Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How dare they kick our boots with the seats of their pants?

Tomorrow morning at the unearthly hour of 6.15 (does it even exist?) I shall be telephoned by the Russian Service Moscow studio (still in existence but only just) and asked whether the expulsion or, rather the refusal to readmit British journalist Luke Harding because of his temerity in publishing matters from Wikileaks that were uncomplimentary to Russia and her rulers will have any effect on Anglo-Russian relations. There are, apparently, dark mutterings in Russia about possible and outrageous British changes in attitude. How dare we kick their boots with the seats of our pants.

As ever, my answer will be that there are unlikely to be changes in anything at all. Britain is unlikely to expel Russian journalists unless some of them do get caught spying. Diplomatic relations will not be broken and business relations are more likely to be affected by the behaviour of the Russian government and its various front businesses such as Gazprom and Rosneft. (Incidentally, my prediction of the most recent BNP involvement is that Rosneft will, indeed, acquire AAA, owners of TNK and BNP will find itself in a very difficult position that will result in the usual mess and another retreat on the part of BNP, all within a couple of years.)

Journalists falling foul of Russian authorities is not a new story. There was a period of openness under Yeltsin but that finished long ago. We all recall similar stories from the days of the Soviet Union. But this goes back even further.

In 1903, as I had occasion to write on Another Blog the Russian government expelled D. D. Braham the then correspondent of the Times. In response the newspaper, living up to its nickname of the Thunderer, declared war on Russia, sending no more correspondents there and reporting, usually in a negative fashion from various countries around Russia. The situation did change eventually and with Harold Williams as the St Petersburg correspondent and Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace [the Wiki entry is inadequate and not entirely accurate but the best there is on line] in charge of the newspaper's foreign affairs, the Times became the most vociferous supporter of the Anglo-Russian agreement. Still, there was that period. What will the Guardian do?

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