The global world of ours is exhibiting some unpleasant symptoms- symptoms of an anxiety-driven world order. The clouds are profound and murky over international political arena. Is history going to repeat itself? The events that are happening in the international political scenario bring back some of the forgotten glimpses of the Cold War era. Arms race was an indispensable feature of the Cold War period. The last article I wrote signalled doubts on a new arms race in the world with attempts being made by United States of America to establish a European antiballistic-missile shield system in Poland. Yet another event has occurred that substantiate the fear of the re-emergence of a bipolar world. The mounting strain in the relationship between Russia and the United Kingdom has become a cause of concern to the rest of the world. Cold war diplomatic tactics are playing a conspicuous role in the deteriorating relationship between the two nations.
The intensifying diplomatic standoff between Russia and the UK reached rock bottom with the UK being forced to suspend the operations of British Cultural Centre, funded by the government of the United Kingdom to encourage cultural exchange between the two countries, in two cities of Russia. The swelling dispute over functioning of British Council offices in the cities of St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg turned sour with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband accusing Kremlin of Cold War tactics.
The incident has been the most recent in the flagging diplomatic ties between the two nations. Russia has blamed Britain of running British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, which they asserted were illegal. It is alleged that these offices were not properly registered while revenue authorities in Russia are claiming taxes over English language classes the council used to run, and the only authorized office is in Moscow. Kremlin demanded that the two offices other than the one in Moscow be closed by Jan 1st of this year. But when British Council offices in Yekaterinburg and St.Petersburg remained opened after the deadline, Kremlin flared up. Britain reviled Russia’s order by saying that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations protects the council and that the council should be immune from political rows. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British Ambassador to Russia Anthony Brenton and threatened a series of punitive actions ranging from refusal to renew the visas of the staff members of British Council to opening tax proceedings against the members of British Council. Although Mr. Brenton remained defiant on the decision taken by the British Embassy in Russia, it was forced to suspend the operations following the undue pressure exerted on its members by Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor of KGB. FSB had threatened council’s Russian staff. To quote Guardian, “They included inquiring about the health of elderly relatives and warning that family pets might meet with an unfortunate accident. Tax officials had informed several staff they had a problem.” The council staff had been subjected to two days of interrogation by FSB, and four Russian staff members of Yekaterinburg were recalled for a third day interrogation. Along with it, the head of British Council office in St. Petersburg was arrested on imagined drink-drive claims.
The strained relation between Russia and the UK could be traced to the killing of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander V.Litvinenko in London in November 2006. The UK had requested for the extradition of the main suspect in the plot to murder Mr. Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi. Russia refused to comply following which the UK expelled four Russian diplomats without revealing whether they were on espionage mission in the UK. Russia immediately responded by expelling four British diplomats from the embassy in Moscow. Both the countries were involved in a series of tit-for-tat games educing spiteful comments from both sides.
In Parliament, British Foreign Secretary called Russia’s action “reprehensible, not worthy of a great country.” The UK has refused to take any similar actions against Russian cultural activities in the country, as Britain did not believe that cultural activities should become a political football. The dispute between the two countries has gained international attention with the European Union and the United States on Britain’s side. In a statement, the European Union said that it “deeply regrets in particular the harassment of British Council as well as the administrative and other measures announced by the Russian authorities.” The EU also demanded that Russian authorities allow British Council to function “freely and effectively” in the cities of Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg. British diplomats are holding talks with the United States and the European Union to investigate an array of punitive choices against Russia. The punitive options comprise a review of Europe’s support in Russian membership in World Trade Organization, a firm position by the EU on Russia’s energy investments in Europe, a break on Russia’s membership in the “rich countries club” and in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Russia has been alerted by the UK to be cautious as Kremlin’s attempt to strike a free trade deal with the European Union and to join the international organizations would be challenging in the face of its “blatant intimidation” of members of British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. Russia has hit back indicting Britain of suffering from a “colonial complex”. Mr. Lugovoi, the accused in Mr. Litvinenko murder case and the member of Duma, the lower house of Parliament defended Russia by saying, “I am sure that there is no politics here and all the problems lie exclusively in the judicial sphere. It’s a matter of principle for Russia — the British Council should observe the laws of the country in which it carries out its activity.” Russian president, Vladimir Putin has joined in the accusation reverberated by the speaker of Russia’s upper house of Parliament, Sergie Mirnov. Mirnov said, “They like very much to teach democracy, to teach us laws, but believe that this is not obligatory for them and often engage in nondiplomatic activities under the cover of diplomatic organisations.” The FSB alleges that MI6 is using British Council office as a cover to carry out espionage in Russia. Russia crossed the limits of diplomacy when the military chief of staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons in preventive strikes in the event of a major threat. This could transcend into a major diplomatic row, and Moscow talking nuclear is a far cry. But the message from Russia certainly signals the peril of an impending modern-day arms race. Indisputably, our world is no way capable of suffering at the hands of yet another Cold War.