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Tuesday 13 September 2011

David Cameron’s Russian Lessons

How the Russians, not normally renowned for their mirth, managed to keep straight faces when David Cameron attempted to speak their language at the start of his visit to their country, it is hard to fathom. He executed (a most appropriate term in this context) the delivery in such a fashion as to render it nigh on incomprehensible to a native-English speaker with a pretty good grasp of Russian. I have a feeling that the famous ‘That’s Life’ speaking dog, renowned for saying “sausages”, could not have been any less comprehensible. It was as if some foreign dignitary visiting England were to place himself proudly before the assembled representatives of the mass media and say “ooee lugf oor cuntrow. Digevva ooee ah stwonga.” Actually, I can’t remember what Cameron said in Russian (it was rather hard to take in, or indeed to decipher), or the English translation that usefully followed, but it did involve the word “digevva” (sorry, that should be “together”).

Thus, Cameron’s visit to Russia started how it would proceed: embarrassingly. He and his team had arrived in Moscow carrying the conviction that these Russian Johnnies were jolly indecent chaps, and needed a good talking to about such things as human rights and dealing with corruption (strangely, I don’t recall British governmental delegations to Saudi Arabia behaving in such a manner or raising these issues). David and Willie Hague looked dreadfully cross, and chastised their hosts about their disgraceful behaviour.

Dave appeared to strike up a reasonable rapport with amiable Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, but as for Putin, the once-and-future Tsar (sorry! Meant to say “President”), he exuded all the warmth of a tank of liquid nitrogen. The body language and facial expressions in the video below display the reality of the power relationship between the Russian and British governments: a contemptuous Putin, bored and seemingly a little irritated at the need to exchange diplomatic pleasantries with the Cameron administration; Cameron and Hague discomfited, looking submissive and slightly afraid. Russia may be an ailing great power, but it is still a state with massive reserves of natural resources and an enormous military machine. It will have a role to play in the geopolitical future, whereas the UK . . . what of it? Are not its leaders intent on continuing our drawn-out process of national suicide?

David Cameron ‘revealed’ that he had been approached by theKGB whilst on a trip to the Soviet Union in 1985, perhaps with a view to him becoming a spy. However, it would appear that the latter decided that the future Bullingdon boy’s lack of linguistic aptitude, as well as his ignorance of social conditions in England, rendered him useless to their aims. So, I suspect that so far as the Russian elite goes Dave, it’s not so much “do svidaniya” as “proshchaite!”


  1. "...Russians, not normally renowned for their mirth...".

    The effect of many years of Communism. Diaries of English travellers in Russia in the late 19th Century remark, somewhat disapprovingly, on the boisterous and whimsical nature of the Russian people.

  2. Very true Brett. Russian 19th century literature contains a rich repository of humour, often sardonic and, as you note, whimsical.


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