23 October 2018
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Ambassador Yakovenko writes to David Smith and comments on Chatham House report on Russia

Dear Mr Niblett,


It was with a measure of disappointment that we read the Chatham House report ‘The Russian Challenge’. Still, it contributes, in its own way, to the ongoing  debate on the state and prospects of the West’s relationship with Russia.


I have just written to Mr David W Smith, a retired teacher, who wrote to me in connection with my article in The Daily Telegraph a month ago. May I ask you to place this response of mine on your website as a comment on the said report on Russia. I have to admit, that over the past year it has been difficult for us to get our narrative across in the British media. That’s why your cooperation in this matter would serve the purpose of having a reasoned debate and will be highly appreciated.


Best regards,


Alexander Yakovenko


Dear Mr Smith,


I am sorry for delay in my response to your letter. I wholly share your concern over the state of the Russo-British relationship. In the first place, Russia's policy in the Ukraine crisis was always reactive. Our Western partners admit that when they accuse us of both improvisation and pursuing a 'grand strategy'. It was not us who started all this destabilising mess. Not many care to have a look at its origins. So, I'll try to set the record straight on some key points.

The EU "Eastern Partnership" was declared by our EU partners as an instrument to deal with issues of our "common neighborhood", i.e. the countries of the former Soviet Union between the EU and Russia. We never minded. More than that, we suggested that trilateral projects, involving EU, focus countries and Russia, be implemented to sew the entire area together in terms of trade, economy, energy and infrastructure. We have never got any response to that.

Then we were told that a routine EU-Ukraine association agreement was in the works. Fine, we didn't mind that either. But in the autumn of 2013, it turned out that added to that agreement would be a Deep and Comprehensive FTA. In fact, in terms of consequences for our bilateral trade and economic ties it was nothing short of Ukraine becoming an EU member. In the past, when new members were admitted to the EU we held detailed bilateral and trilateral, including Brussels, talks on how to manage those consequences. But in the case of Ukraine this logic wasn't followed. We were told that it was none of our business, a purely bilateral matter for the EU and Ukraine. Only at the EU-Russia summit in January 2014, when the Ukraine crisis was already in full swing, our EU partners admitted that Russia had a legitimate economic interest in this matter, though we saw no willingness to follow it up. Later EU representatives admitted that, indeed, an FTA of the proposed scope with the EU wasn't compatible with Ukraine's membership in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) FTA. Thus, it would have been honest and straightforward to offer Ukraine the EU membership, which would have ensured orderliness and due process, including clear-cut mutual obligations.

That is, among other things, why we deemed the entire Ukraine project as a political one with the EU acting as proxy for NATO. Shall I say that, as far as we know, no veritable talks (and it was a set of documents of roughly 2000 pages) were held between the Yanukovich Government and Brussels. It had never been subject to open and public debate both in Ukraine and the EU. Nobody discussed costs and impact. So, it looked like a piece of secret diplomacy akin to that which was responsible for Europe blundering into WWI. Why secret diplomacy in our time, when nothing could be kept secret? All the more so that we had agreed with the EU that projects of economic integration in various regions of Europe were compatible. Adherence to the WTO rules and norms would see to that.

This mode of operation by the EU further undermined trust between us, especially immediately after Libya, where the UN Security Council mandate was stretched to destroy the regime of Colonel Gaddafi (now all of us have to deal with the consequences). It is not that we, in Russia, are Darwinists. But any outside interference has to be thought and seen through, which, as a rule, requires of the meddling nation a total commitment at the levels, seen in the two world wars and the Cold War. Short of that commitment, a truly collective international effort, mandated by the UN, is the only viable option. We have always been speaking in favour of the latter. And in that regard the case of Ukraine is no different from those of Iraq, Afghanistan and the "Arab Spring".

I think that is what means Edward Lucas (The Times, 9 June 2015), when he mentions a Marshall Plan for Ukraine, although admits a prospect of a failed state beset by extremism and corruption. He says that 'Ukrainians are the only people to have died in the cause of EU expansion'. What about those who, like the Greeks, are squeezed by the austerity diktat? Are they, too, suffering for the cause of EU expansion? And why, after all, the EU should expand through wars and petty scheming, not soft power and generous transformative financial support? Is it because war and destabilizing tactics are cheap?

There is a lot of ratchet about alleged Russian propaganda. Strange to hear that since Russia doesn't control the international media space, rather the opposite is true. The reason may well be the inability of our Western partners to get round the simple fact of Kiev choosing a military option over a political one, and their support for this choice. Suffice it to say that The New York Times on 3 July 2014 deplored President Poroshenko's decision not to extend the June truce and qualified it 'a fateful step'. Having accepted Kiev's narrative of the events in South-East Ukraine, the West helps drive the crisis into a dead end, though everybody says that it doesn't have a military solution. Prior to the Ukraine crisis we were told that sovereignty cannot trump human and minority rights. Why is it different now?

When Ireland was granted independence, six counties were carved out based on the will of their majorities. In the case of south-eastern regions of Ukraine, yes, it was an independent state already. But the post-independence settlement and consensus were torn down in a power grab in February 2014. And here the same factors of ethnicity and culture come into play. Could I refer you to the article in The Economist (9 May 2015) on the Odessa tragedy of 2 May 2014? People in that city have been living in fear ever since, in the conditions similar to foreign occupation. Do people have a say, or are they a mere trapping of the land they live on? I see a lot of merit in Richard Sakwa's ideas (in his 'Frontline Ukraine') on a Constituent assembly for Ukraine (in the year of Magna Carta: roughly along the lines of King John's conference with his barons, the outcome, by the way, enforced not without outside military entervention, as Philip Stephens reminds us) and a peace conference for Europe (we haven't had one after the end of the Cold War).

That is what British historian Dominic Lieven believes (I quote it with his permission): 'Here Irish history offers useful insights. There was no justice in a 1921 settlement which left hundreds of thousands of northern Catholics as often unwilling citizens of the UK but at least the British state had the strength to cope with the subsequent convulsions. If an even larger number of unwilling Protestants had been dumped in the Irish republic then the Irish state would have disintegrated. Relevant too is the least-bad solution at which we have finally arrived in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict. It includes constitutional recognition of separate communal identities and power-sharing between them. It accepts that Northern Ireland is part of the UK not by inalienable sovereign right but by the will of the majority of its population. It even gives a foreign state, the Irish Republic, some role in the governance of the region. Only an idiot could think that Irish solutions are easily applicable to contemporary Ukraine. But if there is ever to be even a least-bad solution to the Ukrainian crisis then Western leaders will need to operate with greater historical insight and imagination than they have shown since 1991'.

As to your concern over a possibility of the crisis spilling over and provoking a military conflict between NATO and Russia. There are, indeed, attempts to frighten the European public opinion. But that is not true. A conventional Crimean War Two is not physically possible. Due to defensive systems developed at the time of the Cold War and perfected over the past ten years, NATO just cannot deploy its assets close enough to engage our armed forces. In Pentagon's parlance, those weapons, never tested in real hostilities, deny access to the theatre. An insight into NATO military's analysis is provided by the claim that with the systems deployed in the Crimea we control the entire water space of the Black Sea and 40% of its airspace. You just extrapolate this on to the whole length of our western border on land and in sea, including the Baltic Sea and the Arctic, to see that no direct engagement is possible under these circumstances. It is, probably, upon this analysis, that the US Administration promptly concluded that the Ukraine crisis has no military solution.

Were NATO to decide to deploy its forces beyond the range of those weapons, it would be another stupid Phoney War with the prospect of nuclear escalation as additional paralyzing factor. Yes, the CFE Treaty is dead because of NATO countries' intransigence. But The Open Skies Treaty is in operation and provides enough transparency for everybody to see that the said calculus is there to stay. It cannot be changed by increased defense budgets, or by way of armour rides and WWII-type military exercises. In XXIst century there are other ways to make the point, in any case not by armoured columns, pincer movements and occupation. British military experts know that well enough.

A glimpse into how things stand in matters of modern warfare, could be provided by the words of former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who suggested that deployment of medium-range missiles in East Asia would mean keeping US aircraft carrier groups beyond the second range of the Pacific Islands. That means that those systems cannot be used in any military confrontation because of their symbolic value, which turns them into a liability rather than asset.

I am sure that nobody in Europe and the US is mad enough to contemplate nuclear exchanges. Our nuclear forces have to make up for the lost decade of the 90-ies in terms of renewal and training. Britain is, too, a nuclear power. By the way, collectivization of nuclear weapons within NATO is not allowed under the NPT. We are concerned over the US plans to deploy anti-missile assets in Europe as its forward defense against our nuclear deterrent. It would destroy the strategic stability, giving the US an edge in case it decides to strike first. So, we have to plan for all contingencies.

It is one of the truths universally acknowledged today, that the world is undergoing a complex and momentous change, be it globalization, multipolarity or paradigms of economic and societal development. Parts of that transformation refer us to our previous collective experience, not only of the XIXth Century, but the XVIIIth Century as well. It is not always negative. Each phenomenon ought to be judged on its merits. For example, the wars of the past 25 years, as polls show, have resulted in the populations viewing wars as the way elites amuse themselves at the public expense (it was European monarchs' favourite pastime in the XVIIIth century). So, it is not us but this mood that deflates Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

Of course, there are other throwbacks to even earlier history, which only proves that we are witnessing some truly profound and systemic transformation all over the world, and in the Euro-Atlantic in particular. For example, Beppe Grillo of the Five Star Movement in Italy (in his recent Lunch with the FT) says: 'We are Franciscans', which refers us to the Middle Ages and the debate on poverty that raged in the Western Church and European society (Umberto Eco talks of it in his 'The Name of the Rose'). So, not only Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas matter, but also the Reformation, The Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. No wonder then that the Greek crisis has revealed that Eurozone in the absence of economic and political union is merely a German customs union. So much for downshifting and other forms of withdrawal from official economy in the times of crisis. No wonder the talk of a German Europe, rather than a European Germany, of an end of an affair between Paris and Berlin, and of an overall schism in Europe based on world-view differences between its Romanic and Germanic parts reminiscent of the earlier divisions, including, partly, the world war alliances.

Another relevant example is the trend of privatizations of modern Western state, including sensitive areas of defense and security. Allison Stanger discusses that in his criticism of Sean McFate's book in The Foreign Affairs (July/August 2015). Effectively, the same issue is raised by John Le Carre in his 'A Delicate Truth'. This, among other things, refers us to 'free companies' of the Hundred Years' War. Similar things are happening in Ukraine threatening further chaotisation in that country and trouble on our Western border.

Closer to our times, John Kay {The FT, 15 July 2015) writes of the NATO/EU imperialist overstretch. Indeed, Ukraine is a sign of the boundaries of West Europe approaching the Nazi precedent of 1941-1942, as well as a symbol of what has been so terribly wrong with Western policies over the past 30 years or so, at least since the end of the Cold War. Why blame Russia for that, for the fact that the European project was heavily politicised after the fall of the Berlin Wall, for J.M.Keynes's 'The Economic Consequences of the Peace' (now almost 100 years old) applying to the Greek crisis now, as it did to the Versaille system and Germany then?

Another case in point is the post-Napoleonic Wars settlement, agreed at the Congress of Vienna 200 years ago. It created the first collective security system in Europe, which guaranteed peace for 40 years till the Crimean War destroyed it. What is remarkable is the fact that the defeated nation, i.e. France, became a full member of the newly established European concert of powers. The reasons of this magnanimity (remember Sir Winston Churchill's 'in victory - magnanimity') were common sense, foresight and common decency, born out of the Age of Enlightenment. Those things would subsequently wear off with disastrous results for Europe and the world. The very idea of progress was perverted, as illustrated by Dr Guillotin and Bismarck's remark that 'the war with Austria was won by the Prussian school teacher'. Aggression of elites no longer sated by colonialism and empire-building entered European territory. First, Russia was humiliated not as much by the defeat in the Crimean War, but by the terms of the Peace of Paris. Then came the turn of Denmark, Austria and France. In Versailles the same was done to Germany (instead of 'peace without victory') and indirectly to Russia, who were excluded from new European settlement. According to Orlando Figes the Crimean War was the first total war that indicated the shape of things to come. This descent into barbarism in Europe, including Anglo-Boer Wars, Balkan Wars and all other tragedies of the XXth Century, was accompanied by nationalist fever of the elites and the public, and jingoism of the press.

We cannot rely on the common sense of Western elites. In the past, including recently, too many developments proved us right. Thomas Friedman of NYT admits consistently that the West "fired the first shot when we expanded NATO toward the Russian border even though the Soviet Union disappeared" (25 June 2015). But still, he talks about a 'Cold War without the fun'. Why not follow the logic and start from square one and agree a real post-Cold War settlement, since there was none contrary to what James Sherr writes in his letter to The FT (3 June)? There was a set of contradictory assumptions, which tended to diverge over time, and doomed to clash if not managed.

May I draw your attention to the view of a prominent American scholar Ian Bremmer (in his highly acclaimed book 'Superpower'): 'Why did Washington stumble into an escalating conflict with Russia over Ukraine, a country that will always matter much more to Moscow than to us... Russia is too big to isolate. This is not a new Cold War. The American people don't care. So why did we pick this fight?' He is not alone to stress the uniqueness of this case. Zb.Brzezinski is of the same view. That is why there is no grounds to draw far-fetched conclusions from this conflict. It would never have happened, had it not been for the short­sightedness of our Western partners, who assumed that Europe could be united by politicised expansion of NATO and EU. Both these tools are in crisis now. It is that, indeed, like on the eve of WWI (please, read for that Max Hastings' 'Catastrophe'), the Ukraine crisis serves as a cover-up for the mismanagement of the elites, who don't know what to do, but wouldn't change track, be it austerity or policies toward Russia.

There is no subjunctive mood in history. But the Ukraine crisis could have been easily avoided, had we joined effort to manage Ukraine's transformation from the very start. The problem is real. For example, Ukraine is the only former republic of the Soviet Union, which hasn't reached the pre-independence level of GDP. We have no designs on Ukraine's territory (it would be a drag on our own development) and will have no problem with a European Ukraine. All the more so that this is our ambition, too. But Europeanness means European values in practice, including human and minority rights. Why decentralization is good for Germany, Britain and Russia, but not for Ukraine, which experts say is a divided country. There is a choice to be made between war and reform, and to have both is a mission impossible. Subjecting its own citizens to economic and humanitarian blockade, wishing them chaos and destruction sound too bloody-minded for political traditions of this part of Europe. Russia insists on the rebel territories remaining part of Ukraine. Otherwise it won't be Ukraine at all. That requires implementation of all political provisions of the Minsk-2. Given the British experience in Northern Ireland, there is no other way forward, but return to politics of consensus and moderation.

As to the people in the Crimea, they had a glimpse of their future under a fervently nationalistic regime and took their destiny into their own hands. We are only proud that provided a safe environment for that. It was our duty to help those in need of protection, we could do it and we did it.

Overall, I believe that sober analysis provides a convincing proof that not only method (moving the dividing lines eastwards, rather than erasing them; in managing the Greek crisis and the very design of the European common currency) defines outcome, but the same is true for context. And the context, both global and regional, has fundamentally changed. Politicians ignore it at their peril and expense in terms of national interest. This explains why after dreams of a globalized alliance NATO, ossified strategically and bureaucratically, returned to the cocoon of territorial defense.

By the way, in my article of 23 June, to which you refer, The Daily Telegraph edited out one single phrase I borrowed from Sting. It says: 'but that is not the shape of Russia's heart'. It makes an important point, i.e. we are always ready to return to normal in our relations with everybody, including EU and the West, given they will it. That is to say that we can cooperate on issues of mutual interest, like Iran's nuclear program or fighting the 'Islamic State'. The recent conclusion of the deal with Iran is a good case in point. All of us, of course, can exercise sort of strategic patience, which, however, quite often means waste of time.

The real cultural disconnect between us and the West lies in its inability to be self-critical. Even now, 25 years after the Cold War, nobody would explain the strategic meaning of the Phoney War. Then what is to be expected when we debate recent failures of imagination? The worst crimes were committed by people who believed themselves to be in the right, and, yes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. What about European rationality and common sense?

The general conclusion one can draw as regards the state of Europe is that the Cold War coordinates and its categories no longer apply to a by far complex reality of today. They are plainly beyond the point, serve to distract from, rather than focus minds on the real issues, which are inevitably big. That is why, in our view, the Chatham House report 'The Russian Challenge' is so wanting in terms of intellectual analysis and policy recommendations. It is strange to hear that Russia is labelled both a revisionist and preeminently counterrevolutionary power, which I assume depends on the definition of status que in each situation in question. At any rate, we are all now in the business of managing Ukraine. As to sovereignty and democracy, how do those square with the way Greece is being treated in the EU? And now that NATO and EU have exhausted their potential of uniting Europe, why not to try other options, tested by previous experience and prompted by history?

Hope, the said considerations will be helpful to you in shaping your view of Russia's narrative on the subject of where and why we are in European affairs.


Yours truly,


Alexander Yakovenko


27.11.2017 - "Do not politicise peaceful mission" Article by Consul General Mr Andrey Pritsepov in "The Herald" newspaper, published 23.11.2017

YOUR article ("Navy warship shadows Russian destroyer as it crosses UK waters", The Herald, November 21) fails to mention that the Russian naval vessel the Vice Admiral Kulakov and her supporting tanker transit in UK waters had been duly cleared and co-ordinated with the British side

15.11.2017 - Embassy response to a BBC question

Q: Can you provide a response to the speech being made by Ciaran Martin this morning, in which Russia is accused of having attacked the UK’s media, telecommunications and energy sectors over the past year.\\\\r\\\\nA: We are concerned by such assertions since they mislead the British public in regard to the so called cyberattacks. We view these statements in the context of Prime Minister May’s “Banquet speech” which described Russia as number 1 threat for UK and the world community.

17.02.2017 - Embassy comment on BBC Two film

The film “Russia’s Hooligan Army” shot and broadcast by BBC Two with Russia-hosted 2018 FIFA World Cup in mind is quite shocking. One gets the impression that its goal is to sow fear in British society and warn the fans against travelling to Russia. Based on edited footage of football fans’ clashes in Marseille and violent Russian fans, the filmmakers from the government-funded channel did their best to discredit Russia and the forthcoming World Cup.

13.02.2017 - Letter to the Editor of The Sunday Telegraph

Sir, As to your recent article “Putin considers handing over Snowden as “gift” to the US” (12 February) I’ve got to admit I was stunned to see such a slapdash work by your colleagues. Apparently, journalism differs from propaganda in providing a balanced view and a measure of decency. In this case, the author plainly decided to ignore the Russian Government's opinion, expressed by the Kremlin & MFA spokespersons. Which is that Edward Snowden enjoys a legal status in Russia. He’s not a toy to be traded or presented to anyone. If your correspondent believes that in our time a bilateral relationship could be based on so a cynical arrangement then he absolutely misunderstands the very nature of contemporary international relations. It is insulting both to Russia and the United States as well as to your paper and your readers.

13.02.2017 - Embassy spokesperson's comment on "cyber witch hunt" timed to the launch of NCSC

Anybody following UK media in the recent days must have taken note of a "cyber witch hunt" unleashed against Russia by BBC, the Times, The Guardian et al. This well-coordinated attack is clearly timed to the official launch of National Cyber Security Centre, scheduled for Tuesday. Its head Ciaran Martin has already given interviews in droves, juggling figures and taking full advantage of the GCHQ status as absolving of the responsibility to provide supporting evidence (we would gladly see "a European report" and "a NATO report" quoted in the alarmist publications).

10.02.2017 - Embassy responds to BBC on Russia's "misinformation" campaign and the "cause of Scottish independence"

Q: What funding has the Russian government provided the Sputnik Edinburgh bureau? A: It is proper to address this question to the Sputnik Edinburgh bureau or its office in Moscow. Q: Are Russian government officials regularly in contact with Sputnik editors in the UK and elsewhere in the world? A: Sputnik, like the taxpayer-funded BBC, is independent and has its own editorial policy.

03.12.2016 - Russian Embassy Spokesman comment on PMO’s statement on East Aleppo

Question: PMO spokeswoman told Daily Mail that “Russia should use its influence with the Assad regime to stop these appalling atrocities in Aleppo and let humanitarian aid through”. What is your comment on that? Answer: It seems that our British partners prefer living in denial, finding comfort in what is said to be a post-truth world. That is if the reality doesn’t suit their five-year old narrative tant pis for the reality.

30.11.2016 - Letter to the Editor, FT Magazine, sent on 24 November

Sir, I feel entitled to comment on Simon Kuper's `Trump: a liberal loser responds` (FT.com/Magazine November 19/20 2016), for he mentioned `the Russian taxi driver in Paris 1920's`, thus laying claim, in the name of Western liberal elite, to the fate of the White Russians. The present situation plainly doesn't fit the description for there is no prospect of armed civil war nor being driven out of one's own country.

24.11.2016 - Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, published on 24 November 2016

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, published on 24 November 2016

24.11.2016 - Letter to the Editor of Financial Times, sent on 18 November 2016

Sir, It was surreal to read (“Aleppo residents suffer ‘surrender or starve’ onslaught”, 18 November) concerns about the wellbeing of Aleppo children voiced precisely by Nour al-Din al-Zinki group, best known for beheading a 12 year old boy in July.

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