LONDON. (RIA Novosti commentator Pavel Andreyev) - Announcing in parliament the suspension of operations by the British Council's offices in Russia, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that following his conversation with the Slovenian Foreign Minister, the latter agreed to issue a statement on behalf of all European governments in support of the British position. This is a new and very indicative turn.
The mention of a country, which looks rather exotic in the world of big time politics, might have caused a grin on the faces of some MPs, if Miliband had not reminded them that Slovenia is now holding the rotating Presidency of the European Union (EU). Slovenia performed its duty and issued a statement on the EU's behalf condemning Russia's actions.
Apart form the EU, Miliband also mentioned Trans-Atlantic allies - the United States and Canada - both of which have also backed London's position.
To summarize, the British Council status, which has been a mild irritant in bilateral relations, is now being submitted for the consideration of the world community under the slogan - Russia's behavior is "not worthy of a great country" (the phrase belongs to Miliband).
Russia and the West are divided on many issues. The West is pushing for Kosovo's unilateral independence, whereas Russia is objecting to it. The West wants to cut Iran to size but Russia is against this approach. There are differences on the Middle East, the Caucasus, European affairs, energy, arms and climate change... The British Council case looks rather small against this backdrop. But the outcome of the crisis may become quite important for the alignment of forces in other spheres of international relations.
To use the specific language of the Russian Foreign Ministry, today, Russia's position in the world is built on the basis of international law, inviolability of state sovereignty and renunciation of the disproportionate use of force. The key word is "sovereignty." The British Council scandal is dealing a blow at these foundations of Russian foreign policy. Let's return to Miliband's speech in parliament:
" Russia's actions therefore raise serious questions about its observance of international law, as well as about the standards of behaviour it is prepared to adopt toward its own citizens. That can only make the international community more cautious in its dealings with Russia in international negotiations and more doubtful about its existing international commitments."
This is an interesting thought. It transpires that trying to make the British Council abide by Russian laws on Russian territory, Russia loses the moral right to protect international law on such an issue as Kosovo, for example. By the same logic, Russia positions itself as a state ready to crack down on its own citizens when it is resisting the resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem by force. (Miliband mentions both issues in his speech).
Obviously, many conflicts with Britain, including the one over the British Council, amount to a struggle for sovereignty. We were offered to bypass the Constitution in order to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, who is suspected of murder by Britain. Now we are invited to change the law to enable the operation of the British Council. Importantly, the British are making these conflicts public, appealing for the support of entire regions of the world.
What are these regions? As for Euro-Atlantic space, nobody there is heeding any Russian arguments. Paris, Berlin, Rome and some other capitals, although strictly abiding by their allied commitments to the British, will continue building bilateral relations with Russia on the sly, proceeding from the much more pragmatic considerations of energy security and economic benefits.
The picture is much more interesting in the world outside the EU and NATO. Here, after "humanitarian interventions" in Iraq and Kosovo, U.S.-backed London's appeals for international law will be perceived with much skepticism. People in these parts of the world will be closely following Russia and respect its confidence in its righteous course and consistent actions. As the British say, this will be the key to the "hearts and minds" of the population in a hundred countries. London's appeals are addressed to them.
What we are watching is not a struggle between states, but between principles and, in a sense, cultures. This is the struggle, which the British Council has been waging in the world for 70 years, including 15 years in Russia, by promoting British lifestyle, culture and language, or Anglophile attitudes, as the British say themselves. Its work has been quite successful but this does not mean that other countries do not have the right to do the same by promoting the principles of international relations or their languages.
Today, no more than 100 schools in Britain teach the Russian language. A potential demand coming from the Russian Diaspora alone is up to 500,000 people. Local Russians have opened ten Saturday schools for their children at their own expense. Even among the British, the trend to study the Russian language is slowly going up, but the British authorities do now allow Russia to open a full-fledged cultural center in London, not to mention in the rest of the country.
It would be interesting to know how London would react if Moscow insisted that its Russian center in Britain could ignore British laws? Would Russia then appeal to the world community and explain that British behavior is reprehensible?