Rodric Braithwaite: The Myths of Russia





The writer was British ambassador in Moscow from 1988 to 1992.

On Christmas Day 1991 we were still wearing our funny hats and eating our mince pies when Mikhail Gorbachev came on television to tell the world that he had resigned as President of the Soviet Union. We looked out at the Kremlin on the other side of the Moscow River. The Red Flag was fluttering down for the last time.

So many hopes have been dashed since then. But that is no reason to abandon hope itself. Much of what is going on in Russia today is deeply unattractive. But contrary to what you might gather from the western press, Russia is not the Soviet Union. It is comparatively open and prosperous. Russians travel abroad in their hundreds of thousands. There are more Russians than Germans on the internet. And now the Russians who voted so enthusiastically for change in 1989 have begun to reclaim their right to be heard. Mr Putin’s decision to run again for the presidency may turn out to be his biggest political mistake as he begins to slither down the other side of the bell curve.

Historians will never settle on why the USSR collapsed: they still don’t agree about why the Roman Empire fell. But they may strip away some of the myths: that the event was foreseen by no one, for example, or that a more competent politician than Mr Gorbachev could have managed the transition better...



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