For several days in late July and early August, thousands of farmers across North East France used tractors to obstruct roads from Germany. The aim was to prevent trucks carrying agricultural goods from crossing the Rhine. In South West France, too, more Gallic protesters, similarly mounted on tractors, blocked farm produce coming from Spain.
In Russia, meanwhile, customs authorities invited TV cameras to film the destruction of 20 tons of French and Spanish cheese using a bulldozer, while crushing a range of other foods – including bacon, tomatoes and nectarines.
These two bizarre events – French tractors stopping food imports from within the EU, and televised “fromagicide” – are not unrelated. Both stem from Moscow’s decision a year ago to ban farm produce from America, Canada, Norway, Australia and, most significantly, members of the EU.
I’ve been struck in recent days by the growing gulf between conflicting points of view towards the crisis in Crimea. I’m not referring to the firmly held differences in opinion between respective governments in London and Washington on the one hand and Moscow on the other. What I have in mind, after numerous conversations and broadcasts about Russia and Ukraine over the last week, and having closely followed events in this region for many years, is the polarization of opinion within the West itself.
As far as our politicians and diplomats are concerned, Russia remains the Cold War enemy, our implacably foe, where little or nothing has changed since US President Ronald Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union “the evil empire”. Never mind that the USSR collapsed almost a quarter of a century ago, or that it was 31 years ago yesterday that Reagan made that speech.
Who cares if post-Soviet Russia has transformed itself, via the chaos of the 1990s, from a closed, sclerotic, planned economy based on armaments and commodities, into a nascent capitalist society, well-integrated into global commerce and, unlike any other large emerging market, with a fully-open capital account?