Friday, August 12, 2016

Define "normal relations" with Russia

Once again there are calls to "normalise relations with Russia", this time from the new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, though the Prime Minister has announced that at some time in the near future she will meet with President Putin to discuss mutually useful subjects. None of this sounds particularly important to me (and I can hardly be called a supporter of Vlad, who is busy purging some of his closest allies even as we speak). Every new government wants to carry out this amazing feat of international politics and every one of them fails. We used to have the same with wanting to get a better deal in the EU but that has become obsolete.

The Foreign Secretary's comment brought about glee in some of the Remainiac camps. See, they are saying on Twitter and Facebook, we told you those Brexiteers were all agents of Putin. Here is your proof. At a time when Russia is clearly stirring up more trouble in Crimea and Ukraine in general and remains active in Syria (twenty Russian servicemen have been reported killed), all these people can think of is "normalising relations".

What does that mean exactly? We have not broken diplomatic relations with Russia and there have not been any recent mass expulsions of diplomats and trade attaches who just happen to be a little too interested in defence matters. In so far as it is possible we do have business and trade relations and if these are often a little iffy, that has more to do with the Russian habit of raiding business premises and demanding back payments of taxes nobody has ever heard of. There are cultural exchanges (after a fashion) and students going back and forth, though the Russian habit of closing important archives do not help academic exchanges all that much. There are tourists going back and forth as well as a remarkable number of Russians of various kind living here. What would "normalisation of relations" add to it?

More trade? Of what? More cultural exchanges? Well, maybe. More Russians settling here? We can't stop that, anyway. Not getting worked up about murder of British citizens on British soil? Well, Theresa May as Home Secretary tried that but, unfortunately, she found herself having to announce the inquiry into Litvinenko's murder and then having to report on Sir Robert Owen's spectacular conclusions in the House of Commons. Nominally, we are still asking for Lugovoi's and Kovtun's extradition but that seems highly unlikely. Or it seemed highly unlikely before Vlad started purging his mates. Who knows? He might decide that Lugovoi is expendable and the man will find himself on an aeroplane with a one-way ticket to London.

So what exactly will normalisation entail? Among other things:
Despite the warm words, tensions have threatened to bubble over between the superpowers as British officials prepare to deploy troops to the Baltic state of Estonia to deter Russia from a possible invasion.

The UK will send 500 soldiers to a base just 90 miles west of the Russian border next year, creating further tension between the countries.
While Mr Putin is displaying his usual Olympic skills. No, not in judo but in creating international tension on the border that results in Russia invading yet another part of the old Soviet Union. Sounds quite normal to me.

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