The high level of trust that had been constructed between western and Soviet leaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s was not sustained when western leaders had to face an independent Russia, even though the new Russia began with every intention of transforming itself into a full participating member of the international institutions set up after 1945 to keep the peace.  However, Russians – not just their government – had come to view international institutions with profound distrust as having deceived them in both the economic and diplomatic spheres.  Increasingly - and dramatically in the Georgian crisis of 2008 and the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 - they returned to a familiar Imperial Russian diplomatic and military outlook, in which one achieves security through the creation and assertion of raw power.  In this view, one side’s gain is the other side’s loss.  Win-win situations are not envisaged.  This is essentially an 18th century ‘mercantilist’ vision of international affairs, according to which the state has the right to mobilise all the resources of society.  The economy, information, the media, science and technology are all viewed as belonging to the state to be deployed in great power rivalry.   This is what Putin means when he talks of  ‘sovereign democracy’.  The west does not have to accept the terms of the argument, but should at least try to understand what they are if the minimal degree of trust necessary to normal diplomatic relations is to be, slowly and painfully, restored.

Speaker: Professor Geoffrey Hosking (University College London)

Recorded: Monday 10 November 2014.

Geoffrey Hoskingis professor of Russian history at the University of London. Among his books are Russia: People and Empire (2002), Russia and the Russians (2001) and Rulers and Victims: The Russians in the Soviet Union (2006).

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