On Tuesday 14 February 2017, John McCarthy launched Tony Kevin’s new book Return to Moscow at Glover Cottages before a full house including our patron, HE the Governor of NSW David Hurley.
John asked Tony why he wrote this book at this particular time. Because, said Tony, his first posting had been to Moscow from 1969 to 1972 during the Cold War. Much had happened since then, including the dismantlement of the once powerful Soviet Union and the country’s climb back from reduced circumstances to become once again a substantial power; because Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin was the subject of an increasingly vitriolic Western press campaign; and because Tony was genuinely curious to know how Russia was coping.
John suggested Tony uncritically avoided discussing a number of unsavoury characteristics – Russia’s false democracy, its kleptocracy and corruption, the selective killing of journalists, harassment of the media, and aggression in Ukraine. Tony said these had to be seen in historical context, and he didn’t want to put Russia in the dock. The western media was already doing that. And there was a counter story to Ukraine. The West had connived in installing a pro-western anti-Russian regime in Kiev. A majority Russian population in eastern Ukraine wanted independence, which Kiev fiercely resisted. But the western press turned this fighting on its head and blamed the atrocities on Russian aggression.
Tony said atmospherics between Russia and the NATO alliance were leading towards a potentially catastrophic confrontation. Things would improve if Washington stopped trying unilaterally to impose on Russia the security system it created at the end of the Second World War while not applying the same rules to itself.
John asked about Jews and Christians in Russia today. Tony assessed that Jews were doing quite well, and there was an astonishing degree of trade and commerce with Israel. As regards the Russian Orthodox Church, Yeltzin’s Constitution guaranteed freedom of worship and still does. As with everything else, race and religion in Russia had to be seen in historical context.
What, asked John in conclusion, should Australia be doing? Tony responded that we should closely examine the political fluidity in our region and develop a regular dialogue with Russia about it, especially over Russian perspectives on China and about Sino-Russian relations. Russia was part of the region and had a legitimate right to be concerned and involved.
Report by Richard Broinowski