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Recent Tensions between Russia and the West
(Released May 2008)

 
  by Fiona Allison  

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Britain and Russia

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Although the Cold War ended peacefully in 1991 with the complete collapse of Communism in Europe, Russia and its former Soviet states have struggled with the transition to capitalism and liberal democracy, and many serious issues remain. While some countries of Eastern Europe, such as Poland, developed effective economies, this has been far from true in Russia. Due to the financial chaos that occurred immediately after the collapse of Communism and the concomitant opportunities for corruption, Russia became a land of oligarchy. The transition to capitalism from over 70 years of Communist rule proved disastrous. To implement capitalist features such as private enterprise into a country which could not, politically or financially, support them was regressive for Russia. What happened in post-Communist Russia is reminiscent of other capitalist countries in the early 20th century; completely unregulated economies lead to massive disparities throughout society. And to an extent the problems Russia experienced can be likened to the economic and political disasters of central Europe during the inter-war period, from 1919-1939. Under Boris Yeltsin economic reforms only made matters worse. The years 1993-94 were particularly bad, with uncontrollable inflation, a massive drop in production and widespread unemployment. Conflict with Chechnya began under Yeltsin and continues even now.
Russia & the Republics
After its fall the Soviet Union fragmented into Republics, with Russia by far the largest
Other republics have struggled without the Soviet Union, notably Moldova, whose Transdniestr region declared it was independent from Moldova and part of a Soviet Union which had ceased to exist. No other countries have recognised this independence and it actually caused a short civil war which involved Russian troops in Moldova. This issue remains unresolved today. Relations between Russia and its other former republics have varied. The more successful countries, which have gone on to join the EU, are going from strength to strength and try to have as few dealings with Russia as is possible. Poland is a prime example of this; since independence it has become more Western orientated in its government and economic policies. Other countries haven't fared as well under capitalism and rely heavily on Russia for supplies and financial help. Unfortunately for these countries Russia has taken full advantage of this dependence. For example Georgia has had much interference from Russia in its domestic affairs and over some small disputed territory, Russia is also actively trying to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO by threatening a major crisis if they do. However the situation in Russia began to change since Putin was elected president in 2000. Russia's military strength and economy have increased vastly, largely due to Russia's massive energy resources, many of which are exported to the West and former Soviet states.

sick man in hospital
Alexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed
Although Britain has endeavoured to maintain good relations with Putin, the murder of former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006 caused a sharp deterioration. The murder could have come straight from a Cold War novel, but it was a serious security issue for Britain, because the poison, radioactive polonium (PO210), was administered in a public place and traces of the substance were detected elsewhere in the area. Moscow refused to extradite the main suspect in the murder, Andrei Lugovi, and in response Britain expelled four Russian diplomats, returning them to Moscow. While these political moves may seem petty and insignificant, more accusations of Cold War-esque spying have been aired and there could be serious implications both for Britain and for the West in general. Moscow next accused the British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg of being a front for spies and ordered them to close down. The Kremlin has since cracked down on other foreign and domestic NGOs, particularly groups supporting human or gay and lesbian rights, according to a report by Amnesty International.1 The Russian government is unsupportive and even repressive of homosexuality, unlike the West. This conservative cultural outlook is exacerbated by the dwindling population of Russia, and an increase in AIDS and the HIV virus. Britain has hit back with counter claims from the director general of MI5, Jonathon Evans. He has stated: "Since the end of the Cold War we have seen no decrease in the numbers of undeclared Russian intelligence officers in the UK - at the Russian embassy and associated organisations conducting covert activity in this country. So despite the Cold War ending nearly two decades ago, my service is still expending resources to defend the UK against unreconstructed attempts by Russia, China and others to spy on us."2 This is a startling statement of fact, not an anonymous rumour, from the head of Britain's security service.

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