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Bear hugs: Russia on The World Tonight

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 09:37 UK time, Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Two years ago Russia went to war with its tiny neighbour, Georgia. In five days of fighting Georgian forces were heavily defeated.

World Tonight logoWho started it and why was hotly contested at the time, something I blogged on then.

The conflict had several immediate results.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi went into the deep freeze. Russia and three other countries recognised the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And relations between Russia and the West - the US and the EU - deteriorated to their worst level since the end of the Cold War - there was even a revival of Cold War rhetoric.

Some commentators said at the time that Russian foreign policy had taken a decisive anti-Western turn and things could and/or should never be the same again.

But here we are 24 months later and those predictions couldn't appear more misplaced.

Russian relations with Georgia remain hostile, although the border has reopened in places and some business links remain.

President Medvedev and President ObamaBut over the past year relations with both Washington and the EU have improved dramatically.

One of President Obama's most successful foreign policy initiatives to date has been the "reset" of relations with Russia that has led to a new nuclear arms control agreement, START 2, but Washington appears to have been pushing at an open door.

When it comes to Europe, the Russians have reached out to their arch rivals, the Poles, as a way of demonstrating they want to improve relations with the wider EU, damaged by disputes from the disruption of gas supplies via Ukraine, to murder of the Russian exile, Alexander Litvinenko, in London and the harassment of the British ambassador to Moscow by the nationalist youth organisation, Nashi.

What lies behind this change of policy in Moscow?

The reasons for the change of approach from Russia were outlined in a leaked Foreign Ministry paper in May and they appear to be highly pragmatic.

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin want to modernise the Russian economy, including its ageing oil and gas infrastructure, and diversify away from its huge reliance on energy exports and they think they need good relations with the Western economies to do that.

Last month, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, wrote a significant essay explaining the policy change in more depth.

This kind of incremental shift is quite a challenge to cover on a daily news programme given there are often seemingly more pressing news stories on a daily basis that knock the smaller stories of signs of policy change off running orders.

So occasionally at The World Tonight, we decide to devote special coverage to a significant issue and this Friday it's this.

We'll be reporting from Georgia (Tom Esslemont: Georgia and Russia still bitter foes amid scars of war) and Poland (Paul Moss: Russia unleashes charm offensive on Poland); talking to senior European and Russian leaders; and discussing what lies behind this change with a panel of experts in Russia, the US and Germany.

But already one lesson that comes through from the past two years seems to be wary of ever thinking nothing will be the same again.

Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Russia is always difficult to understand internationally. With US missile plan dropped, it can move closer to Eu, which is as near as it is far. The georgia break away states and kosovo appears to remain topics for west-ru discussions.

    The question is will Russia become an intelligent economy or continue to fight for ego.

  • Comment number 2.

    well what can you say to this one only that the west and east will im afraid to say never agree on any relevant issues that matter to the world a bit like big brother little brother however the issue with the breakaway states regarding the nuclear issue must be addressed but by who and when well i wish god would decide

    after all he is the ultimate power for all life!!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    "Two years ago Russia went to war with its tiny neighbour, Georgia. In five days of fighting Georgian forces were heavily defeated.

    Who started it and why was hotly contested at the time, something I blogged on then."

    I can still remember the presenter on Newsnight (11/08/2008) saying...

    "The Russians are calling it a peace enforcement operation, it's the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud."

    When has the BBC ever referred to official UK or US government announcements as Orwellian newspeak? Instead the BBC is all to happy to regurgitate propaganda terms such as "winning hearts and minds".

    The BBC narrative on the war was largely about Russian aggression, so much so that viewers were probably a little confused later when it emerged that Georgian forces had committed war crimes.

    Here is Newsnight's Gavin Esler doing an amazed double-take on the concept of Georgian forces committing war crimes rather than the nasty old Russians.

    "We have an amazing film tonight which alleges serious human rights abuses by Georgian forces - that's right Georgian forces - in South Ossetia at the start of the conflict with Russia this summer."

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/fromthewebteam/2008/10/tuesday_28th_october_2008.html

    Certainly if you had solely relied on BBC news, you would indeed have done a double take.

  • Comment number 4.

    3 - Auntie Beeb being biased? Surely not! Everyone knows that the beeb's news coverage is balanced and fair. You know - just like FOX...

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Russia makes severe mistakes like America. The war in Afghanistan during the 1980s killed many Russians and cost a great amount of money. The Russian Army destroyed poppy plantations to eliminate competition to Soviet opiates and vodka. The United States made an extreme mistake with the occupation of Vietnam. Never believe propaganda from the DOD. They might list 58,000 Americans killed in the Vietnam war on their monument in Washington DC. In truth, over 200,000 military personnel sent to Southeast Asia were returned deceased to this country.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    As always there is a big boss with his little brother
    i t looks like what Obama did
    "Two years ago Russia went to war with its tiny neighbour, Georgia. In five days of fighting Georgian forces were heavily defeated."
    What about the currently military maneuver in Asia
    Are your guys all jealous to China and what a war to transfer the bad economy?
    Yours
    Moncler Daunenjacke [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 9.

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  • Comment number 12.

    Any reason why of "we decide to devote special coverage to a significant issue and this Friday it's this."

    rc helicopter

  • Comment number 13.

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  • Comment number 14.

    @Steve (#3) - I remember that Newsnight presentation in 08.. certainly an interesting change in viewpoint although in fairness BBC likely has more information now than they had then.. wouldn't it be fun if they actually pointed out their own double takes.. it would certainly add more credibility to the reports for me.

  • Comment number 15.

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  • Comment number 16.

    Being connected with other cultures means for me not only ready about foreign cultures but also living in them. Reports or stories alone can never give someone the same deep impression of how an other culture is than if someone lived in the culture. I am form Russian and the German culture, the way the people live there and the customs was always something which has attracted my attention I decided to try to get a study place in Germany. Because I thought travelling is also not enough to learn to understand a society. If one image stairs, reports are at the lowest stairs when it comes to understand a socienty, at the next step there would be travell experiences but I think at the uppermost step there is the life in the respective society which enables one to learn the most about the people.
    And at this point I must refer to a company in Germany. This is not advertisement. But this company for is an important bridge regarding the connection of people from different countries. Because without their help I think I would never get the chance to study in Germany. Because between a study place and the chance to live in Germany at least for the time of my studies there is the application process and the proceedure with authorities. Which is pitty because it is really difficult and I am sure that mean like me who want to study in Germany give up without help and cannot realize their dreams. Because I am getting closer to my dream to study in Germany I think it is fair and appropriate to thank this special people form HeSA Germany. People like them help to connect people.Thank you very much.

    http://www.help-to-study-in-germany.com

    Darja Nowikow
    St. Petersburg

  • Comment number 17.

    Being connected with other cultures means for me not only ready about foreign cultures but also living in them. Reports or stories alone can never give someone the same deep impression of how an other culture is than if someone lived in the culture. I am form Russian and the German culture, the way the people live there and the customs was always something which has attracted my attention I decided to try to get a study place in Germany. Because I thought travelling is also not enough to learn to understand a society. If one image stairs, reports are at the lowest stairs when it comes to understand a socienty, at the next step there would be travell experiences but I think at the uppermost step there is the life in the respective society which enables one to learn the most about the people.
    And at this point I must refer to a company in Germany. This is not advertisement. But this company for is an important bridge regarding the connection of people from different countries. Because without their help I think I would never get the chance to study in Germany. Because between a study place and the chance to live in Germany at least for the time of my studies there is the application process and the proceedure with authorities. Which is pitty because it is really difficult and I am sure that mean like me who want to study in Germany give up without help and cannot realize their dreams. Because I am getting closer to my dream to study in Germany I think it is fair and appropriate to thank this special people form HeSA Germany. People like them help to connect people.Thank you very much.

    http://www.help-to-study-in-germany.com

    Darja Nowikow
    St. Petersburg

  • Comment number 18.

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  • Comment number 19.

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