A group of Tory peers and MPs have come under fire after launching a political group, Conservative Friends of Russia, in the Russian ambassador's garden this week. About 250 guests including Tory MPs, peers and Russian diplomats attended the event on Tuesday evening at the London residence of Russian envoy Alexander Yakovenko.
The Conservative Friends of Russia group was founded three months ago by PR consultant Richard Royal. During a speech at this week's event he told guests: "I believe that Russia is one of the most important, most fascinating, but also most misunderstood countries on this planet."
Ilya Goryachev, the editor-in-chief of Modus Agendi website has taken an interview with Richard Royal, chairman of Conservative Friends of Russia.
Ilya Goryachev: Mr. Royal, a few months ago you founded a new group called Conservative Friends of Russia. Could you tell us about its mission and main objectives?
Richard Royal: It is a group for those with an interest in Russian politics, history, business and culture. Our aim is to improve relations between the two countries, provide a forum for open debate and help to inform decision making in business and politics. The ‘Friends of…’ model is familiar within British Political Parties, there are many of them including those dedicated to America, Israel, India, Poland, Azerbaijan … but never one for Russia, which seems strange given the size of its economy and its importance on the international stage. Its about time we recognized that.
I.G: Which personalities and conservative organizations in Russia do you consider as partners?
R.R: We have no partners or personalities with which we would link to or consider partners in Russia, we are entirely neutral on that point. We are a forum for debate and discussion, and those within the organization are welcome to hold a variety of views, but the organization as a whole will not represent one view over another, nor side with any politician or political faction within Russia.
I.G: Unfortunately, from time to time the Russian-British diplomatic relations undergo negative experience. What is the Conservative party’s attitude towards CFoR? Is there difference in attitudes at official and informal levels?
R.R: There will certainly be difficult periods, and we’re undergoing a challenging time at the moment. But this underlines the need for channels of communication and discussion to be open. There are a variety of views on CFoR, as there are about any other group, and variety of opinion is to be encouraged. CFoR has an extremely large following throughout the Party from student members right up to MPs and Lords. We also have a big following outside the Party which gives it a great balance and helps to ensure that members with different backgrounds exchange ideas and learn from each other.
I.G: In your opinion, what does the notion "conservatism" imply? For example, in Germany some days ago Christian Democrats party, which targets conservatism-oriented electorate, endorsed tax privileges for gay marriages what should finally equalize such couples with normal families.
R.R: Its not the role of CFoR to comment on decisions taken by the Conservative Party, that’s what we elect representatives for and why David Cameron selects a talented Government. Personally, I joined the Conservative Party because I believe in a true meritocracy and in rewarding rather than punishing those who work hard, show initiative and play by the rules.
I.G: What British conservatives think about the role of religion and its institutions in modern society?
R.R: Every political party in Britain is a broad institution with a variety of views, so not every MP and member would hold the same opinion on this, and again its not for CFoR to comment on it. Personally I’m not religious but I believe it can provide an important social function and I think that for most Conservatives, upholding tradition and such institutions is central to their political views.
I.G: What is your attitude towards European Union?
R.R: CFoR doesn’t hold a view on this and Conservative MPs and members have a variety of views, but generally speaking the Conservative Party is the more skeptical of the major political parties in Britain. The Party’s former leader, and now Foreign Secretary, William Hague famously said that we want to be in Europe, but not run by Europe, which sums things up. We believe in playing an active role but don’t believe in giving away our sovereignty.
I.G: In its recent publication The Guardian quoted you as saying that Russia is one of the most misunderstood countries on this planet. What did you mean by that? We know that you are an expert on Russia. How do you assess the processes that are going on in Russian domestic policy? What is its role in the international politics?
R.R: I think that many people judge Russia on the basis of misconceptions and outdated beliefs. This translates into poor decision making at a business and political level. But we don’t live in a James Bond film, we have to live in the real world! Whether people like it or not, Russia is an extremely important country and we can’t bury our heads in the sand, we need to engage with it. There will certainly be areas of improvement that need to be made, but nowhere is perfect, and its better to work together than to criticize from the sidelines.
I.G: Could you, please, indicate five most crucial issues of Great Britain.
R.R: I’ll give you one major one! We have a serious economic problem that is very deep-rooted and will require a lot of work to resolve. Russia is a massive economy with a huge amount of natural resources and the potential to invest further afield. Surely it makes sense to work together and make it easier for businesses to work between the countries rather than putting up barriers to trade and employment.
I.G: Nowadays and throughout its history Great Britain has faced separatist tendencies, including the terrorism-related past of Northern Ireland. Separatism and terrorism have long been the problems of Russia as well, mostly concerning the Caucasus. In this context, what is the main difference in nature of conflicts and in the way they were being resolved?
R.R: No two conflicts are the same and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. I certainly don’t think that any country – let alone any organization such as ours – should lecture other countries on how to deal with issues specific to them.
However, there are certainly some parallels in the sense that both countries have had a history of being one of the major empires on the international scene and are coping with the aftermath of that. When I was growing up the Irish issue was very serious, I remember bombings in Manchester and London, and of course there was the Brighton Bomb at the Conservative Party Conference in 1984. The unusual thing to recognize is that now, we have members of the political party allegedly linked to that in the Northern Irish Government. They have been democratically elected, and the UK have had to accept that and work with it. And we’ve had a long period of peace. But its taken a long time and lots of pride-swallowing.
I.G: Thank you very much!
Source in Russian