Cranleigh History and Politics students were treated to an audience with Air Commodore Andrew Verdon on Tuesday night to discuss recent events in Russia and the mind-set of President Vladimir Putin. Andrew was the British Defence attaché to Moscow from 2005 to 2008, responsible for all military advice and relations with the Russian armed forces. He was in this role during some of the most tense moments of Anglo-Russian relations, most notably the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko by Russian FSB agents in a London Tea room.
Andrew gave a brief history of Russia which set the context to the current state of affairs in the country and frosty East-West relations, looking at how Russia had transitioned from autocratic rule by the Czars, through 70 years of disastrous Communist rule, to a brief transition period of democracy under Boris Yeltsin from 1991-2003 before being brought back into a police state by former KGB agent and current President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
The focus then turned to the Russian psyche and how the country was has always been surrounded by enemies throughout its history. Having been invaded by The Poles in 17th, 18th and 19th Century, the French (under Napoleon) in 1812 and The Germans in both WW1 and WW2, it was hardly surprising that the Russian people desire strong leadership that can guarantee them security and national pride. According to Andrew, it is this strong, unrelenting leadership that has made Putin extremely popular amongst Russian people.
Andrew then fielded a number of excellent questions from the audience as to what Putin’s real aims were and what should the reaction be from the West. He indicated that the destabilization of the Baltic state (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) would be something to watch, along with further efforts by Putin to neutralize the EU and Nato in eastern Europe. Our reaction, Andrew believed, should be to respond by supplying non-lethal military equipment to the Ukraine and step up sanctions on Russia. This is due to the fact that Russia respects only strength and, without this, Putin will continue to push his agenda as far as possible.
This was a highly engaging talk, controversial at times, but it gave Cranleigh students an excellent insight into the History and Politics of one of the most fascinating countries in the world.