Putin, Russia and the West



I have to admit I have feeling a bit ‘down’ of late, what with my on-going medical problems, and even my car issues – both of which seem to go on indefinitely with no solution in sight.

I have to wait 4 weeks before I have my echocardiogram and in the meantime all I can do is sort my affairs, update my will and make sure that in the event  I don’t make it, that I don’t leave an unholy legal mess in my wake for my friends and family to sort out.

I know this sounds a bit extreme, but I have to be realistic. My heart valve is damaged and as time goes on it will get worse and it will also put a lot of strain on the rest of my heart, making me more vulnerable to heart attacks. So it is only sensible that I put my affairs in order as best as I can – just in case.

As for the BMW – well it went back to Bangkok on Tuesday but didn’t go into the shop until Friday to check out the door lock sensor problem. So I don’t know how much it will cost and how long it will take. With my luck, it will probably cost a small fortune and will take several weeks while they order the parts from Germany….


Putin, Russia and the West

For anyone with the slightest interest in East – West relations during the past ten years or so, I urge them to beg, borrow or steal a copy of this outstanding, 4 part, 6 hour documentary that was recently aired on BBC.

It should also be required watching for anyone to studying  Russian affairs or indeed contemporary  world history, but even to the casual observer, who just wishes to be entertained, then I promise they will find it absolutely riveting.

It is the ‘reality show’ to out -do all reality shows, as it contains incredible footage of many of the major events that divided and also occasionally united East and West since the turn of the millennium and of many startlingly frank accounts by the people who shaped those events.


All the key ‘combatants’ are there: including the likes of Colin Powel, Condoleeza Rice and Robert Gates from the west; Russia’s PM/President Dmitry Medvedev, FM’s Sergey Lavrov and Igor Ivanov, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, and many, many others, including ambassadors, security advisers, nuclear negotiators plus some incredible footage of meetings and excerpts of interviews by the very top players – Putin, Bush and Obama.

It was an eye opener to me in many ways, not least because although I was vaguely aware of these events that have been unfolding during the past decade, the documentary brought them into sharp focus.  I now understood the critical nature of much that was going on in Russia and how intense were the relations between the White-house and the Kremlin.

I had been aware in a general sense, that American’s somewhat tactless and insensitive policies under Bush had fostered much resentment in Russia and  that Putin felt this more than most and was determined to change things when he assumed power. But this programme dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s on precisely what it was that America had done to generate such ill feeling.


There is little doubt that following the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, that America emerged as the world’s sole super power and thought they could flex their muscles wherever it suited them and get their own way. They seemed to be blissfully unaware of  how much resentment and ill feeling this was endangering throughout the world – not least in the Russian Federation, which was trying to come to terms to a post-soviet era and a fledgling democracy.

It comes across again and again- from Putin on down, how irked they were by America’s attitude in negotiations on almost any subject. If Russia had a problem with some aspect of American policy, the Yanks would always refuse to talk– effectively insisting: ‘That’s the way it is! Accept our view or go take a running jump!’

For the early part of the new century, Russia’s economic power was in a shambles and America took advantage of their perceived superiority as the world’s richest power by encouraging Georgia and Ukraine – both countries on Russia’s doorstep – to ally themselves with the west and even surreptitiously helped to finance the establishment of pro-western democracies. (In much the same way as I suspect they are doing in countries like Egypt today).


I wonder how we would feel if the Russia tried to persuade the Republic of Ireland to leave the EU and join some new, Russian defence and trade body? And let’s face it, the Americans haven’t exactly been over the moon about Cuba’s long ties with Russia. Even to this day it is a crime to smoke a Cuban cigar…

It makes you shiver when you learn how close Russia and The USA came to an all-out war over Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

(Incidentally, I wonder how many of my readers are aware of the crucial role French President Sarkosy played in helping to bring about the cease fire between Russia and Georgia? I certainly didn’t know about it.)

But the major event that totally pissed Russia off and dominated relations between the two superpowers for years was Bush’s plan to install a new missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration simply refused to budge on the issue and refused all attempts by the Russians to listen to their point of view. Some tentative negotiations on allowing t Russians to inspect of the missile systems was probationally agreed, but subsequently thrown out by Washington which led to a new low in East/West relations


But the programme isn’t all about America’s arrogance and insensitivity and Russia’s reactions to it – indeed the film makers take a totally neutral stance and let the facts and the players speak for themselves. Despite relations that in some ways hit new lows towards the end of Bush’s tenure, many positive events occurred between the two powers.

After 9/11, Putin gave America 100% support and even allowed them access to former Soviet territories in their fight against Muslim terrorism.  Later, Putin cancelled a 1billion dollar trade deal with Iran when America provided him with proof that Iran was secretly building nuclear weapons facility.

There is much more.

There is the successful completion of a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty between the two sides which, despite breath-taking brinkmanship on both sides, was finally signed by Obama and Medvedev in April, 2010.


There is the remarkable tour that the Russian President and a huge entourage was given to ‘Silicon Valley’ where they were given an insight on how the ‘best of the West’ create and run their new high tech companies.

There is the expulsion of Russian spy ‘moles’ in America, including the infamous Anna Chapman. The Russians didn’t even try to deny they were spying.

There is the killing of journalists and human rights activists fighting for justice and democracy in Russia; and the continuing imprisonment of the oligarch, Khodorkovsky, and Putin’s obvious interference with the judge’s verdict.

There are the infamous poisonings of their ‘enemies’; first the Ukrainian Presidential candidate (who later recovered and became President) and then the  ex-Russian spy in exile in the UK – who did die.

There is the increasing conflicts between Putin and his President, which in recent times seems to have concluded with Putin bringing his reluctant lap dog back to heel; although for a while, Medvedev clearly tried to act independent of Putin and indeed was the key negotiator, without any input from Putin, that brought the new arms control treaty with America to fruition.


I could go on and on – after all, it is a 6 hour documentary jammed packed with events – great and small. Yet in the end, you actually go away with the feeling that to some extent, the programme has only touched the surface of these complex events and political machinations that have been going on between the east and west over the past decade.

We saw ‘snapshots’ of what was happening at a particular point in time – but often there was no follow–up, which sometimes would have been as interesting and revealing as the original events. But, of course, there was a time limitation.

On a ‘personality’ level, I was totally fascinated by characters in the dramas. There was no criticism of anyone from either side by the interviewees – indeed they all seemed to regard each other with the utmost respect and viewers are left to draw their own conclusions.


We got a remarkably raw and privileged view of elder statesmen from both sides, strutting around and doing their stuff on the world stage. We got a very clear impression of Putin, watching him develop, from his somewhat nervous, self-effacing early days as prime minister designate under Yeltsin, to the powerful, confident, somewhat ruthless leader that he has become today.

We watch this transition and we see the factors and events that changed him from being reasonably pro-democratic into the authoritarian figure that he is today. Whatever he was and is, and whatever he may end up becoming, we can’t help admiring him – he is a very canny player, and whether we agree with him or not, we can see where he is coming from.

Bush emerges as an intelligent, credible figure, (unlike the popular proclivity to debunk him as a blithering, uneducated idiot), as does Obama. Indeed watching Obama’s behaviour and actions during some of the major crisis between the two nations has won him new respect from this reviewer.


I am forced to admit that very few people – whether Russian, American or from any major state, – gets to a position of high political power without being eminently qualified to do the job. (Of course there are exceptions  with the likes of Berlusconi…). We see this clearly in the footage and interviews with the likes of Powel, Rice, Gates, and especially the Russians, some of whom speak better English than the residents of many London suburbs.

From Putin on down, insights into what these Russians say, and what they think of us and the west – not all of it detrimental – was for me, highly illuminating, and in some strange way, comforting.

They actually give me hope for the future. They are not, as Reagan famously said, the ‘Evil Empire’; they are human beings, like you and I, trying to do the best for their country in a difficult and increasingly fraught and dangerous world.

Sure, they have not covered themselves in glory over the recent ‘Syria UN veto’ debacle, and in due course, I will be interested to learn what their thinking was behind their apparently heartless action. I do know that they feel mightily deceived by what happened in Libya, where the UN ‘no fly zone and civilian protection ‘ resolution was turned into a licence by NATO to bomb and destroy anything in sight that supported Gaddafi and to remove him from power. They may actually have a point…



BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a Hoot!…




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