Russia Today is an English-language television station in Moscow. Out of the blue, an e-mail invited me to participate in a panel discussion on the subject of the Arab Spring. I happened to have caught a friend, a Washington insider, on a previous RT panel, and he had pulled no punches. So I accepted. Except that I am now in Florence, Italy, and it wasn’t clear that a studio could be found. Florence in fact has what was needed in its studio for Italy’s main television channel, the state-owned RAI Uno. At the gate on the day, a uniformed keeper said he had to see my passport if he was to let me in. I had no documents of any kind. I smiled. He smiled, and waved me through. I couldn’t help remembering how in the days of Tsar Yeltsin a huge Italian delegation had turned up in the hotel where I was staying, itself belonging to the KGB. They were manufacturers of leather goods come to exhibit and sell, only to discover that all prior arrangements were null and void. By next day, however, they had a hall and had already set their wares up. Moral: Italians, like Russians, have learnt how to negotiate their way through anything.
Russian foreign policy at the moment is every bit as misguided as it was in Soviet days, principally designed to recover its lost superpower status by playing the anti-American card. The power maniacs in the Kremlin are consistent spoilers. Building on Syria’s sovietised past, they have become the leading supporters of Bashar Assad, and make it plain that Russia will use its full influence to oppose any international measures against him. In other words, the Syrian people can go hang. And next week, a Russian minister will be in Iran attending the inauguration of the nuclear plant at Bushehr, the work of Russian engineers and a step in the ayatollahs’ nuclear ambitions that the West tried hard to prevent and Russia will one day regret. The ayatollahs’ missiles have Moscow in range.
I had worked out how to make these points in the hope that some Russians might take them on board. Instead the very articulate anchorman and the other two panelists stuck with generalities about democracy, human rights, intervention in Arab affairs, the mess NATO has got itself into in Libya. No opening for specifics about Russia, Syria, and Iran. That’s how public opinion takes shape. Or fails to.