Monday 28th January saw the University’s Russian Society lay host to a visit from Konstantin V. Shlykov, the Press Officer Information, Press & Culture for the Russian Federation’s London Embassy. Mr. Sklykov gave a talk, followed by a Q&A and a workshop with the University’s Debating Society, which focused primarily on the subject of the efforts to bolster the Russian-UK relationship, and how the two countries could improve their relationship with each other, and called for a “proper political dialogue” to be bolstered between the two to solve future issues.
The talk began with the dismissal of the the prospects of problems being created by trade sanctions imposed since the Annexation of the Crimea, citing trade turnovers and a stable level of inflation. He further counted the points concerning sanctions by citing how “more agricultural products were exported than military ones” in the past year, and that Russia was interested in a free trade zone with the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union) in order to achieve “stable development”, fronting the country as being a willing partner in future deals.
However, he was far more damning when it came to the levels of corruption within the Russian Government, stating that “Russia is not corruption free – it is one of the major issues in the country,” whilst conceding that it did indeed effect the levels of economic growth and quality of life within Russia. However, he also made sure to criticise Britain’s anti-corruption laws, by claiming that the country is a “safe place for corrupt people to buy homes for themselves”, an inadequacy which “encourages corruption abroad”.
This was followed by his promise of Russia’s efforts to boost relations through ‘humanitarian relations and culture’, through presented examples such as the Exhibitions the Embassy has hosted at the National Portrait Gallery, Film Weeks, and other media/arts-based ties to improve relations. He also spoke of the opportunities UK students had within the Federation, through the launch of the website russia.study, and the move within the country to expand its student body.
When questioned about the issue of cyber-security, a field which Russia has been accused of involvement in within a number of events, Shlykov argued that Russia was the “first country to call for a code of conduct” and create an International Cyberspace Law. He also made the claim that there had been “no proper political dialogue with the UK”, thus squarely pinning Russia as the more favourable candidate in this scene. As for the United States’ President, Donald Trump, he held “no view” on him, but was pleased that he and Putin spoke to each other, and that the best thing he could say at this point in time was to “see how it goes”. He directed his statement at the ‘Thaw’ at the end of the Cold War, where relations between Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev entered a far friendlier pasture than previous decades, thanks in part to Trump’s “favourable foreign policy”. Meanwhile, he presented no partiality on Brexit, and did not make any suggestions towards supporting either view.
Praising Natwest’s decision to un-freeze Russia Today’s UK band accounts, he added that he did not see the eponymous channel as “influencing public opinion” due to its position in the ratings, and instead listed certain accusations of bias against Russia in certain media groups as simply being down to the “attitude” of those involved. Nonetheless, he was quick to praise certain publications, and listed ‘Foreign Affairs’ and ‘The World Today’ as his favoured two newspapers operating outside of Russia.