If David Cameron adopted the same attitude towards English-speakers as Putin does does towards Russian-speakers, England would have its hands full, Schadenfreude, our secret columnist in Brussels, points out
In 1984 Mikhail Gorbachev, still ranking low in the Soviet leadership, began his bid for the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He put into effect “perestroika”, roughly translated as democratisation. He obtained the top job in 1985. The Union was in a mess, economically and politically, with the futile invasion of Afghanistan and the enormous cost of its nuclear armament. A year later the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl (Ukraine) blew up with a radioactive cloud ten times stronger than what had been spread by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was a global crisis.
In summit meetings with the legendarily anti-Soviet US President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev sought nuclear disarmament but American attachment to the ‘Strategic Defense Initiative’ – a scientifically improbable missile shield – prevented serious movement.
However Gorbachev won international success with his speech in the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1988. The theme of his message was international freedom of choice.
The following year the Soviet bloc collapsed. In elections Hungary and Poland asserted their national freedom. In 1990 Bulgaria held free elections. In the same year Germany was unified and the Baltic states declared their sovereignty. In June 1990 Russia also declared its national sovereignty within the Soviet Union, followed by Belarus, Ukraine and the Central Asian republics. But with conditions in Russia worsening Gorbachev lost his grip and in a coup was replaced by Boris Yeltsin. The new leadership effectively abolished the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR), which was replaced by the insignificant ‘Commonwealth of Independent States.’
Putin certainly realises that he cannot create a new USSR. But he wants some kind of gathering of at least a number of the former members of the Union, and he makes much of protecting external speakers of Russian against the injustices from which he considers them to suffer. If this were a recognised principle in international comity, England would have a big job on its hands.
There is not much the West can do to curtail Putin’s ambitions, which are carefully tailored. Mother Russia still seems to count.