When his actors put on not very convincing performances at rehearsals, the great Russian theatre director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, used to say, "I don't believe it". Looking at recent events in Russian-British relations, I feel the same way and want to say the same thing: "I don't believe it". First of all, neither side has rehearsed its part in the performance very well, and secondly, it has no basis in real life.
In the parallel universe of big-time politics, we see the two sides quarrelling away, consumed by fits of mistrust. But in the real world of oil wells and growing capital, Russian and British business, filled with mutual affection, continue their happy honeymoon. The 8.5 billion pounds in bilateral trade and the $11.4 billion British companies have invested in Russia are eloquent proof of decent and healthy relations. The business world is more sensitive than are the politicians to any whiff of dishonest games afoot.
Business cooperation is now at its highest level in the whole history of Russian-British relations. Three years ago, the London Stock Exchange called Russia one of its leading clients. Russian banks have opened offices on Trafalgar Square and Russians are actively buying up British property and replenishing the coffers of British schools and universities. That our business partnership should be so evidently flourishing despite the current freeze in political relations is sufficient argument in itself for confidently predicting a real business boom just around the corner.
How can we be so confident that it really is just around the corner? Because our quarrels have already gone as far as they can go. They no longer make front page headlines and these 'semi cold-war' relations bring us absolutely no benefit. British specialists estimate that Britain will increase its share of Russian gas imports from the current 3% to 15% by 2012. Britain, meanwhile, has already emerged as the number-one investor in the Russian economy with total investment of more than $5.4 billion.
In this context, it would not be correct to say that Britain risks becoming dependent on Russian raw materials. It would be a lot closer to the truth to speak of our interdependence. We have just as much need for a reliable sales market as the British have for a reliable supplier. This is a two-way street and it would be equally risky for either party to break the rules. Even if we recognise that an accident in our relations has indeed taken place, it is not worth searching for the 'black box' in order to meticulously reconstruct today who said what in the heat of the moment. This would not be constructive to say the least when both parties found themselves caught up in the political turbulence and lost altitude together.
When Vladimir Putin came to power, Britain was the first Western country to welcome him with friendly embrace. Tony Blair got so carried away in his enthusiasm that he proposed that Russia become an associate member of NATO - an unprecedented offer for that time. But the love affair with Russia did not last long. Too much mutual distrust had built up during the decades of the Cold War. It may sound more like a joke, but we are in large part used to looking at each other through the prism of James Bond movies, all the more so as Russia's unpredictable nature, which has been the subject of so much talk in the West in recent years, soon manifested itself in all its fullness. Over these last two decades, Russia has changed so dramatically and at such speed that adapting to its diametrically opposed images has been very difficult indeed.
When he opened his embrace to the hitherto unknown Putin from weak and marginalized Russia in 2000, Tony Blair no doubt saw himself as something of a well-intentioned mentor. Few could have guessed then that Russia would become an equal partner so rapidly, and no one, it seemed, had planned any strategy for how to build relations on an equal footing with Russia. In all fairness, Russia, did not have a convincing strategy of its own to propose either, and was too hasty in agreeing that old hostilities die hard.
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