Chapter 69 – Into Russia, from the Top
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES.
1. The Russian Ambassador to Japan
2. The Russian Embassy, Tokyo
3. An Incredible Russian Invitation
4. Into Moscow
5. Into Crimea
6. Back to Japan
I long had a good connection with Alexander Panov, former Soviet and then Russian ambassador to Japan. He had been posted to Japan in his youth and spoke good Japanese.
We met often at various conferences on Japan-Soviet, and later Japan-Russia, relations.
We had also met at annual meetings in Greece for something called the World Public Forum (set up by a rich Russian outfit trying to match the Davos World Economic Forum) to which I was invited for some years.
There he had once invited me to talk to the students at the Diplomatic Academy he headed in Moscow after he had finished in Tokyo.
We even got to talking about an extended stay in Moscow – maybe even six months – so I could revive my Russian language and interests.
His students were quality, with the attractive intelligence of so many young, educated Russians.
And I liked the language.
But Japan commitments killed the romantic idea of a six month stay; I ended up being able to stay only a week or so on the first visit which Panov had arranged for me (en route from one of those Greece get-togethers).
It was hard to follow up, though I did develop some connections with Vladivostok after a visit to universities there.
2. The Russian Embassy, Tokyo
But I kept up contacts with the Russian Embassy in Tokyo during the years after Panov left, attending receptions and even inviting one or two embassy people to my Boso pad to show them my sad collection of Soviet era books.
And they had made it clear to me I was still persona grata with them ( maybe they did not know about the bad experiences I had suffered in Moscow some fourty years earlier).
Besides, the attentions they were receiving from Tokyo’s fanatically anti-Russian spy brigade matched what I had gone through in Moscow. So we could both feel sorry for each other.
(The 50 km limit on Embassy travel which had been lifted in Moscow was still imposed on Russian embassy personnel by Japan – a blatant and hostile discrimination.)
Rightwing Post-Maidan Attentions
By this time the Embassy people were also suffering bad experiences on another front.
In 2014, following the Maidan anti-Russian riots (coup) in Kiev, Moscow had decided to take back the Russian populated and developed Crimean peninsular which Khrushchev had so generously, and foolishly, gifted to Ukraine in 1954 – possibly as repentance for the harsh way Ukraine had suffered under Stalin.
And under the 2014-5 Minsk Accords, two pro-Russian Ukrainian districts, Donetsk and Lugansk, were promised autonomy.
But the unrelentingly anti-Moscow Western media, ignoring the Khrushchev 1954 generosity, soon swept into action with Moscow accused of expansionism over Crimea and infiltration into Donetsk and Lugansk.
When Moscow tried to give some help to Donetsk and Lugansk to counter brutal attacks by Ukrainian neoNazi troops — the Azov Battalion, the Right Sector, Sovobda —the expansionist claims escalated.
In Tokyo the rightwing gangs were demonstrating daily in front of the Russian embassy.
3. An Incredible Russian Invitation
As Western pressure on Russia intensified it seems the Tokyo embassy had suggested to their Foreign Ministry that I be invited to visit Moscow and Crimea.
The hope was that I might use my access to pages of the still progressively-minded Japan Times newspaper to present a less biassed view of what was going on.
And so the incredible happened: An invitation to revisit the country whose language I had so painfully studied and from which I had been so rudely forced to leave many years earlier.
I would have to pay my own way (to avoid any later criticisms of favouritism). But they would arrange a schedule of visits and interviews.
4. Into Moscow
Upgraded to first class in Aeroflot (I had only paid for economy), it was clear from the start they set some store on my visit.
For several days in Moscow I found myself taken daily from my hotel to the top floor in the Soviet-style palace of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID), with a schedule to interview all of the Ministry’s relevant bureau chiefs there, followed by more days in Crimea.
As I was being taken from bureau to bureau, each with its chief and staff waiting to hear me or brief me, I had to compare with my earlier Moscow existence when at best I would only occasionally be granted a brief meeting on the first floor with the lowly official handling Australia.
(A Mr Bukin – I wonder what happened to him.)
Most bureau chiefs were open and progressive minded, though there were still one or two Soviet era holdouts.
From the very attractive and intelligent former lady Russian ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, later ambassador to Indonesia, I was given a very extensive and angry briefing on the evidence they had showing Ukrainian responsibility for the downing of the Malaysian Airways plane MH17.
It seemed to be a topic they wanted very much to get off their chest.
(Just as I have tried for years to get out the true story of what happened to Malaysian Airways plane MH 370 – a pilot suicide to revenge the Anwar persecution.)
And what they had to say seemed convincing, though it was unlikely anything I would write would be welcome in Australia which had lost 23 citizens in the crash and over which the Australian prime minister had threatened to ‘shirt front’ the first Russian official he met.
I was also made to realise that problems for Russian-speaking minorities stranded in the former Soviet republics, the Baltic states especially, were a very real humanitarian Moscow concern.
Our biassed hawks liked to distort the Putin remark about the breakup of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical disaster. But this was not a Putin wish to see a return to Soviet days, as the hawks liked to insist.
It was a genuine concern over mess that was created by the breakup, and the fate of the many Russian citizens arbitrarily trapped in the former non-Russian Soviet republics – some 25 million I was told.
Later we were to see in Georgia and Ukraine just how tragic and complicated were the situations that had resulted from the casual Soviet approach to delimiting frontiers of the former Soviet republics.
In those days it was policy that all Soviet peoples would live together happily, and forever, and that borders between allegedly independent Soviet republics need not be defined too seriously.
Specifically, the mistake was post-Soviet Moscow assuming naively that the generous borders laid down in Soviet days could continue – that Russian Crimea and pro-Russian Donbas could continue to be included in post-Soviet Ukraine; that pro-Russian Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia should continue to be included in post-Soviet Georgia.
Those anomalies had survived in Soviet days; why not let them continue in post-Soviet days — a mistake quickly seized upon by anti-Moscow forces.
Moscow itself did not seem greatly improved from what I had known in the 1960s. Some new high-rise buildings breaking the horizon and Central Asians, mainly Tajiks, digging up the roads, seemed the main activity.
Traffic jams were horrendous.
Staying at my hotel was the representative for a Swedish furniture building company. Even though the company was doing very well in Russia he told me he was appalled by the extent corruption had taken hold in the country.
5. Into Crimea
The visit to Crimea was another 1960’s flashback.
It was just as much totally Russian speaking as I had known before, despite the 60 years it had spent under Ukrainian control.
There was still was a small Ukrainian presence – around 10 percent judging from the subscriptions to the main bilingual newspaper I was told by the editor, though I did not hear a word of Ukrainian during my visit (and it is not hard to tell the difference)
The small (15 percent) Tatar minority remained hidden away in their villages, though the main TV channel seemed to be going out of its way to provide education in their language.
(Doing its best to preserve languages of minorities was another little-known virtue fo the former Soviet Union, even though in Ukraine and elsewhere it was to lead to problems.)
Surprisingly, throughout the visit I received no hints of my Moscow experiences some 50 years earlier in 1964.
The KGB – or rather its successor, the FSB – seemed not to have long memories or hatreds, at least as far as I was concerned.
6. Back in Japan
Back in Tokyo, the Japan Times cooperated enough for me to be able to run two articles about this most unusual experience.
I also tried to keep up the Russian embassy connection for a while. But a shake-up of embassy personnel ended earlier friendships.
What remained was Mikail Galuzin who after repeated postings ended up as ambassador during another period of anti-Russian hysteria, this time over Ukraine.
Repeatedly I had tried to use my media contacts in Australia and Japan to point out the atrocity that Kiev and its friends were committing in ignoring the Minsk Accords of 2014-15.
The autonomy promised to Luhansk and Donetsk in those accords was no more radical than Canada granting autonomy to Quebec. Yet Ukraine’s neoNazi fascists were being given a free hand to invade and destroy.
Fortunately a few were upset by the blatant disregard for those accords and were trying to do something (the few included, notably, Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov! whom I had seen in action in Tokyo and respected).
But the vast majority preferred not even to notice, or worse, to approve. The result was to lead to a nuclear-war threatening climax.
The Western world with its pious bleating about the sanctity of international agreements, right to self-determination, and Responsibility to Protect seemed to suffer severe amnesia when it came to Ukraine.
Later, we discovered via Madame Merkel of Germany that the West, and Ukraine, never intended to implement the Minsk Accords – that from the start they were a ruse to allow Ukraine time to train its regular army and rearm the neoNazis with NATO help.
Russia, or rather President Putin, had been deceived by the West and took Minsk seriously. Some dreadful carnage would result from that deception.
Years later Galuzin gave me an off-record interview about the Ukraine situation, the gist of which I got published in Asia Times in 2022.
That allowed me to get some of my distress on the record. But a lot still remains.
It is the ultimate example of Western mendacity and pure bloodlust when it comes to relations with Russia.