Salisbury and Russophobia

It looks pretty likely that the Russian government had a hand in the Salisbury atrocity. But why should Corbyn be excoriated for holding back from blaming Putin directly? In Parliament today the Tories seemed to be accusing him of treachery and ‘appeasement’ for this, though his words were surely strong enough about the actual plot, and there’s as yet no smoking gun. Trump – and it distresses me to write this – was wiser not to point the finger, though that may be for other reasons: because of Russian covert help in his election, for example.

I’d be more prepared to believe that, and in Russian interference in our own Brexit referendum, than in this farcical (if also shocking and possibly tragic) plot: poisoning an ex-double agent – and his poor daughter – in a way that so obviously attracts suspicion to them. These Russkies are clever – chess-players, remember? – and getting a moron elected in the USA and dividing Europe makes perfect sense for them. The Salisbury event only makes sense, for Putin or one of his agencies, as an act of revenge, or of warning to other defectors.

Well, that’s quite possible. As it happens it’s the explanation I would go for. But I wouldn’t act on it yet. It hasn’t been proven. There are others (private Russians, for personal motives? Government agents/agencies out of control?) who could have done the deed. So politicians really should hold their fire until the evidence is clearer. The braying in the Commons today was most unbecoming.

But then the Tories love this sort of thing – shouting at their enemies, especially if they can associate their political adversaries with them too, or can put a wedge between – say – the Labour front and back benches. The event was clearly staged to make May look ‘strong and stable’ – a boost she badly needs; one obsequious Tory backbencher even thought he saw ‘a glint of the Iron Lady’ about her. The red haze they profess to see around Corbyn is extraordinary. I think the Tories forget that Russia isn’t communist now, but corruptly capitalist, so that even the most Left-wing Labour MP isn’t likely to have any ideological sympathy with her. If there’s a link with British politics, it involves the millions that expatriate crooked Russian zillionaires have stashed away in Britain, some of which has gone into Conservative Party coffers. But when Corbyn hinted at that, the Tories feigned shock that he should take such a ‘party political’ line.

As a historian I should point out that Russophobia has been a pretty reliable constant in British history for at least 200 years – and going back long before the Soviet Union. Much has been written on it; starting with JH Gleason’s seminal The Genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain: A Study of the Interaction of Policy and Opinion (1950). It’s not new. Which isn’t to say that in this case – after calm consideration – it might not be justifiable.

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10 Responses to Salisbury and Russophobia

  1. Pingback: Rush to Judgment | Porter’s Pensées

  2. All structure and no agency? I also remember my Lenin.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That is interesting, Bernard because if you and Gleason are correct, then a blow is delivered to the idea that the Empire was driven by empiricists. After the Crimean War and the Treaty of Paris, through to Russia’s humiliation by Japan in 1904-5 and up to the Red Army’s defeat by Poland in 1920, the Bear showed itself to be highly vulnerable in battle and very much weaker than Britain.

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  4. How did the British population feel about the Russians when the Red Army put the Germans to the sword in Eastern Europe after Stalingrad?
    Or are you and Gleason only referencing the way the British state – and not its people – has represented the Russian state for its own political purposes? In which case, phobia does not seem to be the right word.

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  5. I have not read JH Gleason’s seminal The Genesis of Russophobia in Great Britain: A Study of the Interaction of Policy and Opinion (1950). Yet, in the three Big Ones, the wars against Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler, Russia and Great Britain have been on the same side – for the most part.

    Also, there has been nothing remotely phobic about the Anglo-world’s reception of Russian culture, whose writers, composers and dancers have been embraced by English speakers everywhere.

    I can see how a contrary case might be made: Dostoevsky, for example, hated the West, but the feeling was never mutual.

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    • Both Gleason and I are referencing the political use made of portraying the ‘Russian bear’ as something to be feared: first under the Tsars, then the Soviets, now its new Tsars; and quite irrespective of Britons’ more positive feelings for Russian culture. You’ll notice that May, too, deliberately distinguished between the Russian state and its people.

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