A certain degree of nervousness has for a while been apparent in Moscow concerning the activities of British Intelligence in the Near East and South Caucasus. It is fashionable to write about these activities as a direct extension of the so-called “Great Game” of Anglo-Russian rivalry for dominance in South Asia and Asia Minor in the heyday of competing imperialism that characterised the second half of the 19th Century. But, in case the Russians have forgotten, we lost India a long time ago and Iran was curtains once the Americans moved in (1953) and then lost it all (1978-9).
So, although the very term excites the lurid imagination of susceptible audiences, it has very little relevance for us today. The fact that the Russians still think in these melodramatic terms does, however, indicate that they still view independent states like Georgia to the south as effectively lost colonies and future protectorates. Former viceroy of India and one time Foreign Secretary the Earl Curzon’s classic, Frontiers, must have recently been rediscovered to great excitement on the bookshelves of the SVR (Russian Foreign Intelligence) in Moscow.
The ambitions of Turkey under President Erdogan have been a focus of Russian anxiety ever since the Kremlin unwisely plunged into the Syrian civil war five years ago. Whether Russian intervention sparked Erdogan’s ambitions for a greater Turkey is doubtful, but it certainly must have accelerated them, if only for the need to bolster Ankara’s security against the unknown. And the appointment last autumn of Britain’s former ambassador to Ankara, Richard Moore, as head of MI6 has undoubtedly multiplied existing concerns. Apart from anything not all of the enormous British foreign aid budget goes on the starving children of Africa. Moore not only speaks Turkish and appears to have struck up some kind of special relationship with Erdogan – or at least that is what the Kremlin thinks – but he also has Russian, which he apparently picked up as a small child, presumably at detskii sad, living in Moscow (don’t ask what his father was doing there.) The combination is enough to give the Kremlin severe political indigestion.
The stirring up of historic enmity between Azerbaidzhan and Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh on 27 September found the Russians on the horns of a dilemma: not wanting entirely to desert an old Christian ally, Armenia, and lose face; nor entirely alienate a country susceptible to Turkish hegemony, Azerbaidzhan, if something went seriously awry with Aliev’s dictatorial régime in power. On the other hand the Russians intensely disliked the new populist régime in Armenia and the Turks firmly backed Azerbaidzhan with military power. And then when the Russians look at Turkey, they see the grim shadow of Richard Moore from MI6 lurking around Erdogan’s Ak Saray (white palace.)
To get a flavour of heightened Russian sensitivities, one can do no better than watch a documentary aired Christmas Eve on Russia’s deep state TV – Zvezda TV:
Россия – Великобритания. Большая игра спецслужб
Неужели прямо у границ России создается враждебный военный альянс? Кто такой загадочный Ричард Мур?