Last night I went to the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Kent Street Sydney for the launch of Tony Kevin's Return to Moscow (UWA Publishing). The book explores the complexities of Russian history and identity in an attempt to understand Putin's aggression towards the West.
Tony is a former diplomat in Moscow and Ambassador to Poland and to Cambodia. When I was editor of Eureka Street, I would always rely on him to quickly produce a quality article on international affairs or Australian Government asylum seeker boat rescue (or non-rescue).
That was the subject of two of his previous books, Reluctant Rescuers (2012) and A Certain Maritime Incident (2004). Last night he nearly got sidetracked into talking about Australian Government atrocities when challenged on why he didn't devote more space in his book to addressing Russian atrocities.
He was making the point that 90% of our media makes a sport of demonising Putin, and in the process we miss the true story of Russia's attempt to regain self-respect after the monumental disaster of the Communism of the 20th century and the impotence of Boris Yeltzin after the fall of Communism.
To counter our media's line on Russian aggression in Ukraine, Tony talked about 'regime change' by the US and NATO, in their efforts to prop up the anti-Russian nationalists who look to the West.
My imagination produced absurd thoughts of Trump attempting regime change in Australia by propping up Pauline Hanson. Then I wondered how many US attempts at interference in the complex affairs of other nations are in fact just as stupid. I had just been chatting with my friend Jan about clumsy US mis-steps to create the perfect regime in Afghanistan, where she'd worked.
Tony's message is that we must treat Russia with respect and study Russian history and culture. In this he was warmly supported by the Russian consul Sergey Borisovich Shipilov, who said that there is so much to learn that he is still studying Russian history at the age of 62.
During the height of the Cold War, I remember listening to an old Jesuit who was fixated on the excesses of Russian Communism to the extent that he visited Moscow when he got the opportunity. But with a closed mind. 'I knew what I'd find and I found it,' he would say. Tony's return to Moscow last year was of an altogether different order.