The 16th major press conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin drew a line. In the history of the “concentration of Russia”, a 30-year period ended, characterised by successive advances: fascination with the west, doubt in the west, and disillusionment with western “values”. Russia has entered a new period.
During Putin’s final press conference, an incident occurred that caused a lot of hilarious comments in Russian society and in the Russian press. BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg asked the Russian President: “Is Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the deterioration of relations with western countries? Or is Russia all these 20 years of Putin’s rule ‘white and fluffy’?” Well, in addition, as it should be, “how is the investigation into the poisoning of Navalny going”?
A dialogue ensued, during which the British journalist looked rather pitiful, which everyone noticed. But although everyone quoted the result of this conversation, no one appreciated the merits. At the end, it was said that Putin is responsible for the people of Russia and in front of the people of Russia, and that yes, we are white and fluffy, especially compared to you.
I can understand how the British journalist felt at this time. The world around him collapsed. From his point of view, such an end to the conversation was simply impossible. He hadn’t been taught this.
Memory of the present
I know very well what I’m talking about. In 1993, along with three dozen other diplomats representing all the post-Soviet republics (including Russia) and all the post-socialist countries of eastern Europe (at that time, none of them were members of either NATO or the EU, although everyone was already dreaming), I was on a diplomatic internship in the UK. Among other things, we were offered a training format for communicating with the western press, which (what a coincidence) was represented by a rather elderly woman from the BBC. She explained to us long and tediously that we, as state officials, will have to listen carefully to the position of journalists and if Mr. journalist himself (especially western) is interested in some information or points out some political mistake, then the information should be immediately provided, and the mistake should be corrected along with an apology.
She talked for 40 minutes. I waited until she was exhausted and asked: “Why?” I waited on purpose. Usually in such cases, our western friends simply repeat their monologue. But the journalist was already quite second-hand, she was exhausted for the previous hour and, losing her vigilance, missed the beat. She answered the question with another question: “What do you mean ‘why’?”
It was then that I explained to her that in any country, Great Britain is no exception, journalists from the media are like sand on the beach. And each of them will be happy to interview a government official and get exclusive information on their (official’s) terms. And such “smart” ones as she won’t even get into the waiting room. There are a lot of ways not to accredit under a plausible pretext. And after her employer makes it clear that no one will ever talk to this particular journalist in this country, she will simply be fired for professional incompetence or sent to the Papuans, from where one report is published every ten years.
This dialogue took place in the summer of 1993. I was 27 years old at the time. I think that Steven Rosenberg was then at the same age (give or take a couple of years). I have long forgotten the name of the BBC lady, but I will never forget her face. She looked at me as if the gates of hell had opened behind me and the entire infernal army was about to rush at her. Rosenberg’s face was half hidden by a mask, but he couldn’t hide his confusion, further accentuated by his stampede from the press conference. I would like to emphasise once again that I understand him well and sympathise with him. 27 years ago, when the incident I described above happened, journalists already liked to speculate about the “fourth estate“, but most of them still did not really believe in this thesis. Nevertheless, an open disregard for the “rights of the press” was already not comme il faut. About a dozen years later, “homophobia”.
Since then, 27-years-young and then seasoned BBC journalist Steven Rosenberg was taught that he is not just a “fourth estate”, but a representative of western civilisers in a semi-primitive world that dreams of becoming like the west. Steven is the bearer of civilisation. Any of his statements is a priori true, and the authorities of the “wild tribes” to whom he brings civilisation must justify themselves to him and immediately rush to eliminate the shortcomings he has noticed.
“Russia is disappointed by the inability of Europe to defend its own interests”
And after all, for a long time it was exactly like that. Including in Russia. Not that the Kremlin believed in the western “mission of good offices”, but they proceeded from the fact that compromise is better than hostility and were ready for reasonable concessions, in anticipation of counter steps. It cannot be said that this strategy has completely failed to justify itself. Part of the western world, especially in the EU and especially in Germany and Italy, really wants to build equal and pragmatic relations with Russia on the basis of a mutually acceptable compromise.
But the part is not the whole, and as a whole, the western world retains a hostility towards Russia that is poorly concealed by unjustified swagger. And it is clear that despite the strengthening of western political circles sympathetic to our country, this trend will not be broken in the coming years. And then it will be too late. The window of opportunity will close.
Any political decision is possible and appropriate within a certain time frame. If someone does not have time to meet it, then we have to implement a different version of the future. That is why no serious state operates on the principle of no alternative. There are always fallbacks, maybe not as good, but not disastrous, usually just less profitable. But those who are late for a joint train to the future remain at the broken trough.
2020 was a year of summing up the results in Russian-European relations. At the level of political statements and press materials, at the level of visits, agreements and active events, Russia’s interest in the European vector and the redirection of the dominant of its foreign policy to the Far and Middle East became noticeable.
The latest warning was the autumn speeches of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in which it was said in clear text that Russia is disappointed with the inability of Europe to defend its own interests and, given this factor, does not expect anything more from cooperation with the west and does not plan to unilaterally take into account the opinion and interests of the west.
Perhaps in the UK or specifically on the BBC, being immersed in their Brexit, Lavrov was not heard. But that’s their problem. Russia does not do anything without thinking. Before openly telling the west that it was “not very desirable” to work with it, long-term (stretching for a decade and a half) work was carried out to find alternative markets for the import substitution of critical products imported from the west, to strengthen the army, recreate the ocean fleet, gain allies and create military bases that control critical trade routes for Russia.
The west has missed this whole era of “concentration of Russia” (the expression of Chancellor Gorchakov). This is the second time the west has missed it (the first “concentration” in the 21st century ended in 2008). In Europe and the US, they consoled themselves with the fact that Russia has “clay feet”, that it does not have sufficient resources even to intervene in the situation in the post-Soviet space, that “Moscow is bluffing”, that the west is irreplaceable, because it is a “civilisational choice”, etc.
And suddenly, in 2020, the collective west saw that Russia’s positioning in relation to it had radically changed. If earlier complaints were listened to, explanations were given, Russia tried to prove something, now Europe began to be ignored like a boring lover. The Kremlin has stopped talking at all with some countries, with some it speaks, but “without respect”.
“Yes, we are white and fluffy”! But only for ourselves. And what will you do to us?
Western journalists, especially BBC journalists, do not ask random questions at press conferences of heads of state. The BBC is a state-owned corporation, its activities are aimed at implementing the state interests of the UK, including the collection of information, using the opportunities of journalism. By asking the question “are you white and fluffy?”, the leading circles of the west were probing the ground and were ready to hear anything in response, except they heard: “Yes, we are white and fluffy” – and your opinion on this issue is of least interest to us.
This is the point, the end of many years of flirtation between Russia and the west, which the west hoped would result in an absolute moral and material gain, and suddenly sees itself in the role of “Ariadne Abandoned”. Given the western vindictiveness, such public humiliation of it became possible only following the results of a decade and a half of well-coordinated, albeit invisible, work of all Russian state structures, including state-owned companies.
In 2014, the west was surprised to learn that Russia is able to ensure its food security (over the next six years, Moscow has been steadily increasing its food exports). In 2015, the west became convinced of the stability of the Russian financial system, which it never managed to break. In 2016, the west still laughed at the “cartoons” and argued that in reality Russia did not have demonstrated weapons systems, since they could never exist. Since 2018, the west has been forced to admit its critical lag in the military sphere. In 2017-2018 the west suddenly learned that the supply of liquefied gas, over which it was a de facto monopolist, Russia is increasingly closing in on itself, one by one introducing the corresponding terminals in the North and the Far East (which makes the fight against Nord Stream 2 and other flows senseless, since Russian gas will come to Europe by an alternative Ukrainian route, if not through gas pipelines, then with the help of gas carriers). By 2020, the west learned that Russia is also able to build gas carriers on its own (as well as other ships and vessels of any class).
In parallel, international systems of cooperation between Russia and China, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt were being built. If until about 2014, Russia’s priority was to ensure internal stability and security in the face of a likely break with the west, then the focus in domestic policy shifted to disavowing the ideological expansion of the west, and in foreign policy – to build alternative trade and economic ties, securing promising markets and partners.
All of this, of course, is not as beautiful as the even ranks of the royal grenadiers, bravely breaking the enemy’s resistance under a hail of buckshot. But for the latter to become possible, many years of routine work is needed to create an independent economy that can meet the needs of the army and people in any conditions, for a period of time of any duration, as well as to provide the rear with reliable military and political alliances.
And only after many years of efforts of millions of people, someone can smile and say to the unfortunate journalist, talking over his head to the collective west: “Yes, we are white and fluffy”! And what will you do to us?
In the history of Russia, a thirty-year period has come to an end, characterised by successive advances: fascination with the west, doubt in the west, and disillusionment with western “values”. The line is drawn. Russia has entered a new period characterised by indifference towards the west and a lack of illusions about all its current partners and allies. We leave our ideals for home use, but only our interests remain for external use. Russia has built its own well-being and is going to use it. And those who don’t like it can cry, gnaw the ground, rage. We are “white and fluffy”, but only for ourselves.
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