22 October 2018
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RUSSIA AND BRITAIN: A RELATIONSHIP IN A CONTEXT (Full version of Alexander Yakovenko’s article for Daily Telegraph’s supplement RBTH of 16.12.2014)

The year of 2014 has not been particularly successful for our bilateral relations, to put it mildly. Indeed, it’s a challenge to profess optimism in the face of official ties almost frozen at all levels. The way out of the doom and gloom mood seems to be to have a look at a broader picture. After all, it was the Euro-Atlantic and global context that explains the origins of the present state of affairs between Russia and the West. What comes to mind?
In the first place, it’s difficult to extract this conflict from the global environment, defined by economic and financial crisis. The latter reflects another systemic crisis of the Western society. As history proves, those happen once in a century, which makes each début de siècle a time of troubles. The previous such a crisis required two world wars and geopolitical imperatives of the Cold War to accomplish this societal change. This time, hopefully, nobody is talking war but the lunatic nationalist fringe in Ukraine.
Secondly, it looks like an endgame of the deeper and complex processes, which, on both sides of the Cold War divide, date back to roughly the same period of late 60s – early 70s. In both instances opportunities for radical reforms were missed. The Soviet Union reached its impasse first. Now is the turn of the West. This analysis is supported by the latest research by Francis Fukuyama and Martin Wolf in their books “Political order and political decay” and “Shifts and Shocks”, both of which The Economist finds depressing. It looks like things accelerate at this stage.
Russia’s relationship with the West is held hostage to the crises, for which Russia bears no blame. In such watershed times, when future is impossible to foresee or falls short of original expectations, some leaders push all the buttons and look for usual suspects to be rounded. This, in my view, accounts for utter artificiality of the Ukraine crisis, where things were rushed from outside. It was also a display of unilateral action, quite contrary to multilateralism espoused by the European Union. The latter’s foray into geopolitics is no medicine for the Eurozone ills, rather a sign of something badly amiss in European project. Germany happens to be the bulwark of the austerity orthodoxy, which, in view of many, destroys Europe by economic means as surely as by force of arms. No wonder, Berlin’s Russia policy is as successful.
Naturally our bilateral ties flourish where life remains, i.e. in business, as far as the sanctions permit, and most of all in culture. We have already been through similar periods, when these two pillars helped support the entire edifice of our bilateral relationship.
As to business, there is no need to explain here, in the land of Adam Smith and John M. Keynes, that sanctions, while a poor substitute for real war, run counter to the basic principles of market economy and undermine confidence upon which rest financial markets. Our trade goes on, although the figures are smaller: US $ 15,5 bln for the first nine months of the year (US $ 24,6 bln for the previous year).
Britain and Russia are particularly lucky to possess cultures of universal value. It is ultimately to culture that boils down everything else in humanity. It was not by chance that this year was declared by our governments a cross Year of Culture. Though official presence and the scope were scaled back on the part of the British government, we have succeeded in many ways, including exchanges between museums. The Embassy has been busy presenting the Ushakov medals to the British veterans of Arctic convoys (1500 of them have already received it). Their unique contribution to the war effort was also recognized in Britain.
Hard times are conducive to reflection and philosophy. Shakespeare, a genius of the magnitude of divine revelation and a unique product of European Renaissance, will always justify Britain’s being in the world. At least, this is the view of our philosopher Nicolai Berdyaev on Dostoevsky and Russia. Our two nations have always been challenged by universalism of our literatures. This challenge still echoes in the ambivalence of the British on the EU.
Is it really coincidence that Dr Rowan Williams published his research on Dostoevsky in the year when the global crisis started? He wrote that the philosophy of Dostoevsky’s novels and the questions it asks are as political and unmistakably contemporary, as well as literary and theological. It’s easy to agree with those who have similar view of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare and Dostoevsky equally fit Francis Bacon’s maxim that the poets and writers of history are best doctors of the knowledge of the real truth.
Geoff Dyer in his Zone, inspired by Tarkovsky’s Stalker, came across issues of silence, last word, finitude etc. As an observer of America’s political scene for the FT, he can judge for himself that those categories apply to body politic, too. As to Russia, we keep channels of communication open, we don’t disengage. President V.Putin and Prime Minister D.Cameron still meet, be it in Normandy, Milan or Brisbane, which proves that differences ought to be debated.
One might say that we are at the rock bottom in our bilateral relationship, but if that results in broader awareness of our cultural affinity, we may be much better-off than meets the eye. Sometimes it helps to change the topic. I have no doubt that we’ll come out of this crisis wiser, and sooner rather than later.


09.08.2018 - Letter from Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to the Guardian’s editor

In response to the Ambassador Beruchashvili’s letter, offering not so much a recollection of the August 2008 events in the Caucasus, but rather a misleading reiteration of the Georgian claims against Russia I have to refer to some of the universally recognized facts and consequences resulting from those tragic events.

24.07.2018 - Eastern Economic Forum: the East is bright (by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko)

When talking about Russia’s Far East, you invariably remember its stunning natural beauty, abundance in natural resources and vast territories. But when one thinks of its investments prospects, you also invariably remember its harsh climate, low average population density and the lack of transport and other infrastructure. But now the situation is changing fundamentally. The region is undergoing a huge and qualitative revival. The development of the region has been declared one of the national priorities for Russia. In the last 5 years 18 advanced development zones and 5 free ports have been established in the Russian Far East. Long-term tax exemptions have been provided for large investment projects. Paperless e-visas for visitors of Vladivostok are available for citizens of 18 countries.

03.05.2018 - SALISBURY: A CLASSIFIED CASE (by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko)

On 4 March 2018 two Russian citizens Sergei and Yulia Skripal were reportedly poisoned in Salisbury, Wiltshire with the toxic chemical named A-234 under the British classification. On 12 March Foreign Secretary Johnson summoned me to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and said that Russia was “highly likely” responsible for the attack. He invited us to respond by the next day, whether this had been a direct act by the state or Russia had lost control over this nerve agent. The incident had international repercussions, including expulsion of 150 Russian diplomats from 28 countries, notwithstanding the fact that the charges were based on assumptions and unverifiable intelligence. The Western countries lost the same number of Moscow-based staff. Meanwhile, the British government provided no evidence either to the public, its allies or Russia. Subsequent events revealed that no proof of Russia’s involvement existed. On 1 May, National Security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill confirmed that (despite a number of previous leaks) no suspect had been identified, a statement that speaks for itself.

14.02.2018 - The international community needs a unified legal base to combat information crimes (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

Amid the rapid advance in technologies we face a growing number of cyber-crimes: in 2016, these offences caused damage of $445 billion and by 2020, according to experts, this figure can reach up to $3 trillion, exceeding the overall income received from the Internet.

26.01.2018 - UNGA: Glorification of Nazism must stop (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

In December the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the traditional resolution on “Combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. It was supported by an overwhelming majority of UN Member States: 133 states voted for this document, 57 became its co-sponsors, and only Ukraine and the United States voted against.

29.11.2017 - Afghan opium production jumps to record level (by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for RT)

According to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey released by the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in 2017 opium production in Afghanistan increased by 87 per cent to a record level of 9,000 metric tons. The area under opium poppy cultivation also grew by 63 per cent to its highest level of 328,000 hectares. Afghanistan is the world's top cultivator of the poppy from which opium and heroin are produced. The 2017 record levels of opium production and poppy cultivation create multiple challenges for the country, its neighbours and many other countries that serve as a transit for or a destination of Afghan opiates. The significant levels of opium poppy cultivation and illicit trafficking of opiates fuel instability, insurgency and increase funding to terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

19.10.2017 - Why to fight with memorials (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

The campaign in Poland against World War II memorials to Soviet officers and soldiers, who had liberated the country from the Nazi occupation, is gaining momentum. Warsaw has created a legal framework allowing the disposal of Soviet/Russian memorial objects or taking them out of public sight, including the most widespread monuments of gratitude to the Red Army. Why?

18.10.2017 - Syria: collective humanitarian efforts, not sanctions, are needed more than ever (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

The situation in Syria is undergoing serious transformation. Due to the de-escalation process, it has now become possible to drastically reduce the level of violence, to improve the humanitarian situation as well as to fight terrorists more efficiently. The ISIS-controlled territory is shrinking. On 14-15 September, at the international meeting in Astana all four de-escalation zones were finalized.

05.10.2017 - What You Have to Know about Status of Crimea (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

The coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 backed by the West tore up the constitutional space in Ukraine. The legitimate President of the country was overthrown. It was marked by a severe lack of democracy and violence that posed a direct threat to the well-being of Russian-speaking population of Crimea. Citizens of Crimea faced the choice of becoming an oppressed minority or severing their ties with the hostile regime to secure a future for themselves and their children. The decision to hold a referendum was made by legitimate local authorities. The independence of Crimea was proclaimed and an appeal to enter the Russian Federation was made based on the indisputable results of the popular vote. Standards of international law were fully observed as the right of nations to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter was exercised freely by the Crimeans. Crimea was recognized as an independent and sovereign state by Russia and on 18 March 2014 in Moscow the two countries signed a Treaty of Unification, under which the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol became two new regions - subjects of the Russian Federation.

05.10.2017 - NATO increased military presence in Europe: road to nowhere (by Ambassador Yakovenko for RT)

As part of the implementation of the conclusions of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, four multinational battlegroups have been deployed in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia with the total number of troops exceeding 4500. The idea of creating similar rotating units in Bulgaria and Romania in 2018 is being widely discussed by NATO members. If put together, these battlegroups amount to a motorized infantry brigade with heavy weapons.

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