to many of you from the 1980/90s. Andrew the Moscow Correspondent for the Sunday Times between 1987 and 1989 and I see that one of his successors is in the audience, hello to you Peter. He was subsequently the BBC’s Moscow Correspondent between 1991 and 1997, BBC’s Europe Correspondent between 1998 and 2005. He was perhaps, famously a media consultant for the Kremlin between 2006 and 2009 and since then he has been a freelance writer and journalist. He is known, well at least within the Russia circles for his 2012 book: “The Strong Man; Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia but today he is going to be speaking to us about his new book “Moscow Calling: Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent”- Copies of which are available outside and Angus assures me that he will stay around at the end to sign any copies, should you wish for them to be signed and so without any further ado, thank you Angus.

Angus Roxburgh:

Well, thank you very much for inviting me here to speak about my book and about Russia. Russia has been my obsession for 40/45 years, ever since I started learning the language and as Andrew said, I have already written one book about Russian Politics and one before that about the (inaudible) period. I wanted, with this book to do something slightly different which is to describe Russian life as I experienced it over the last four decades, because it seems to me that the picture that people seem to have about Russia today is very often quiet a one dimensional one, very politicised, very identified with the politics of the Kremlin that we see today and my contention would be that unless you really understand what the Russian people lived through over the last  few decades you cant really understand what the Russian people think today and indeed why so many of them support Vladimir Putin. So that is what the book is about. It attempts to sort of describe what Russians have gone through over that period and since it is not a straight political book I thought that I would start, that is if you do not mind, by reading a little bit to give you a taste of the sort of style that it is written in and the flavour of the book by reading from the prologue to it.

“Little did I suspect, back in 1970, when I first closeted myself in the school library for hours on end to teach myself Russian, that the rest of my life would be shaped by a country of which, at the time, I knew very little. It was communist, had pit a man in space, and had athletes with see-see-see-pee on their shirts. That was about it. Oh, and everyone was sacred of it. But it was none of those things that first ignited a Russian spark inside of me. No, it was a beautiful tawny wooden box that sat on my bedroom table, a pye wireless set, with five valves, eight wavebands and four Bakelite knobs, which I twiddled ceaselessly, entranced by the world’s languages, voices and music. The signal from the USSR was the clearest and most powerful. Inexplicably, the very sound of it made my heart jump. The ten-note call sign pealed like iron frozen bells being struck on a black winter night. At the start of every broadcast a voice would proclaim “Govorit Moskva!” (Moscow Calling!) Just two words, but they quivered with emotion “Moscow Calling! “then a choir struck up a Russian song that haunted me almost as much as the spin tingling opening bars of Good Vibrations. I didn’t know then, but I know now that the song was a classic piece of Soviet propaganda. Here’s a rough translation:

Wide is my motherland

Full of rivers, fields and trees.

I know of no other country

Where the people breathe so free

The station – Radiostantsiya Rodina, or Radio Motherland – broadcast in Russian and was mainly targeted at what it called “our compatriots abroad”. I had no idea no idea what was being said but I luxuriated in the euphony of the language – its dark, soft, sexy vowels, the clatter of its consonants, the susurrus of its fricatives and sibilants, the music of its intonations. Folk songs spirited me to Siberia. Readings of poetry, even if I understood no word, left me breathless at their beauty. Perhaps my subconscious was telling me: lips that produced such heavenly sounds surely had to be kissed. I sent off for booklets that accompanied the stations Russian lessons. Meanwhile, in an Edinburgh bookshop I brought what must surely be the most unsuccessful text book ever published. Titled Teach Yourself Russian through Reading, it aimed to plunge learners straight into the delights of Russian literature – to wit, in the very first chapter, a passage from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Thus the first ever sentence that I had to learn was: “When prince Andrew entered the study the old prince, in his old man spectacles and white dressing grown, in which he received no one hut his son was sitting at the table writing. He looked around” (Laughter from audience). From such texts one was supposed to assimilate Russian grammar, and by the end of lesson one we’d done reflexive verbs, past tenses, possessive pronouns and several conjugations – and learned interesting phrases such as “The splutters flew from his creaking pen”. I struggled on for a few more pages, but was thankful when the Radio Moscow booklet finally arrived, and I was soon practising more usual sentences such as “Hello my name is Viktor”, “This is my house” and “My mum is a crane-operator”. It was the language itself that attracted me at this stage. The love of literature came later… but… the USSR insinuated itself into my mind in other ways too. When I was seven Yuri Gagarin flew into space. A year later the West was on the brink of nuclear war with Russia during the Cuban missile crisis. The soviet national anthem kept being played at Olympic games. Some of the most colourful postage stamps in my Stanley Gibbons Album were marked CCCP, and showed men in welder’s goggles, women with sheaves of corn, athletes, sputniks, the hammer-and-sickle motif, and an earnest man with a goatee beard, gripping the lapel of his overcoat – whereas our stamps in those days rarely depicted anything but the Queen’s head.  I came from a politically engaged family- my parents were active within the Labour Party – but I knew very little about the realities of the Soviet “worker’s state” … until 1968. That august two boys from Czechoslovakia were staying with my family for a couple of days before they went off to camp in Perthshire with the Scottish Schoolboys’ Club. They were a year or so older than me (I was 14), and when they spotted my shortwave wireless they excitedly tuned into Radio Prague. To their horror it was broadcasting a stark announcement that the country had been invaded, by Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops and that the reforming “Prague Spring” government (thanks to which the boys were able to travel abroad) had been overthrown. The joy of the two lads looking forward to a fortnight in the Scottish Highlands drained from their faces as they heard the announcer call upon the Czechoslovakian peoples – including their parents, back at home in Prague – to remain calm and not to provoke the occupying forces into causing bloodshed. We heard the announcers’ voices falter, and the rattle of gunfire and Soviet tanks began to shell the radio building. Now I had another reason to learn Russian. What was Communism? Who was Brezhnev? Why did they invade other countries? A year or so later I had learned enough to persuade my school to assign me “self-study hours” in te library (there was no Russian teacher) so that I could prepare for an “O-Grade” exam, and perhaps go on to study Russian at University. After two years of memorising declensions and imbibing Radio Moscow, I found the written examination easy – but when I opened my mouth at the oral test I realised that it was the first time that I had spoken Russian to another human being.  Only then did I discover how important it was to emphasise the correct syllables in Russian words: a misplaced stress could change the meaning altogether, or simply make your words unintelligible. An “o” sounded differently depending on how close it was to the stressed syllables: so moloko (milk) was pronounced muh-la-ko. I could not wait to get to university and have a proper teacher. I studied Russian at Aberdeen University, and for a year in Zurich, where I also searched in vain for the exiled writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was said to keep his memories of Russia alive by pacing through snowy forests on the Zurichberg, near my student dorm.  Finally, with my degree in my pocket, I was ready to set off. Something was hauling me away from Scotland like the tugging tide of the North Sea, and it was Russia.” And the rest of the book basically takes you through the next 40 years, the various periods, that as Andrew explained that I spent in Russia. About a third of the book is about the Soviet Union because my experience there was rather unique. My wife and I went to Moscow in 1978, I had a job as a translator with a Soviet publishing house which mainly produced Soviet propaganda, a lot of which I translated for them with the promise that eventually they would give me more interesting work to do… But not many people did that in those days the Soviet Union was a really closed society we lived without any foreign currency, we did not know any other foreigners. We lived there as Russians in a Russian block of flats right out in the suburbs of Moscow. So the book is an attempt to give a feel for what it was really like to be there and I think that the first. No in fact the strongest impression that I was left with from that period was that it was a country which attempted to isolate itself totally from the rest of the world and if it hadn’t been for the existence of radio stations then it actually would have been able to do that. There was no internet in those days, there was no foreign travel, well unless you were a Party Elite or approved by a Party Elite to travel abroad, then simply you did not go abroad. They really had an isolated society in which they could brainwash and control all of the information that people got. I remember one of the creepiest moments that I remember from early on, I remember lying in bed late at night and I could hear the call signs of radio stations, a station no other than radio liberty. And I thought gosh, somebody out there is listening is listening to radio from abroad getting there information from there. Otherwise everything was in the iron grip of the Communist Party. I experienced censorship myself as well in the books that I was translating at one point they gave me a book about (Inaudible)  to translate which, well, it basically went through his life and career and all of the works that he had written and when I finished the translation I handed it in and it was gone through by what they called a control editor who job was basically just to check that my translation matched the Russian and then when I went to see her and we went through the text I noted that she had scored out the name of a very famous Soviet conductor and I said to her “well why have you scored that out” because it was in the Russian that I had just translated and she replied in a very carefree way “Oh didn’t you hear? – He defected to America last week” and this was completely natural to her. Censorship. Full ideological control did not need to be imposed by the party she just knew her job and she did it so well, just like that.

We also experienced the surveillance at first hand. One of early things we noticed was that just behind a little patch of wallpaper there was a little raised bit of wall and if you tapped it then it was metallic and we decided that this is where the KGB microphone must have been hidden… Yeah just above our bed. Sure enough at one point, one of our friends who translated textbooks into English, he was very well known to anyone who studied Russian in those days and he spoke English in the really old way. I discussed this with my wife- just how perfect this English was. I remember that we used to go with him to the forests to have proper talks and he said to me “Angus, what do you think, honestly about my English?” and I replied “well it is wonderful Philip, it is perfect, in fact it is better than most English peoples” he said before naming one of his colleagues at work, who was as you know, well one of those people that his English had been referred to as “stilted and old fashioned” and we were like “Oh my God that is the microphone that is in our room!”

The other this of course is remembering the pictures of the empty shops, the empty shelves of the Soviet Union. Central planners had been supposed to mastermind everything, from design to production and of course, as we know, it did not work. I mean the central command economy was basically a system of controlled chaos in fact. Shopping was just like putting your hand into a lucky dip. In a society like ours, you decide what you want to buy and you simply go out to buy it. You just go to the shop that you think will have it in stock. Whereas in the Soviet Union you did not do that there was no point. It just would not have what you wanted to buy. So you just went out with an open mind and would buy anything that you may have come across. Normally because of all of the shortages people would have enough money to do just that. People got around this system in various ways. People have contacts. Russians knew people who had access to different supplies, secondly they all had grannies who were able to que in these long ques for vegetables and so on. Something that I discovered at the publishers in which I worked, was that places of employment had special rations so every week I discovered you could put your name down for an order  which included something special, you know like a type of nice meat, plus a few things like padding, sugar lumps and the like and then you would go along on whatever the appointed day was and  they would have the sack ready for you and that happened at lots of places of work and it helps to explain the riddle as to why shops had always been empty but peoples fridges were often full and brimming with stuff. One of the things that I wanted to get across in the book, there is a stage think that giving all of the ideological control, the empty shops and so on you would assume that the people would have been pretty miserable and Russians often do and did then come across as naturally miserable. However, when you were in their flats enjoying conversation with them and so on they did not come across as any less happy than people in the West and often they were horrified about some of the things that I told them about the West. There was far more violence in British cities than there was in Soviet ones. I felt completely safe walking around late at night in Moscow during those days. Much safer than I do today in Moscow. What I worked out was expectations were lowered and so you did not base your life on enquiring about the wonderful consumer groups and that sort of thing and people turned away from the State as the State was providing them with nothing basically so that concentrated all of their energy on family life, friendships, friends and so on and it actually created a very nice feeling of togetherness which Russians today tell e has disappeared. That society has gone and the conversations around the kitchen tables in Russia today are no longer about the meaning of life and so on or secrete jokes about the state like you had in the old days they talk about ordinary things now like jobs, films and foreign holidays because all of this seems possible now. That is gone and all Russians try to survive the (inaudible) of Russian life by this means and the intelligencer and my friends had mainly been from the intelligencer went into the expression “internal immigration” again it was just turning away from the official life. They did not listen to Soviet propaganda. They would trot along rather obediently to the political secession, because they had to do that. They might even join the party for the sake of advancement and so on but they didn’t really believe in it, they had their own inner world which was much richer in many ways than I think many Western societies have. They would constantly read literature which had been photocopied, well not photo copied but typed out on carbon paper many time. Despite being hardly legible this was passed around many times from hand to hand. I remember friends of mine who were prominent scientists and a bit older than me I remember asking them what they were doing in 1968 when soviet tanks were crashing he (Inaudible) spring the media was full of anti-west hysteria and so on. Well they were away at some point that Summer somewhere (Inaudible) ignoring it all and later that year they ended up (inaudible) thinking here was relatively free and they even organised festivals of underground songs and that sort of thing. What nobody expected of course was that this would ever change. No one in the West and in the Soviet Union saw the end. There was just no change at all. I think it changed because of one man who is my hero from the Soviet Union and from the 20th century and that is Mikhail Gorbachev. Much disgraced in Russia today because he is blamed for destroying the country that people lived in but without him nothing would have changed. His reforms from 1985 or really for 86/87 onwards actually allowed the intelligencer to create a new society. By this time, I had become a journalist and maned to persuade Andrew Neil who was the Editor of the Sunday Times to send me to Moscow as their Moscow Correspondent in October 1987 and I landed there in the middle of the most amazing story to cover as a journalist. Us Moscow correspondents in the late 1980s were congratulating ourselves at covering the most amazing story of the world, which it was for a whole system was crumbling away in front of our very eyes. This system was not just in the Soviet Union but would go on to affect the whole of Eastern Europe and cause liberation movements all around the world and here it was the Union disappearing and again it was very much an intellectual revolution. The stories that I was writing about for the Sunday times were not the sort of political stories that you would write about today in the West. This was about going to some gathering like this where you have got people talking to an audience and suddenly they were free to talk. It is hard to believe but this was history in the making. This was partly because it came in conjunction with Gorbachev’s other reforms, particularly his ai to restore the economy which was anything but successful. Apart from a bit of tinkering around the edges such as allowing some chain restaurants to open Gorbachev’s economic reforms were not very successful. However, people were now able to speak freely on this and write about it in the newspapers. This caused a surge of critic in the system itself and on the periphery of Russia in the non-Russian republics, what did people want to use glasses for? Of course to speak about their own grievances their occupations after the Second World War.    One of the most exiting stories that I covered was going across to Latvia, to Estonia were it really all began for me, you had seen the reforms beginning in Moscow, but then they took off in the Baltic States and back in Moscow in March 1989 Gorbachev tried to hold the first, really free elections, in the whole of the Soviet Union. They weren’t completely free as he invented a whole new parliament and indeed some of the seats had been reserved for communists but enough had been freely contested to make it an incredibly exciting election and of course all of the radicals won seats there and indeed the opening speech there in that new Parliament of May 1989 was given by the leading dissident. So I often think of that when people sometimes think that when people dare to claim that Russians are not suited to democracy. They are suited for democracy. They loved it. In fact, they took to it like ducks take to water.  Then what I saw happening was the outbreak of democracy in Russia in early 1989, at which point, this is a ridiculous story, I was expelled in May 1989, literally in the week of that new exciting parliament was meeting. Mrs Thatcher expelled 11 Soviet Spies from London and immediately the Russians responded by expelling British people. Eight diplomats, 3 journalists and I was with regret one of the three journalists that they picked for expulsion. It was, well it seemed very unfair at this moment, the flowering of democracy that I was being kicked out of the country. However I ended up thrown out but on my feet for at that moment I ended up covering Eastern Europe instead of Russia and that was where all of the revolutions started happening there so I covered the fall of the communist dominoes from Poland to Berlin and so on and then I watched this ark of a revolution returning to Moscow in 1991 after the failed cope against Gorbachev when I went back to Moscow just in time see the crowds on Lubyanskaya Square, the square in front of the KGB Headquarters celebrating the fact that the statue of this hated founder of the KGB had be hauled away late at night. All that ushered in a period of hope and missed opportunities. I mean the hope at that time, for everyone, but especially my friends in the intelligencer was that, at last, Russia was about to re-join civilisation. Just became a normal country as so many of us had dreamed that it would become. I notice Andrew in his invitation for this talk suggested that I might challenge some views about Russia well please I am coming to that. Because I think that this is where the West started to get things wrong I am not blaming in anyway the West for the situation that we have in Russia today but I do think that we contributed to it and I will try and explain why. I went back to Moscow for the BBC as their Moscow Correspondent in late 1991 and I was there for six and a half years right through the attempts to reform the economy and just to run through that briefly, well just to remind people. The economic reforms consisted first of all of shock therapy, freeing prices overnight so prices soared in such a way that people’s earnings, savings and pensions were rendered worthless. This meant that you went from a situation where people had a lot of money in their pockets to buy stuff to an abundance of goods in the shops but no one had the money to buy it. This of course ended up with the impoverishment of millions of people. The second stage of the reforms was privatisation programme which gave rise to the other thing that Russians take exception to and that’s the rise of the oligarchs. Every Russian was issued with a privatisation voucher which was supposed to be the equivalent of his share of the Russian economy and you could use to as you wished. You could buy shares in the companies that had been privatised or you could sell it on to people who would do that. Of course the vast majority of Russians had no idea what to do with these little bits of paper they either gave them away to the Director of their collective farm or sold it for its nominal value and the accumulated in the hands of basically the people that did know what to do with them and these are the people who ended up buying up Russia resources basically and they are the richest people in Russia today including some of those who have ended up in exile under Putin. So all of this for the ordinary Russian was like a caricature for what capitalism was supposed to be like. You know these people had been promised the wonderful Western style of life but for many of them that did not materialise at all. Secondly there was the introduction of democracy. This again was a great promise, but again look at the things that happened in 1993 when the Russian parliament which had been elected, they rejected the reforms. Instead of negotiating there then came the storming of the white house parliament building with the army in Moscow. It was up in flames, over 160 people killed there and at the TV centre s that was not exactly a great display of democracy and then when the (inaudible). Some of my most horrific memories of this period are of the devastation and of the human… desolation that was caused. Not to mention the 1996 elections when Yeltsin’s ratings were 5 or 6% and yet he won the election. This was partly because, and this is ironic because the Americans helped his team to completely alter his image they took over the television stations they bombarded people, basically with propaganda in favour of Yeltsin and in doing so they put dirt on his opponents changing the outcome so radically this ill drunk old man won the election in 96. I say that this is ironic as of course we see today the world condemning as people claim that Russia have interfered with the US election.  Well the Americans certainly did in this election too.

Now the third thing that was going on at that point, and I will rush through this so that we can get to some questions, was, well it concerned Russia’s place in the world. Russia, the Soviet Union for all if its faults had been a superpower. People lived there more or less contented with their own lives suddenly they were watching on their televisions deliveries of humanitarian aid. Huge transport planes coming into the national airports with food for the Russian peoples. That was an incredibly humiliating thing for them to witness. It was the loss of superpower status and that Russia’s views were ignored on the world stage, especially in 1991 when Russia bombed Kosovo and Serbia. Many Russians objected strongly to this not just because of the Serb connection but because they felt that their views were being ignored. Russia’s voice did not matter anymore.  The Eastern European Countries, for very historic reasons, especially the Poles wanted the protection of NATO. They asked for it and initiated the process as they did not trust Russia. They lived with the memory of Russian mistreatment and it was horrific, being sent to camps in Siberia and so on. They lived with that for decades. The question that NATO had to answer at that point was how can we do that without encouraging the most regressive, nationalistic forces in Russia itself? How to stop this enlargement? Clinton wanted to do it. Almost as a prize for Clinton noted that these people had freed themselves from Communism and he noted that these people were jubilant about it and he wanted to give them that global recognition that this would never happen to them again. My contention is that Russians at that time also wanted EU integration and NATO partnerships and we should have offered that to them as well. Russia warned the international community what NATO expansion would mean and the result was exactly as could have been predicted and I think in the end that is why we have Putin. – This is because the Russians had been crying out for a leader who would present their worth and rebuild the Russian identity and the status of a superpower and so on. That is what Putin promised them. I think that we could have helped far more. I think that we could have provided them with a financial cushion for the reforms. We could have had respect for Russia’s status instead of crowing about how we had won the Cold War. This in fact is vital to the discussion as many Russians believed that the Cold War had ended because they, themselves had overthrown Communism. They really did not see this as something that was imposed from the West. I think that we had done that and I think that if we had been a little more sensitive then (inaudible).

The key principle as I see it is this. An expended NATO that excludes Russia will not serve to contain Russia’s expansionist impulses in fact it will further provoke them.  So the POINT I would make is that we were warned of the consequences but we preceded anyway and with this the warnings have come to be true. I will stop there as I imagine that you may have some questions about the more contemporary issues such as Putin and the like, but I will leave you with a final thought from my book. On one of my last trips to Russia I spent a lot of time visiting Moscow and trumping around Museums and trying to reinterpret all the thinks that I have laert there over the last few years. We are about to celebrate the 100th anniversary, celebrate? I mean commemorate the October revolution. In this I want you to think about what the Russian people have gone through: Famine, Civil War, Collectivization, the purges of the late 1930s, the Second World War with 25 million casualties, the post war purges and then after that the upheaval of destroying that system and putting in a new system that did work for the average person and ended up with the crushing of democracy. It has been an incredible century for the peoples of Russia and I sometimes think of the Russians as a nation that has collective PTSD. They are searching for a new identity. They have not lived in a normal society for 100 years and I think that we should treat them with respect, because they have gone through things that we cannot even imagine.  They therefore do not take well to Westerners lecturing them about how to manage their past and I really hope that thy do moves on and become a real democracy in the end, but I believe that we should allow them to find their own way there and never forget what an amazing nation they are with amazing writers, thinks and so on. Russia is not Putin. Russia is the nation that I have described in this book.



Thank you Angus, I have not made my way through the entirety of your book but in those earlier chapters where you reflect on the first time that you go to Russia and your reflections on the Soviet period, what really comes through to me is the importance of maintaining people-to-people contact, which must be important in light of the current tensions.  – We have now 15-20 minutes for questions if you could please raise your hand and I will come to you in the order that I see them, thank you.

Question: Thank you, I am Mr Grant. – I saw the demise of the Soviet Union whilst on board a Soviet Warship in 1983. My question is; New Cold War, Question mark or full stop?

Angus: are you in one you mean?

Grant: Yes

Angus: Well I think that we are heading for one unfortunately, if not already. I mean I have to qualify that because to be in a new Cold War will not be the Cold War as it was last time. Russia is clearly not the same country and in particular it is no longer driven by an ideology that it is attempting to spread around the world which is what the Soviet Union was all about and that is what lead to the former Cold War when the West rightly tried to stop that from happening. On the other hand, we do have levels of confrontation now between Russia and the West which re pretty much the same and the more that the West builds up forces on this side of the new Iron Curtain and the more that Russia does this on their side the more risk that there is of an accident happening and therefore a hot war becomes more likely. It is very dangerous for the West to ever believe that confrontation is the way to solve this conflict. That is not to say that appeasement is, but I do think that trying to think about where Russia comes from would help. As far as I know in history has Western confrontation ever lead to the Russian government sanding down and giving in on the issues that we are trying to put pressure on them for and I think that Putin is a prime example of that. Putin will never give way to Western pressure on anything actually because he has his pride and he sells this image of pride to the Russian people.

Grant: He (Putin) is a very small man and look small men have problems. Problems that make them…

Angus: Look he is the same height as me so don’t even go there…

Question: Is the security of journalists an issue? – At what time did you feel least secure and are things getting any better?

I personally have never felt insecure there. Generally speaking, Western journalists have not been threatened much. You can be expelled but not physically threatened.   It is Russian journalists these days who face the threat, you know. They have to be careful what they say but I don’t think that it affects the Western press so much.

You are looking doubtful at me? – Do you?

(name is inaudible): Well I do think that there have been a number of incidents. Magnitsky is a good example. Anybody whom is an investigative journalist faces a hard time.

Angus: Look I agree.

Question from Andrew: I am a China strategist. Thank you for sharing your unique experience with us. You seem to suggest that the Russian people have a great deal of respect for someone like Putin indeed if it was a free and fair election he would probably still win it and by a wide margin. You seem to suggest two things. One is the failure of this experiment in the democratization. The other is the embodiment of Russia in Putin as a glorious past. How much would the glories of the Tsarist inform Putin and reform the romantic view of Russia after all this is such a contrast from the century of humiliation as you mentioned.  Compare this with what is happening in China and you see a similarly there. My question is how much does the Tsarist period reignite with Putin’s thoughts and the thoughts of the Russian people?

Putin: I don’t think that it does. I mean look this was a long time ago and Putin’s world view was formed far more during the (inaudible) period. The idea that Russia is encircled and so on. The last Tsar is certainly idolized more, whom of course was canonized by the Russian Church and of course the Church is very influential in the life of Russians today. It is one little part of the picture and I do not believe that it is a major one. I think the reason for Putin’s popularity is real. Even if candidates had fair overage before the media he would still probably win, but not with such a huge majority. I think that what he does. In fact, people often think of Putin imposing his views on the Russian people, however I think that he soaks up the views of the Russian people and is frank enough to express them. He is a populist and that is how he works. Russian people can identify with him. He is a kind of earthy character the guy that you would hear going on at the public bar. He is like the populists in France and like Trump in America. He is appealing to peoples basic instincts I think. Whatever you think he is very much a man of the Russian people and I think that is why he is so popular.

Question: Difficult question to frame. It relates to the Orthodox Church. How real is the new, or revised interest in religion, particularly considering how it was wiped out during the Soviet years?

Angus: it is hard to tell how genuine it was. It was squashed in Soviet period but it smoldered on. The older folk still went to church. But it was one of the thinks that exploded in popularity after the collapse of communism.   Russians however are very prone, to, in fact this comes from living in a society in which there was a scientific explanation for almost everything, it in fact caused the Russian people to look for very unscientific explanations for almost everything. So for example under Yeltsin you have these faith healers who became incredibly popular on Russian television. Basically quacks who would say things such as “if you put a glass of water in front of the screen now then I will turn it into wonder water that will cure all your ills and so on. Russians are a little bit prone to things like that and think that may partly at least explain the growth of the church. Putin however exploits this. It is one of the pillars on which he has built his popularity. His new ideology of Russianness recently, in the last few years I have noticed a new tactic that Putin has developed. To begin with he went through several phrases, first of all, very briefly he went to attempt to ingrate himself with the West. He found that this did not work out as he had hoped, became very angry with the West and started to ignore their views and began to think, well if Americans can go around the world trammeling on governments, then look we will do that as well, because we are morally superior to Western societies and I really think that that is how Putin sees himself these days. That the Russians can be a counterpoint to Western decadence. That they stand for traditional family values and all that sort of thing and of course that chimes so very well with the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Question: I was just in Russia last week on a Council of Europe visit and one of the interpreters was (inaudible). just to share he had been at a book signing event just days before and a very sizable turnout for Gorbachev was present. What I noticed about this was that there were lots, and I mean lots of young people in this crowd. Just a storm in the wind, but I wonder if a corrective might be kicking in with how he is viewed, particularly as I noted with the youth. The question probably tes in with your latest remarks and I would be very keen to know your take on Russian Nationalism going forward and I ask that particularly in a massive federation, after all there are 198 different nationalities within this space and I wonder what your view on this in relation (inaudible)

Angus: I don’t know about that. So I am afraid that I will not be able to say an awful lot about that. I think that Russia is going through one of those phrases where the westerners are trying to battle it out and this is very much one f those moments. I remember a couple of summers ago I was interviewed, back in Russia, by a Moscow radio station, this was by a presenter, who was a young dude with designer stubble, totally western in his clothes and everything and he said to me “When you speak to Russians do you think of us as Western”. I replied “Well yes, of course I do. Russia you know is distinct but of course you are Western” and he replied “Well shame” and I thought what are you talking about?! Why is this a shame?! 20 years ago when Communism collapsed really the vast majority of Russians saw themselves as Western that is where they wanted to be. That is where Putin wanted to be. In fact, in his first year his maiden speech spoke of Russia’s European destiny and now they seem to have swung into this nationalist corner and to me I felt like saying “Well what’s wrong with being both Russian and Western?” I think that Russians will want to be Western in the end and I think that they will come back to that in the end. I am hopeful that they will succeed in coming through this very nationalistic stage.

Andrew: We only have time for two more questions.

Question: I would just like to ask a question on unintended consequences of western policy partly due to the complete disarmament of the people who knew all about the Soviet Union in eastern Europe. I remember in 1991 suddenly nobody cared because there was a war going on elsewhere. But my question is: The   unintended consequences of the American involvement in Vietnam was to push the Vietnamese into the arms of their historic enemy China. Could it well be that the unintended consequence of our distention could end up pushing Russia into the hands of China. When people talk about Putin, it seems to me that he is a strategic idiot as the alternative for Russia is integrate into the West or to become a vassal of China and if you look at the economic situation that is what is happening.

 Andrew: Can we please take the other question as well please?

Question: It is linked to that question. I was going to ask you to summarize briefly what are Russia’s foreign policy objectives and particularly in relation to the Middle East?

 Angus: On China and so on, Putin likes to wave China as a bogyman. For example, if you in the West are not going to do business with us then we will do business there and we can sell what would have been your oil and gas to china instead. Which is true. But this said Russians are wary of china. They do not see it as an alternative to doing business in the West and this comes to the second question as well for I think that Russia still sees its future with the West but not subservient to the West. It wants and needs to be seen as an equal partner. We often subscribe phenomenal powers to Putin and I think that there are a lot of unintended consequences out there. For if you think about it he came to office promising to make Russia respected again in the world and so on. It is anything but this now. It is hated in so many countries. Look at his policy towards Ukraine. He said that there is a brotherhood. That they are one nation, it’s crazy that they are divided and so on. However much the rhetoric his policies have caused the youth to hate the Russians.

The overreaching foreign policy objective is for him to put an end to America’s unipolar world as he puts it. He thinks that the American’s believe that they have the right to depose governments around the world. I mean one of the things that Putin was right about was when he opposed the invasion of Iraq. In fact, he even warned what the consequences of that would be and he has been proved right on that. He wants Russia’s voice to be heard on the same level as the Americans. I do not think that he… there are reasons for what he did in the Ukraine and despite being illegal you can explain them in his world view. People should not have been shocked with the situation in Ukraine as he spelt out that he was going to do this as early on as 2008. There was a BBC documentary on just last week about the British army on Estonia and I thought that it was appalling actually as the entire premis was. Well it was a NATO propaganda film. (Inaudible) Look I am no supporter of Putin’s foreign policy but he not about to invade Ukraine and his is not an idiot and secondly the conditions for invasion do not exist. So this if you like is a bogyman to justify what NATO are doing there. I don’t think that he has those ambitions.


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